There’s a push from Morrison government MPs to make Australians carry ID when they vote

ID please sir Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images
  • A parliamentary report into the 2016 has government MPs pushing for the introduction of voter ID
  • Labor and the Greens oppose the idea, arguing it has the potential to disenfranchise already marginalised voters.
  • The report also wants to double the number of members a political party needs to 1000 before it can stand candidates at an election.

Nearly 16 million Australians will head to the polls next year in a federal election that will determine the fate of the Morrison government.

The ritual is simple and familiar. State your name and address and it’s ruled off on the electoral roll by an official to prove you’ve taken part in the compulsory vote, then you’re handed the ballot papers, do the job and maybe later swing by the school volunteers selling democracy sausages.

But a group of Coalition politicians are pushing for voters to carry ID with their address when they head to the polling booth and show it before they can vote.

Queensland Liberal senator James McGrath argues that elections need to be treated “with the same gravity as a visit to a surf club” and showing ID would tackle growing distrust in politics. Since 2015, ID at polling booths has been compulsory in Queensland elections.

The cross-party Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters released its report on the conduct of the 2016 federal election yesterday.

Senator McGrath, as the committee chair, says in his forward that it is “a regrettable omission that there is currently no requirement for voters to produce identification to vote in federal elections”, pointing to India and Canada as countries where ID must shown.

“Every surf, bowls or Services club in Australia requires a person to show ID to enter. Yet in Australia we do not treat elections with the same gravity as a visit to a surf club or entering a Brisbane CBD pub after 10pm on a Friday night,” McGrath wrote.

“This is especially important in light of the current mistrust of politicians and the democratic process by the voting public, both domestically and abroad.”

Voter ID was introduced in Queensland in 2013, but scrapped following the 2015 election after a lower turnout at the ballot box.

The report features 31 recommendations, including doubling a political party’s membership from the current 500 to 1000 before it can field election candidates.

McGrath argued “there is no higher cause within civil society than for citizens to be engaged in, to support and to join a party of the like-minded”.

“Disappointingly, a narrative has evolved where political parties and Australians who are involved in party politics are ‘bad’ whereas other political participants are ‘good’ due to their anti-party virtue signalling. That is both wrong and dangerous,” he wrote.

But voter ID is the issue that split Coalition committee members pushing from Labor and the Greens, who oppose the idea, which has been regularly touted after elections for the past decade, without action.

In the wake of the 2016 election, 7743 allegations were made about voter fraud, but just 65 were investigated by police and there were no convictions. Of the 18,343 people the AEC contacted seeking explanations for why their name was crossed off more than once, around 80% are believed to be the result of clerical error.

That leaves the possibility of multiple voting at around 0.000225% of the total turnout.

Labor’s dissenting report, led by deputy chair Andrew Giles, described voter ID as “a pathway to voter suppression” that will disadvantage already marginalised voters, especially First Australians.

“While it has often been contended by conservatives that the present arrangements for voter identification may lead to irregularities in the form of multiple voting and impersonation, these ideological arguments are unsupported by the evidence,” he said.

“We note that this report does not include a single reference to such an irregularity identified in the course of the 2016 election.”

In dissenting comments from the Greens senator Larissa Waters rejected voter ID, raising party membership requirements and any move to increase the fine for non-voters.

“There are serious implications for voter engagement for many groups of disadvantaged voters, including itinerant and indigenous voters as well as those escaping domestic violence,” Waters wrote.

“While there is some limited evidence of individuals voting multiple times in their own name, the added requirement to present photo ID, proof of address or a ‘voter ID’ card will not address this. It will address the concern of people impersonating others but there has been no evidence produced that would suggest this has occurred.”

The Committee also wants the Australian Electoral Commission to investigate the feasibility of “express-lane queuing options for disabled, pregnant and elderly voters”.

The other recommendations include a review of the current $20 fine for not voting, restricting pre-poll voting to no more than a fortnight before election day, avoiding the term “fake news” in favour of “disinformation” and a permanent taskforce to prevent and combat cyber manipulation of the electoral process, although the committee concluded there was no significant Russian-style attack on Australia’s 2016 election.

The committee also wants House of Representatives Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue to review the tax deductibility thresholds for donations to political parties.

It also wants to investigate how social media fits into the current electoral laws when it comes to media blackouts.

“The current rules lack consistency, and favour by default, rather than design, online media platforms over more traditional media formats,” Senator McGrath said.

He also singled out GetUp, accusing the activist group of providing “false and misleading information” to the Committee that “substantially interfered” with its inquiry, saying it should be investigated further “as a potential contempt of the Parliament”.

The Speaker subsequently cleared GetUp of contempt, with GetUp National Director Paul Oosting returning fire, saying conservative MPs were using Parliament “to peddle false and misleading accusations” as part of a “vindictive conspiracy theory”.

“Scott Morrison and his hard right MPs have given up on governing in favour of trying to score cheap political points,” he said.