The Centre Alliance Party has slammed new voter identification laws proposed by the Morrison government, warning the new rules could have a devastating impact on the democratic rights of some of Australia’s most vulnerable people.
The new laws, which are set to be voted on in the House of Representatives this week, would require voters to present photo ID such as a driver’s licence or passport before casting their ballot in federal elections.
Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie told NCA NewsWire the proposed laws may sound logical on face value but would likely cause voter participation among Indigenous and migrant populations to plummet.
“What we can see is a significant correlation between being remote and not participating in elections, and also being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander,” Ms Sharkie said.
“I do not want to support any legislation that would just add another barrier to Aboriginal people or remote people voting.”
Indigenous Australians often struggle to obtain IDs such as driver’s licences, passports or bank cards due to financial disadvantage, geographical isolation and mistrust of government.
At the 2016 federal election, 91 per cent of the overall population showed up to vote, while just 52 per cent of the nation’s Indigenous population made it to polling booths.
Special Minister of State Ben Morton defended the legislation, describing it as a necessary protection against voter impersonation and fraudulent voting.
“The purpose of requiring ID is simple — it stops people from stealing someone else’s identity and makes it more difficult to vote twice or more,” Mr Morton said.
“This is not an earth-shattering proposal. We require ID to collect a parcel, drive a car or to transact at a bank.”
But Ms Sharkie insisted the issue was more complex than that, stating that “at worst” she believed the government could be pushing for the legislation to use voter suppression to help Scott Morrison win the next election.
“This is really rushed and it’s completely unnecessary legislation,” Ms Sharkie said.
“What we actually need is a serious investment in AEC (Australian Electoral Commission) education – getting out there and reaching into the communities, and actually getting people onto the electoral roll and then encouraging people to vote.”
Labor and the Greens have expressed similar concerns, labelling the legislation racist and discriminatory, and indicating they will vote against it in parliament later this week.
The Coalition normally has the numbers to pass bills through the House and Senate without support from Labor or the Greens.
But with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and at least two Coalition senators now threatening to withhold their votes in protest of vaccine mandates, the legislation’s future is on shaky ground.
On Sunday, Ms Sharkie announced the Centre Alliance would push for a Senate inquiry into the proposed voter ID laws, further challenging the bill’s chances of making it through parliament before the next election due by May.
“I would like to see a really thorough investigation, as well as looking at should this bill get through and it‘s the staffing implications,” she said.
“We’ve already seen a significant cut over the years of staffing of the AEC in the Northern Territory in particular – so how are we going to educate all of Australia to bring along pieces of paper or otherwise so they can vote?”
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