Queensland LNP takes aim at electoral law


While the rest of the country has been focusing on federal politics, two weeks ago the Queensland Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie, announced plans for a number of changes to Queensland’s election laws.

The package includes some innocuous proposals to improve electoral processes, but also a number of items that seem aimed to roll back the clock on election funding reforms and make it harder for some groups of voters to cast a vote.

Queensland’s election funding laws have managed to progress beyond those of the Commonwealth and most other states (arguably apart from New South Wales), with caps on donations and election spending and low thresholds for the disclosure of donations.

The Newman government plans to scrap donation and spending caps, and raise the threshold for disclosing donations to $12,400. This threshold, the same as the federal level, will massively reduce how many donations are required to be disclosed.

While making it easier for large amounts of money to be donated and spent by political parties with reduced requirements for disclosure, the LNP is planning to significantly cut back on the amount of public funding – making parties even more reliant on private donations.

These funding cuts will most severely hit smaller parties. In addition to overall amounts of funding being cut, a candidate will need to poll over 10% to qualify for funding – a massive jump from the current 4% threshold.

Most candidates in the 4-10% range come from parties like the Greens and Katter’s Australian Party, and this will deprive them of substantial sources of funding in a targeted manner.

The LNP has tried to justify this targeted assault on smaller parties on the grounds of stopping “profiteering” – but this has no basis. Queensland has long had rules requiring receipts for election-related expenses be provided for all public funding. If you didn’t spend as much as what you are entitled to, you don’t get a full share. This is very effective at stopping any candidate from making a profit from public funding.

The LNP claimed this was needed to offset the expense of the massive payrises to Queensland MPs (since reversed), ignoring the fact that most of those payrises were to go to government MPs, while public funding cuts would disproportionately hurt the ALP and smaller parties.

Perhaps the most insidious proposal is the government’s plans to introduce voter identification requirements.

Voter ID laws have been a common tactic of US Republicans aiming to reduce turnout amongst groups that often lack identification.

There is little to no evidence that impersonation voter fraud takes place in any organised way – certainly not enough to have ever changed the result in a single electorate, let alone an entire election. The government’s own green paper acknowledged that this was not a problem.

Voter ID laws only make sense if there’s groups of people who you don’t want voting – and it’s worth watching what the LNP plans to do with this idea.

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  1. I don’t have a problem with being expected to show ID to get your name marked off the roll – In fact the first time I voted, I expected it.

    I don’t see how that could be such a significant issue. Who doesn’t carry their wallet with them wherever they go (You should have your drivers licence with you if you drive to a polling booth)?

    I’m torn on the public funding of political parties, but I do agree that they’re raising the threshold on donation disclosures too much.

  2. Macca – the problem is that not everybody has a photo ID. Many people don’t have drivers licenses. And as is the problem that people in the US have with it, such a requirement disproportionately affects certain groups – the poor/homeless, the elderly, and certain minorities (in Australia, mostly the Aboriginal people)… all groups that typically tend to vote more to the left of centre.

    That said, I’ve always thought that it was absurd that they expect you to walk up and give your name, which they mark off one roll, and never bother to check that you’re really who you say you are. There does need to be a better system… but voter ID isn’t a better system by any real measure, especially since there’s no evidence that voter fraud even occurs, beyond maybe the occasional vote or two.

    Anyway, I’m not surprised that the LNP would do something like this. Just like the Coalition at the federal level, they’re getting their playbook from the Republicans in America. They don’t intend on giving up their power any time soon, and will do whatever it takes to keep it, just as the Coalition are doing everything they can to completely logjam government federally.

  3. I don’t think that many people genuinely have no photo ID. Most who don’t have a drivers licence would have an 18+ card or another form of photo ID. That said, I do agree that yes, there would be some (a very small number, but some) people who don’t have ID and actually take the effort to vote and I think there would need to be an alternative for those who don’t have it (such as a bank card and a medicare card), but I do think it needs to be something that everyone would carry with them at all times (rather than the Electoral Commission sending something out to you – as they currently do, but moreso for ease of finding you).

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask to prove who you say you are – especially for something as important as voting. And after an election or two, people would get used to it and know that if they want to vote, they must show ID.

  4. I’d be very interested if you could back up that claim with evidence, @Macca-BNE.

    I haven’t been able to find any reliable data on what proportion of people in Queensland have valid photo ID.

    In the US, when these laws have been proposed, there has been demonstrated that quite a substantial proportion of poor, elderly and immigrant voters don’t have the correct ID.

    We don’t know what form this law takes – there have been claims the ID wouldn’t need to be photo ID.

    But the fact remains that it’s a solution looking for a problem, and has the potential to make it harder for people to vote.

  5. Macca, you are wrong. There’s a significant number of people out there who don’t have photo ID. It costs $60 in Queensland to get an 18+ card. It costs even more to get a driver’s license. Many poor people cannot afford to waste $60 on something that, for them, serves no purpose except to allow them to vote, and it amounts to a poll tax. This is even more true for elderly poor people, who are very obviously over 18, and thus have no other real use for such a card.

    Voting in Australia is a right and a duty, it’s not a luxury. You can’t restrict voting based on whether a person can afford to pay for a photo ID.

    Another example of a problem is… what happens if you lose your license a few days before the election? What happens if you’re in an accident and it’s difficult to identify you relative to your photo? There are many other variations on this theme. When voting is both a right and a duty, it is simply not reasonable to restrict who can vote based on anything like requirements to have photo ID.

  6. ID checks are everywhere already – 100 point check to open a bank account, get a passport… Australia simply isn’t the disjointed, disorganised mess the US is.

    As to the current system – the checks aren’t done up front currently – they are done afterwards once all the rolls are brought together and any anomalies are identified. When you have a list of everyone, this is actually far quicker.

    Which bring the biggest issue from this – more detailed ID checks would dramatically increase the time it takes to process each voter at the desk, moving from a simple three question process to a ID matching one…

  7. Driftforge – most poor people aren’t going to have passports, and many won’t be opening bank accounts. Without having a driver’s license or equivalent, to get 100 points, you typically need a birth certificate (if you don’t have your own copy already, it costs money to get that), passport or citizenship certificate… PLUS another card with name (Medicare card, library card, etc), PLUS documents with your name and address on them (like a utility bill, etc). Many poor people won’t have this much ID available, and will have even more trouble getting it all together in order to be able to vote.

    While lack of photo ID won’t be as bad here as in the US, the fact that it doesn’t disenfranchise *as many* voters isn’t justification for allowing it. What’s more, non-photo-ID methods require checks against the info provided, hence why there’s so many parts to the method; doing it up-front at a polling booth just isn’t feasible.

    As Ben pointed out, voter ID laws are a solution looking for a problem. They are trying to “fix” something which doesn’t appear to be broken – there’s no sign of any sort of endemic voter fraud going on, anomalies are rare. In 2007, out of 13 million votes cast, only 1,167 of them were cases of electoral fraud, most of which were accidental fraud – that is, people who didn’t understand the system properly. That’s a rate of 0.008%. Meanwhile, a voter ID law would likely disenfranchise a good hundred thousand legitimate voters.

  8. Or what happens if an other wise law abiding citizen has one drink to many and gets caught at the breatho on the way home on election eve and consequently has her license confiscated. And as she is away from home she cannot simply get other identification. Result: disenfranchised voter for a relatively minor alleged offence. Could happen to many people, including Tony Abbot’s chief of staff….. Surely nobody is suggesting that an alleged minor road offence results in effective disqualification from voting.

    This proposed law clearly discriminates against poor, disabled, immigrants, and /or uneducated people who often don’t have cars, passports or similar id. I expect these groups are less likely to vote for the LNP.

    And what happens if the information on the Id is different to the roll? Eg: recently moved but have not updated drivers license but have updated roll, or with passports that do not have addresses or recently married women who chage their names and the list goes on…..

    I also wonder if it is a first step to abolishing compulsory voting? I don’t see how you can have compulsory voting if you require additional requirements. Sorry don’t have any id. You can’t vote. You get fined for not voting……

    There are much broader and deeper philosophical issues here than simply having photo identification. Any sort of identification required by the State is an attempt by authorities to require individuals to justify their existence to the State rather than the State having the onus to prove that an individual is not who they say they are. Unfortunately this seems to be happening more and more often. In foreign countries that have id cards I have heard of situations where children when they were applying for id cards at age 12 have been required to have DNA tests to prove their mother was who they claimed. We seem to be sliding down this path of having to justify ourselves to the State rather than the other way around.

    Once a person attests that they a “John Smith of 12 Smith St” and they are on the roll then nothing further should be required to vote. Voting is the only time the citizens make the State accountable. Which is why revolutions are fought and people die so that people can have a say in making the State accountable (eg. UK civil war, US war of independence, Indian independence movement, South African abolition of appartiate, Women’s suffrage movement)

    Agree with the other contributors that this is a solution that is looking for a problem.

    Finally, and to follow on from Macca-BNE, I too was surprised for the first time I voted that I did not need id. On reflection, this surprised reaction just confirms that we have been conditioned to expect that we have to justify ourselves to the the State rather than the State justifying itself to us.

  9. These are wretched laws, and all the worse for appearing to be common-sense. And I actually want to take issue with Glen’s assumption that voter ID won’t be as bad as in the US. I don’t know whether Queensland or the US states with these laws have more poor or shut-in elderly people and urban poor, but I suppose you could look at those numbers and make your judgement. And I know that some of the places where they have done this in the US they didn’t have birth certificates, so many elderly people can’t get state photo ID if they didn’t already have a drivers licence before birth certificates were required, which is probably not a factor for Queensland (I have no idea when issuing birth certificates became mandatory there).

    But the simple fact is that the American voter ID laws have little or no effect, probably because the demographic groups whose votes are suppressed also typically do not vote (about 52% of people making US$ 15,000 or less vote). The effect in an election where voting is mandatory simply has to be greater. Even if that is wrong, I agree with Glen’s wider point that it doesn’t matter if fewer people are disenfranchised than expected; depriving people of the vote by making it unduly difficult is simply wrong. And that is doubly the case when there is no problem in the first place.

    That the proposal is included in a package that makes it easier for the LNP to fund itself and that savages spending for smaller parties (in what looks like an attempt to cut KAP and the UAP* off at the knees) should tell everyone that this is a self-serving ploy. I wish the QLP luck in trying to defend the status quo, but people tend to see voter ID as reasonable and to hate public funding, so they have their work cut out for them.

    *I include the state branch of Palmer’s party as it will likely fit the category after the next election.

  10. The 4% funding rule is undemocratic but I don’t think that there should be any taxpayer funding for candidates and parties. Further there should be no requirement to get many people to nominate an independent candidate. In a federal election 50 signatures are required to nominate for the House of Representatives last time I checked and I understand nomination fees are going up too. I think the more candidates the better but I will still put Danby last in Melbourne Ports. What an oxygen thief he is

  11. ID problems are not an issue in Australia but until we all have ID cards this will not work. Perhaps the purple dye on the thumb is the go if double voting is considered a problem which it isn’t.

  12. Adrian – taxpayer funding is a necessary feature of the system, it prevents it from becoming government by the rich, for the rich (current government does favour the rich, sadly, but at least the rest of the country gets some attention along the way).

    As for the 4% rule, it’s entirely democratic… it’s there, not to punish those with low support, but to prevent people from using taxpayer money to obtain effectively free publicity for whatever they want to say. A minimum support of 1-5% (the choice of 4% is somewhat arbitrary, but it needs to be small – 10% is too big because you can actually win on preferences from 10% – but not too small – 0.5% wouldn’t be enough to discourage the free publicity factor) demonstrates that the candidate actually has some level of viability.

    Consider the “Help End Marijuana Prohibition” party. Do you honestly think that they’re going to win a seat anywhere at any point in time? They’re just not viable, even they know this; they exist because being on the ballot lends their cause a bit more attention… that is, it’s for publicity purposes. Now imagine a hundred such parties, all on the ballot for publicity purposes, rather than any serious expectations of winning a seat. Note that the 50 signatures serves a similar purpose, keeping candidates off the ballot that wouldn’t even be able to draw in 0.1% of the vote, independently of any need for funding.

    RichR – I was speaking specifically to the issue of disenfranchisement, not its impact on the vote itself. I’m sure that compulsory voting would magnify the impact, not to mention creating a problem for people who are on the roll, but lack a photo ID.

  13. Taxpayer funding is designed by electoral matter committees dominated by the two major parties to assist maintaining the status quo. The two major parties think that they are born to rule and increasingly with electoral fraud and rorts justified by legislation.

  14. Preferencial voting should go. No voter is interested in their 2nd or 3rd choice. First past the post voting works well in our mother country.

  15. If voter ID laws are brought in it might well be another job for Getup. They challenged Howard’s early closing of the rolls at the Commonwealth level in 2010 and won 4:3 in the High Court (Rowe v Electoral Commissioner).

    Six judges found there was a general right to vote as the Commonwealth constitution requires that MPs be “chosen by the people”. The one judge who didn’t has since retired. Four judges found that the fact that early roll closing would have the practical effect of disenfranchising some voters who hadn’t kept their enrolments up to date was enough to make it unconstitutional.

    On fraud, Howard appointee Justice Crennan ruled “There was no evidence that fraudulent activity was reduced by the shortening of the seven day cut-off period, nor was there any evidence that systematic electoral fraud exists.” Other judges said similar things.

    To me it seems pretty clear that voter ID laws would be unconstitutional at a federal level as there is an even greater burden placed on some groups of people. I’m not a constitutional lawyer so I don’t know whether the Commonwealth right to vote extends to states like the right to free political speech seems to, or whether there’s something entrenched in the Queensland constitution that would have a similar effect, but I would be interested to know.

  16. I don’t have a problem with nominal public support of political parties, because I agree that it does assist in them becoming more independent of significant public donations.

    However, I also agree that the threshold on when donations need to be disclosed should be raised as there are many people in the community (particularly business owners) who want to support a candidate, but don’t want to be seen to support that candidate – and that’s their prerogative – that’s one reason why we have the secret vote.

    I regard to voter ID, I agree that there are significant hurdles to it, and if these laws do come in, they do need to be overcome, but I don’t agree that availability of ID is a significant issue. Yes, there are examples everyone can provide where someone may not have ID available to them on election day, such as if your house burns down the night before. But if that was to happen to you, would you really care about making your way to the polling booth? I know I wouldn’t. I’m not saying that my opinion justifies the rule, but I disagree that those hypotheticals are an obstacle.

    I think if voter ID was brought in, you would have to do three things:
    1) Public education program
    2) Allow any ID, including the little cards the Electoral Commission sends out informing you of what electorate you’re in and where you can vote – not just photo ID
    3) Phased increase in enforcement at polling booths (first election, inform people and remind them to bring ID next time – second election, be more firm and still allow people to vote – third election, ask people to return with ID)

    In my view, the requirement to have ID is no different to the requirement to be on the electoral roll – and there’s plenty of people who aren’t. And it’s similar to how the electoral roll closes a few days after the writs are issued. Sure, it may disenfranchise people who feel they should just be able to rock up at a polling booth on election day and vote, but it’s simply a requirement of the system – and you get used to it, and update the roll as soon as you move.

  17. For clarity, I wouldn’t just give any voter ID laws the green light, but provided it was well drafted and well implemented, I would support it.

    It just needs to be done correctly.

  18. Simple , in South Africa they use a very simple system , when you walk into the polling booth your hand has to be placed under a UV light , you then proceed to have an invisible dye (lasts about a week) applied to your thumb/hand and off you go , the dye is only visible under UV , no double dips possible !!

    Brings to mind the “urban legend” of the USA spending millions of dollars R&D on a pen that worked in zero gravity and huge temperature swings while the Russians just used a pencil…
    The actual events are a bit different to the various stories about it ( DYOR ) however the same Keep it Simple approach is still the best one.

  19. Goodness gracious me – are Queenslanders so naïve -still… after all those years under the Bjelke-Petersen gerrymander where one person’s vote was often worth 3 times another’s? Both of these measures are clearly an attempt by the Newman government to undermine democracy and disenfranchise the most marginalised people in Queensland. Patronage by those who want something from a government which does not have to be disclosed is the basis of corruption as we have recently seen in NSW. No chance of anyone without money getting into see a Minister about their particular issues.
    As the conservatives are so fond of saying, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. There is no evidence of significant electoral fraud in Queensland or any other part of Australia. This government is clearly trying to stop people who they think won’t vote for them from voting. I have a better idea – why not try to introduce some policies to help the marginalised so they want to vote for you, rather than stealing their vote — a novel concept, representative democracy. About time Queensland tried it.

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