ALEX BARWICK, PRESENTER: The changes proposed have been slammed by the Federal Opposition with Labor MP Warren Snowdon labelling the laws as racist and discriminatory towards Aboriginal people who are already underrepresented on the electoral roll. Malarndirri McCarthy is the Labor Senator for the Northern Territory and I spoke to her earlier and she very much feels the same way.
SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: This legislation, which we call voter suppression, is an absolute disgrace and it is discriminatory. There is no two ways about it. The fact that the Morrison Government is bringing this in on the eve of a federal election without any scrutiny is also a disgrace. And what he's doing is demolishing democracy.
BARWICK: Do you have any sense of exactly why the Federal Government has introduced this Bill?
MCCARTHY: Well, we can only see it as discrimination against Australians going to the polling booth and having their say. We have 16 million voters across the country and we know here in the Northern Territory that the voter turnout has been low in the past. And if people are forced to prove and show I.D. after standing up for hours in long queues, long queues that we saw with COVID and Centrelink, they will not want to vote. And that is disenfranchising Australians.
BARWICK: People might think surely this is a bit of an equaliser. There’s so many places where you have to show identification. Why do you think this really targets and disadvantages Indigenous people?
MCCARTHY: Well, not just First Nations people, Alex. This is also about people who have no homes. Look at the homeless that we had across Australia, look at the homeless that we have here in the Northern Territory. It disenfranchises them. It disenfranchises people who don't feel confident in going into a polling booth. People from non-English speaking backgrounds who don't have English as their first language. This is not about encouraging Australians to enrol to vote, and that's what we should be doing. Here in the Northern Territory and across Australia in fact, only 78 per cent of Indigenous voters were enrolled to vote in 2020. And the AEC says that should be our focus. So why are we trying to discriminate and disenfranchise Australians from voting at the ballot box? This is not the United States.
BARWICK: If we just reflect on some recent elections, even the local government election here in Alice Springs, voter turnout was lower than it had been previously. I know in last year’s August Territory election, voter turnout was low and in particular it was low in Indigenous communities. How much worse will it get potentially?
MCCARTHY: Scott Morrison has form on this, Alex. We've seen here in the Northern Territory the massive cutbacks to the AEC at the beginning of the Coalition government, and that was the first strike. The second one was direct enrolments; expecting people to have addresses or postal addresses when we know in communities that that is not the case; it generally goes to a post office entries. And now the third thing with this supposed voter integrity, which is actually voter suppression Bill, this is all about disenfranchising all Australians and making sure we don't have their vote and making sure they don't get to the ballot box. And that is not democracy.
BARWICK: Let’s look at some of the arguments that the Federal Government have put up though for introducing this legislation. They say they want to make sure there is no voter fraud, that people don’t vote multiple times, that’s reasonable to want to stamp that out surely?
BARWICK: Oh, seriously. There were 16 million Australians who voted in the last election. 2000 of them voted more than once. And the reason, well largely, the Australian Electoral Commission has said, that those people really voted twice because they didn't understand what they were doing. They were picked up. There was no one who was prosecuted, and the Australian electoral commissioner has called it a "vanishingly small problem". However, when you compare the problem of not enrolling Australians and the large number of Australians who are not on the roll, what's the Australian government doing about that? Zip nothing.
BARWICK: I understand the Federal Government has promised the AEC $9.4 million to get more First Nations people enrolled to vote. That shows that they are trying to do something surely?
MCCARTHY: It's very belated, very belated, and if you're now putting this out to expect people to have IDs for a federal election that we're on the cusp of having any moment, this is just an absolute disgrace and it is a demolition of democracy in our country. And just another step of how this government is so desperate to stay in power.
BARWICK: With that $9.4 million, what would you like to see that spent on?
MCCARTHY: Well, there's so many more things that can be done right now, get rid of this Bill that they've introduced into the parliament, that would be the first step.
BARWICK: Alright, just in terms of understanding the process now, what will happen now that this Bill has been introduced?
MCCARTHY: Well, there's an expectation, of course, for debate and then it should go through to the Senate. There would be an expectation, certainly, I would think, for an inquiry into it. But given the time frame, when an election can be called at any moment now, Alex, I am very concerned that all of this is a last minute distraction to cause concern across the country unnecessarily.
BARWICK: Senator, thanks for your time.
MCCARTHY: Thank you.