By Marius Smith
Proposed new “voter ID” laws in Queensland are likely to prevent some Indigenous Australians from exercising their right to vote, according to a new submission to Queensland’s Parliament by our Deputy Director Paula Gerber.
The new law – which will require all voters to produce proof of identity at polling booths – is included in the Electoral Reform Amendment Bill 2013. In a submission to a current Parliamentary inquiry into the Bill, Dr Gerber states that the law will create “a significant barrier to Indigenous Queenslanders exercising their democratic right to vote.”
Voter ID laws are commonplace in the United States where they are justified as a necessary way to combat voter fraud despite there being little evidence that fraud is a significant issue. The real effect of these laws is that they suppress voter turnout among particular groups, including racial minorities and the young, and indeed Pennsylvania’s voter ID law was found to be unconstitutional this week. The marginalisation of minorities, whether intended or not, is likely to be the outcome of the new Queensland laws too, particularly for Indigenous people.
The problem, according to Dr Gerber, is that many Indigenous children are not registered at birth. For example, 1300 Indigenous Australians born in 2005 were not issued with a birth certificate. Once you miss out on that crucial document, you can’t obtain other forms of ID, such as a driver’s licence or passport. And then you find yourself at a polling booth with no way of proving who you are, and no way of having a say in who your elected representatives will be.
For this reason, Dr Gerber called for the proposed law to be rejected or – alternatively – that it be amended to allow people to produce identity documents possessed by most Indigenous Queenslanders, such as “Proof of Aboriginality” documents. The proposed provision will have real effects on democracy in Queensland, and we hope to see it amended or withdrawn altogether before the Bill is enacted.