Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The Voter ID Experiment: Reform or the Continuation of a Queensland Tradition?

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The Voter ID Experiment: Reform or the Continuation of a Queensland Tradition?

Article excerpt

Introduction

In March 2012, the government of Queensland changed. After effectively twenty-two years in opposition1, the Liberal-National Party (LNP) was elected with an unprecedented 67-seat majority over the Australian Labor Party (ALP) opposition. Emboldened by this victory, the LNP moved quickly to place their mark on the politics and policies of Queensland. One of the changes it introduced was to the States' electoral laws. In a Green Paper introduced in 2013, the Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie, proposed a range of reforms:

enhancements to voter enrolment processes; the current optional preferential voting system; voting options and requirements (including: whether voting should be compulsory; the postal voting system; electronic voting; and opportunities for minimising voter fraud); and the laws governing political advertising and how-to-vote cards (Electoral Reform Discussion Paper 2013: 2).

The subsequent decision to demand a form of voter identification (voter ID) as a solution to voter fraud attracted media attention and is the focus of a concerted opposition campaign by GetUp!2 is the subject of this article. One by-election and one State election were held after voter ID became law. While more analysis on the breakdown of data is needed, early empirical evidence supports international experience that the voter ID requirement affected turnout in rural and remote communities. This paper argues that voter ID is a form of voter suppression that does nothing to address voter fraud. In addition, by placing identification requirements on voters, the policy is at odds with Australia's compulsory voting system, which aims to allow voters to fulfil this obligation of citizenship with as few impediments as possible (Hughes and Costar 2006: 44).

This article initially provides a brief synopsis of the LNP's defeat in 2015 that was promptly followed by a review by LNP party elders Robert Borbidge and Joan Sheldon. They concluded that the LNP government had lost the trust of the electorate through its determination to implement reforms too quickly and without adequate consultation. The issue of trust is well canvassed in scholarly literature. A trust deficit has been observed across the Western world, and indicates that governments interested in radical change must first provide an adequate and plausible explanation to its citizens. This article then places in context Queensland's electoral history to highlight the way successive governments have manipulated the electoral system for their own benefit. The LNP's stated rationale for its 2014 amendments centred around Labor's earlier changes to The Electoral Act 1992 that it claimed were 'implemented with too little consideration and consultation' and which were designed to 'benefit political parties in Queensland' (Electoral Reform Discussion Paper 2013: 2). This article concludes with evidence that the 2014 introduction of voter ID adversely impacted on particular groups and communities in Queensland.

Three Years and Out

The LNP government served one term in office. The 31 January 2015 election, which was hastily called over the Christmas holiday period, resulted in a minority Labor government being elected. This was both unexpected and somewhat remarkable considering the electoral drubbing Labor had received only three years earlier when it was left with only seven seats in the 89-seat State Parliament. Early explanations as to why the LNP performed so badly in 2015 (losing 36 seats) ranged from inexperienced leadership to hubris in the government's belief that it could so quickly and without much explanation implement far-ranging and often controversial reforms. The Borbidge Sheldon Election Review called after the shock defeat examined the actions and policy decisions of the former government, noting 'errors in policy and political judgment' and finding that the LNP had failed to build trust, by alienating 'almost every key interest group across the state' and displaying 'a dismissive arrogant approach' generally (The Borbidge Sheldon Election Review: 2015). …

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