Failed Boris Johnson adviser James McGrath has had a less-than-stellar career since entering politics back in Australia, and for the last few years has wallowed in Senate obscurity. But his latest effort reveals just how he views democracy — and it’s not pleasant.
The joint standing committee on electoral matters, chaired by McGrath, yesterday published its report on the 2019 election and McGrath, continuing a campaign by the Liberal Party after recent elections, recommends that voters have to present a “form of acceptable identification” before they vote.
A requirement for voter ID is straight from the Republican playbook in the United States, where, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has demonstrated, over 20 million voters could be excluded by ID requirements, which are disproportionately targeted at minority communities.
The justification for such laws is the claim of voter fraud — now, of course, being peddled by Trump and his supporters in an effort to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election.
As the ACLU notes, voter fraud is “vanishingly rare” in the United States, and possibly even rarer here in Australia: the Electoral Commission told McGrath and his committee that “the level of apparent multiple voting for the House of Representatives was just 0.03%” and often related to people with mental health issues.
But just like Trump and Republicans, McGrath wasn’t interested in actual evidence about the extent of voter fraud, and prefers to peddle the myth that there’s a need for ID requirements that practice in the US has shown target minority groups.
There are other aspects of democracy that McGrath doesn’t like. Not content with stopping people from voting without “acceptable identification”, in a truly bizarre suggestion, McGrath wants to stop people voting in between elections, urging an examination of the proposal for “replacing byelections for the House of Representatives with alternative methods of selecting the replacement MP”.
Voters being given a say in who represents them is, seemingly, an affront to McGrath.
McGrath also dislikes early voting. On this, he’s far more in tune with his colleagues across the parties — both the Greens and Labor backed the idea of limiting pre-poll voting to two weeks before election day. McGrath also wants the Electoral Commission to much more rigorously enforce the legislative requirement that only people with a valid reason to vote early be allowed to do so.
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The attempt to limit pre-poll voting is a direct defiance by the political class of the wishes of voters. Australians have made it clear — they hate election campaigns and they prefer to vote as early as they can and get it out of the way. That this makes life difficult for political parties is irrelevant.
The Electoral Commission should be opening pre-polling as quickly as possible after the start of the election so voters can vote when they want. Not enough volunteers to hand out how-to-vote cards at pre-polls? Bad luck. It ruins advertising campaigns? Too bad.
It’s typical of the contempt that political parties have for the public that they’d attempt to defy the will of voters in such a blatant way.
On the other hand, McGrath doesn’t think we have enough politicians. In one of the most over-governed countries on the planet, where a tiny place like Tasmania sends 17 different politicians to Canberra, McGrath urges an inquiry “into the size of the House of Representatives, with consideration to the growing average size of electorates and growing demands of the electorate”.
Do please spare a thought for politicians who don’t like the “growing demands of the electorate”.
The best part, though, is right at the start, when McGrath in his preface intones “we sleep safely in our beds protected from the claws of the banality of evil because we decide who governs”.
The claws of the banality of evil? (And in our bedrooms?)
Well, at least there’s plenty of banality on display in the Senate.