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Voter ID laws will fail poor, Indigenous and homeless Queenslanders

The Queensland government last week introduced a bill to parliament that, when passed, will make voter identification a prerequisite for casting a ballot. This is a first for Australia and follows several…

Queensland has witnessed many firsts in Australian politics, and is set to be the first state in Australia to institute controversial voter ID laws. AAP/Martin Silk

The Queensland government last week introduced a bill to parliament that, when passed, will make voter identification a prerequisite for casting a ballot. This is a first for Australia and follows several American states and other western nations.

For state polls, Queensland voters will need to present a current driver’s license, passport, recent public utility bill or an ID card issued by the government, such as a Medicare or seniors' card.

Queensland has witnessed many firsts in Australian politics: electing the first Labor government and the only member of the Communist Party (Fred Paterson), and also becoming the only state to abolish its Upper House in 1922. Electoral reform is also something of an Australian tradition, including pioneering the secret ballot.

Conspiracies about voter fraud abound, but how real a problem is it? Coalition frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull suggests there may be a problem, observing recently that “the current system is fraught with errors”:

…there are a large number of people who … go to the polling place and say they are someone else.

Most of them are doing so honestly – they are doing so on behalf of a friend who is away or who is sick.

Advocates for voter ID laws claim to be concerned with making elections fairer. While this has a degree of inherent logic in it, electoral experts argue that the instances of voter fraud are “overstated”. An Australian government green paper released in 2009 found similarly, while the Australian Electoral Commission’s website notes that since major electoral reforms in 1983, the Court of Disputed Returns has not voided any election on the basis of fraudulent voting.

Even the Queensland government’s own discussion paper indicates that voter fraud was not an issue in past Queensland elections and that the introduction of voter ID laws could be “considered a disproportionate response to the risk”. So why was it included in this bill? And what will it actually mean for the state and the nation?

International experience

Many first world countries also use a form of voter ID laws, including Canada, the United States, Germany and the Netherlands. It has its uses, providing a degree of integrity to elections in emerging democracies, where fraud is undeniably more prevalent.

Some of the more serious criticisms of voter ID laws comes out of the US, where usually poor, black citizens risk being disenfranchised because of difficulties in obtaining suitable ID. While 34 states in the US now have a form of voter ID laws, locals are pushing back. In Texas, a photo ID law was blocked by the federal court which found “it imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor”. In other states such as South Carolina, the law has been watered down over time as a result of court challenges.

In the US, voting is not compulsory, and disabling a person’s right to vote (particularly if they aren’t likely to vote for the party who is imposing voter ID laws), makes the job of political parties in “getting out the vote” that much easier. A judge sitting in the United States Court of Appeal recently admitted he was wrong in his earlier support for the measure, and now believes that instead of preventing voter fraud, voter ID laws:

…suppress the vote by denying people who have a legitimate entitlement to vote access to the ballot box.

In Canada, there has also been some controversy surrounding voter ID laws and Muslim women needing to remove their niqab or burka to prove their identification before being able to cast a ballot.

Voter ID laws in the US risk disenfranchising poor, black and elderly voters. EPA/Larry W. Smith

Queensland context

Queensland has a poor track record of electoral reform. Prior to the Fitzgerald Inquiry and the changes that occurred as a result (including the establishment of an independent electoral commission), large scale misconduct existed at the most senior levels of the police force and politics.

Governments (both Labor and Liberal) used the electoral system as a way of shoring up support. In 1922, the Labor Party stacked the Upper House with a group of men – later known as the “suicide squad” – who voted to abolish the Legislative Council.

Electoral systems were also changed in order to benefit the party in power at the time. Malapportioned electoral districts were the norm. The community of Wugal Wugal experienced the only true gerrymander the state has seen, when the government-appointed commissioners removed their right to vote in their own electorate of Barron River, and placed them in the Labor electorate of Cook.

Later, Tony Fitzgerald would note that:

It has not always been obvious that the Electoral Commissioners were independent of the government…[t]he commissioners did not report to parliament, but to the premier.

Many Queenslanders fought long and hard for electoral reform in the years leading up to the Fitzgerald Inquiry. It is these memories that ought to prod Queensland to query the rationale for voter ID laws.

Australia has a long tradition of democratic innovation. Despite their flaws, universal franchise and compulsory voting remain the best protection against abuse. Of particular concern is how voter ID will affect Indigenous communities, the poor and the homeless. No matter how many forms of ID will be permitted, it is easy to imagine that on voting day, many otherwise eligible voters will not have their ID.

When change is mooted to something as important as the electoral system, the first question should be: what is the possible hidden agenda? One possible answer to this is removing compulsory enrolment and voting in the longer term. This will be easier to argue for when voting numbers decline – and in an era where many are already feeling disconnected from their governments, voter ID laws just might see to that.

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59 Comments sorted by

  1. Eric Thacker

    Viticultural Contractor

    If the LNP want to introduce this, there is of course a hidden agenda ie the disenfranchisement of a significant number of voters, most of whom don't vote for them. How many voters without adequate ID to vote in person will now somehow cast postal votes for LNP candidates?

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  2. Greg North

    Retired Engineer

    It could well be an overkill and will certainly provide much motivation for earlier voting owing to the delays likely on polling day.
    Then again, no doubt if there is the possibility of fraud, that can be the seed for greater things that we would not want to see and who would really know what could go on in families having cultures much different to what we might consider the norm.
    Though it would be difficult for Fred to vote as Wilma without raising eyebrows, there are no doubt other configurations…

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  3. Jack Arnold

    Polymath

    With the Cockup Newman Coalition government continuing to demonstrate the inability to govern for an egalitarian society in Queensland there will obviously be an increased opportunity for the unelected political hacks that infest the NLP to manipulate the number of voters eligible to vote against Newman at the next election.

    There is a real possibility that Newman will lose his own seat when the people judge the last years of his incompetent government.

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    1. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      I dunno Jack, unless they have decided to bin their leathers, Queenslanders as a lot are more than happy with Can Do Charm.

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    2. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Greg North

      Obviously Greg, you were NOT one of the 14,000 Queensland public servants dispatched onto the dole after the last Queensland election.

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    3. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      You might just find Jack that a goodly portion of that 14,000 were either on contracts or have likely found work in the private sector and that can only be good for the state.
      The reality Jack is that if you have an employer continually borrowing money to pay employees, that can't go on endlessly and I suppose that is the huge philosopical difference between feel good spendthrift labor governments and feel even better responsible alternate governments.

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    4. Kristi Loggan

      logged in via email @australiamail.com

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      This also has nothing to do with the USA. Get them off the page.
      Does this apply to Jehovahs Witnesses et al? No. Of course not.

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    5. Fiona Nilsen

      Healthcare worker

      In reply to Greg North

      Really Greg? Must remember to tell my former colleagues, all of who were on "permanent"positions, frontline ones at that, that they were mostly on contracts and that their release from their jobs can only be good for the state.
      Even though, services they provided means hospital beds are closed and services they formerly provided are now shoved onto already overloaded GPs. All's apparently well.
      Tell me, do you live in Qld?

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    6. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Greg North

      Wake up Greg, contract workers are for the benefit of the employer. My informed advice is that the Queensland government is suffering from operational paralysis because there are too few surviving experienced government servants and too many "jobs for the boys" political appointments with their nose in the trough of public service allowances & entitlements, just like the Notional Party politicians breaking election promises.

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    7. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Kristi Loggan

      A wonderful day speaking with thoughtful Independent politicians and self serving industry representatives. Who would have thought that my little contribution would have made TC! Does that make me a TC contributor?

      Careful Kristi, the future is coming to get you.

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    8. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Kristi Loggan

      Kristi ....... where did you get the USA from?

      Any JWs employed by the Queensland government were subjected to the same razor gang as everybody else.

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    9. Kristi Loggan

      logged in via email @australiamail.com

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Jack - No sweetheart. I'M coming to get IT. hahaha

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    10. Kristi Loggan

      logged in via email @australiamail.com

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      I would say to you all that it is truly lovely to see a democratic forum (not) where posts are removed because someone is snooty. Lol. What freedom, what respect, and how nice.
      The reality is, that it's easy for an interstater to comment on another state's activities.
      The reality is that it's easy for anyone to remove a post and thus deny a person a voice.
      You are all just petty little people pushing your own sorry agenda's with no intention of allowing others an independent voice - you are simply mirroring political licence and abuses, that equal corruption.
      Have a nice little life. All the while you do not attend to corruption under your noses. Is it because you are also corrupt? Filled to the brim with self interest? But of course.

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    11. Liz Minchin

      Queensland Editor at The Conversation

      In reply to Kristi Loggan

      Kristi, we've had to remove several of your posts because you've made some serious allegations of corruption against a local council and the Queensland govt, all of which are potentially defamatory.

      We've also removed posts by others for the same reasons of implied corruption, so it's nothing personal.

      These are our Community Standards: https://theconversation.com/au/community_standards which include: "We will remove any content that may put us in legal jeopardy, such as potentially defamatory postings, or material posted in potential breach of copyright."

      To everyone reading this: please do try to maintain a basic level of respect and courtesy for others, both about fellow Conversationalists but also about politicians/public figures.

      You may hate them, but please stick to using real names, rather than rude nicknames. Everyone - even people with entirely different political beliefs to you - deserves common courtesy.

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    12. Liz Minchin

      Queensland Editor at The Conversation

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Hi Jack,

      I can understand that you or anyone else might not have any love or respect for a particular party or politician. But I'm trying to apply these community standards, which all of us are asked to bear in mind, esp:

      "We aim to maintain theconversation.com service as an inviting space to focus on intelligent discussions. Be courteous." https://theconversation.com/au/community_standards

      Pulling apart weak policy and pointing to better solutions is great, that's all to be welcomed. But it is possible to do that in a civil way. I hope that's a little clearer than what I wrote before.

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    13. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Liz Minchin

      Might we balance what you regard as necessary action by re-iterating what the inaugural commissioner of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, Ian Temby QC declared as one of his main findings?
      "That the climate most conducive to corruption existed at the local government level".
      Public knowledge that should not be overlooked in the present debate.
      Thanks for your consideration.

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    14. Liz Minchin

      Queensland Editor at The Conversation

      In reply to James Hill

      No problem with raising that as an issue Jack, and I'm not trying to stifle dissent or debate - just can't leave potentially defamatory posts about particular people/govts on the page.

      All the best,
      Liz

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    15. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Liz Minchin

      Certainly, Liz, that is a responsible action, considering that The Conversation would be partially liable in a defamation action, and might even have the wherewithal to pay damages and so attract "vexatious" litigants simply motivated by particular political prejudices.
      Those with no assets tend to be threatened with sound and fury and then just ignored when the potential "wronged" litigants realise they will not be paid.
      As said, not the case with The Conversation.

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    16. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Liz Minchin

      I might have found that information in a book called "Teach Yourself Journalism", though that title may not be accurate.
      Plus a little bit of direct experience after putting my name to someone else's Press Release as a favour, only to be subject to what turned out to be some empty bluster about defamation.

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  4. James Hill

    Industrial Designer

    Some sort of confirmation of identity will be needed for the next development in democracy, that of frequent electronic voting on referenda style questions.
    At present opening a bank account must be very difficult for those affected by the Queensland lD legislation as the requirements for proof of identity are quite onerous.
    Those falling through these eligibility cracks seem to be in serious need of help.
    Or is it society itself which is serious need of help, with the difficulties of the "Least of Christ's Brothers" merely the symptom of an immoral "commercial" society?
    Let's see what Can Do can do about that.
    The established hypocrisy says that will be nothing at all.
    "By their actions shall ye know them" with these posturing "Fraude" Christians.

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    1. In reply to James Hill

      Comment removed by moderator.

    2. In reply to James Hill

      Comment removed by moderator.

    3. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Kristi Loggan

      OK Kristi, as a responsible community minded citizen, what did YOU do to bring the miscreants to account for their actions?

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    4. Kristi Loggan

      logged in via email @australiamail.com

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      I reported them to the authorities. I refuse to deal with any of them. I neither wave or say 'Hello' etc - viz, I donot acknowledge them in passing and so on. I pay the rates and that's it. When they charged the community here a fee for free tv they found they wouldn't get away with it after I came to town. I am constantly on their back, asking the oldies and others questions, weighing up what they say in realtion to Council etc and pursuing issues in one way or another.
      I am wasting my own time checking them. THAT'S part of what I waste my time doing. I am constantly alert when it comes to this Council. I've never seen another like it. But then I am in Queensland. A place I would rather not be in.

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    5. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Kristi Loggan

      Imagine what the NBN would do to these rural fiefdoms.
      It tends to be the case, with these sort of "insider" governments, that things just seem to "Happen" in an information "Black Hole".
      It is always "fait accompli", and no further correspondence will be entered into.
      That original NSW commissioner against corruption,Ian Temby's criteria for corruption were incompetence and misconduct.
      But in the case of Rural fiefdoms, not just in Queensland, all that is evil never sees the light, with incompetence…

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  5. Jonathan Adamson

    Brain Surgeon

    I highly doubt that those mentioned as being disenfranchised are actually voting in the first place. Given the farce of the WA senate electoral result it is high time there were some disciplines put in place in the electoral system. This is one area of reform that is long over due and could be at least one positive already from the election of Clive Palmer. In this day and age it is irresponsible for people not to be carrying some form of identification.

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    1. Kristi Loggan

      logged in via email @australiamail.com

      In reply to Jonathan Adamson

      Don't forget all the votes that "disappeared" ... this has also happened over time in Queensland Courts with the disappearance of Orders, and countless boxes of vital material from State Archives at the hands of corrupt official.
      Queensland gags it's people.

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  6. Kristi Loggan

    logged in via email @australiamail.com

    Re: …there are a large number of people who … go to the polling place and say they are someone else.

    Most of them are doing so honestly – they are doing so on behalf of a friend who is away or who is sick.

    This is not true.
    There are rules for assisting someone who is sick etc.
    Noone can pretend to be someone else at the polls and get away with it. UNLESS THEY HAVE FRAUDULENTLY falsified documents . In which case it is a criminal matter not an electoral matter.
    This is just another excuse.

    The corrupt ones are politicians.

    What happens when we who are not gutless all stop voting..? Hope they use our taxes to feed us in prison. Back to the days of the paupers prisons.

    Filthy Queensland.

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    1. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Kristi Loggan

      Obviously Kristi you have an unrealistic expectation of politics and elections. Remember the old addage "Vote early, vote often" is applied by both political parties.

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    2. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      "Get Real", Jack?
      Surrendering to cynicism will not get us a long way.
      What price "social capital", now exceedingly rare, when the "Inevitable Abbott Recession" takes hold?
      Vote often, yes, in a grass-roots democratic setting, and it is never too early to start rebuilding this essential societal protection against white collar thugs and their sad cynic collaborators.

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    3. Kristi Loggan

      logged in via email @australiamail.com

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Jack Arnold. I have wide experience and have bee voting for a very long time. I know human nature and Government well. Not that I need explain myself to you or anyone else.
      My expectations are far from realistic. But then, you would not know.

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    4. In reply to Jack Arnold

      Comment removed by moderator.

    5. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to James Hill

      Realistic James, sadly. Agreed that Toxic RAbbott is following the usual conservative Coalition path into "the recession we will have to have" so that the poor can support the rich in the manner that the rich wish to remain.

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    6. Kristi Loggan

      logged in via email @australiamail.com

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      PS Jack darling, any reasonable person would have - based on the evidence/track record - NO expectations of politicians who do NOTHING but feather their own nests.

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    7. Kristi Loggan

      logged in via email @australiamail.com

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      What a ridiculous post. As with any human capacity for knowledge and the very essence of epistemology itself, an encyclopedia is far from being omnipotent. Similarly [Australia] politics and all aspects of psychology which are need I say all social constructions. As any reasonable human knows, every individual thinks for his/her self - it is irrational to state otherwise. Deluded, even.
      Of course, you would have first-hand experience of [the strategies employed by] 'every fascist regime in history, would you not?
      "Australian Liberal Coalition" hahahaha.

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    8. Kristi Loggan

      logged in via email @australiamail.com

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      PS Sarcasism is the lowest form of wit.

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    9. Kristi Loggan

      logged in via email @australiamail.com

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Would you like to live in Queensland?

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    10. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Kristi Loggan

      Kristi, you appear to be a strong supporter of Barnaby Joyce, the Minister for Rinehart, purchased for a $50,000 political donation at the 2013 Federal election and holding his seat with a margin of about 3,200 votes.

      Both Bumbling Joke of the free football match and overseas wedding expenses rorting of parliamentary allowances and entitlements, and theToxic RAbbott Coalition government are being prepared for a single term in office.

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  7. Andy Cameron

    Care giver

    The objection that certain sorts of people will be denied their right to vote as they have no ID is a furphy. Everyone has ID.

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    1. Regan

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      "Everyone has ID". Are you sure about that?

      There is some evidence that a significant number of Indigenous Australians do not have birth certificates http://www.law.monash.edu/research/hdr/indigenous-birth-registration-schol.html. Given you need a birth certificate to get pretty much anything else, this presumably means they have no other form of ID either.

      What about a woman who doesn't drive and whose utilities are all in her husband's name?

      People who have otherwise fallen through the cracks due to a period of homelessness or other reasons?

      I'm surprised that the lack of ID requirement does not result in more fraud than it does. And from the privileged vantage point that we probably both share, it's easy to assume that ID is the answer. This article shows it's not as simple as that.

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    2. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      In the bank account case, Andy, it is a question of how much ID.
      Easily applied to the voting situation by undemocratic "regimes".
      You have ID?
      Sorry you need more, and then as one contributor has told us the information is "Sold" to a political party.
      Talk about "The Mark of The Beast" of Biblical prophecy.
      Used to exclude people from the "marketplace" of voting?
      One has to ask, if such a prescient example was dreamt up more that two millenia ago, what has happened to the modern imagination?
      Blunted to a stump by to much easy cynicism, masquerading as intelligence?
      Yes, let's have some more of that!

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    3. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Regan

      Regan, firstly, I do not argue from some "privileged vantage point (whatever that is). Secondly, nobody occupies a "privileged vantage point" just because they have ONE of EITHER a birth certificate, Medicare card, savings account ATM card, utilities bill, Centrelink card, non-driver Photo card. Thirdly, the only people who might not have ANY of these are more likely to be involved in organised crime, who don't want to leave any digital footprint, thus have no relationship with Centrelink, pay cash from the cash-only proceeds of their crimes, and pay out of pocket for medical expenses.
      In other words, any Australian who excuses their non-voting due to "lack of ID", I'd request they visit their local police station, with some explaining to do.

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    4. Kristi Loggan

      logged in via email @australiamail.com

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Andy: What planet are you on? Did you drop out and off the planet? No. your statement 'Everyone has ID' is false. Not all swans are white. Der.

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    5. Kristi Loggan

      logged in via email @australiamail.com

      In reply to Regan

      '[A] woman who doesn't drive and whose utilities are all in her husband's name' is oppressed. She will be liberated as was one woman I encountered when after 35 years of marriage her husband took off with another woman. This white, middle-class Australian didn't know how to use the phone, or pay a bill. He even did the grocery shopping so she didn't know how to handle money. However, his leaving opened the door for her - or should I say, doors - she went to TAFE, got a job, a car licence and a life. I have no idea what happened to her but it was an eye-opener.

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    6. In reply to James Hill

      Comment removed by moderator.

    7. Kristi Loggan

      logged in via email @australiamail.com

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Andy - someone once said, 'Unlike you, I had a privileged start to life...' What arrogance enters the judiciary and State.
      Another renowned Qld Senior Council is of the opinion that anyone who hails from the country is a dope, mad, stupid. This is the attitude in part of some people in 'higher seats'.

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    8. Helga Erichsen

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Sadly that is simply not true.

      I have a few gainfully employed friends who do not drink, do not drive, have no plans to go overseas, live in share-houses where the bills are in someone else's name and who withdraw money in person from a bank to save the few dollars on transaction fees.

      If the ID required is one of these items they will be unable to vote.

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    9. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Helga Erichsen

      Helga, sorry I simply do not believe you. I do hope they are being fined for not voting. And jailed if repeat offenders.

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    10. Regan

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      You don't understand what a privileged vantage point is? Then I guess you are like the fish who does not understand the concept of water (but would surely notice something very wrong if suddenly deprived of it).

      The ubiquitous is invisible to those who have never taken a step back to look at their environment from a different vantage point.

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    11. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Regan

      Regan, *I* undersatnd what a 'privileged vantage point is', but your use shows YOU do not understand. For example, a fish is not "privileged" to live in water, just as you are not privileged to breathe oxygen. I really do wish the universities would make critical thinking and Logic compulsory for all undergraduates.

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    12. Regan

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Indeed. And while they're at it, they can teach the use of metaphor in argument so that people don't either take them literally or willfully misunderstand them. *Sigh*

      Perhaps I explained myself poorly. The fish and water metaphor for privilege is not mine, I was just borrowing it. It has been widely used in racial studies and I was just extending it. Perhaps this explains it better. http://soc323.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/chapter-1-of-fish-and-water/

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  8. Terry Mills

    lawyer retired

    In 2006 the Australian Electoral Commission issued a card to all enrolled electors showing their Federal, state and local government electoral districts as well as name and address: presumably we all got one.

    I have taken this along to all elections since as my ID even though there is no photo.

    As my state electoral division has changed, I asked at the last state election if new cards were being printed and distributed but I only got a vague answer and no new card was issued.
    At the federal election in September I duly presented my card and was ticked off and allowed to vote but I asked again about the updated enrolment card. I was told that a driving licence or Medicare card was adequate proof of ID "even though there are no specific requirements to show any ID at the present time".
    Are the Queensland government merely going back to the enrolment card approach (even though no photo ID applies) ?

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