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Missing ballots might lead to fresh WA Senate poll

By johnboy - 1 November 2013 14

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By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Clive Palmer has been a vocal cynic about the AEC. AAP/Paul Miller

The Australian Electoral Commission, which should be above controversy, finds itself at the centre of a perfect storm.

In recent weeks Clive Palmer, albeit without evidence, has blackened its name at every opportunity.

Now (on the day Palmer was finally elected in Fairfax by 53 votes) the AEC has announced it has lost more than 1300 Senate votes in the knife edge Western Australian contest.

On worst scenario, this could force a fresh Senate poll in that state, which would be a huge cost, annoy voters and put the upper house numbers to a fresh test.

The WA disaster is against the background of Coalition hostility towards Electoral Commissioner Ed Killestey. The then opposition was angry when Labor re-appointed him, although his existing term did not expire until the new year. The Coalition wanted to make its own appointment.

The AEC said in today’s statement that in the WA Senate recount “a serious administrative issue” had come to light. Some 1375 votes, all counted first time round, were missing. These included 1255 formal votes and 120 informal ones.

The commissioner said he had “initiated an urgent examination into the circumstances which led to the apparent misplaced ballot papers”. He’s called in former federal police chief Mick Keelty to get to the bottom of it.

The recount came after the Palmer United Party candidate and Labor won the final spots, with the Greens and the Australian Sports Party missing out. At a crucial choke point in the complicated count, it had come down to 14 votes.

The recount will be finished (with the missing votes excluded) and the outcome examined by the AEC, which will also have the Keelty report, before it decides whether the matter should go to the Court of Disputed Returns.

The AEC, a candidate or a voter can petition the court (which is the High Court). It is hard to see it not ending up there (unless the votes suddenly materialise) but what the court would do can’t be predicted.

The government today lashed out, with Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson declaring he had “personally expressed to the Electoral Commissioner my strong view that this situation is totally unsatisfactory and that I, as the responsible Minister, view this matter very dimly.”

In opposition Bronwyn Bishop, then shadow special minister of state claimed the AEC and the then government were too close and said a Coalition government would have a review of the commission.

Palmer jumped on the WA affair today to accuse the AEC of fraud, saying the commission “may have burned” the ballot papers “or put them in a rubbish bin or shredded them”.

“There needs to be a full judicial inquiry into the AEC officers that have been involved in this fiasco,” said Palmer, who wants the original Senate count to stand.

The embattled Killesteyn was sensible to call in the former police commissioner. But it’s hard to see where he is going to get any political protection.

Listen to ALP National Secretary George Wright on the Politics with Michelle Grattan podcast, available below, by rss and on iTunes.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
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14 Responses to
Missing ballots might lead to fresh WA Senate poll
muscledude_oz 5:09 pm 03 Nov 13

Thumper said :

In recent weeks Clive Palmer, albeit without evidence, has blackened its name at every opportunity.

With the important part being, “without evidence”.

Palmer is an arrogant bully and a fool who is treating the Australian public with complete disdain.

His interview with Leigh Sales last night on the 7.30 report was as infuriating as much as it was rude, obnoxious and, dare I say it these days, misogynistic.

I’m surprised Sales didn’t simply terminate the interview.

Perhaps Palmer thought Sales was a Chinese spy.

Innovation 3:11 pm 03 Nov 13

Even in mining rich WA, voters would be pretty cranky if they had to vote three times in nine months. Assuming that the threat of a double dissolution is more than just talk.

caf 12:19 pm 03 Nov 13

Roundhead89 said :

The Greens bought on the recount in WA because they lost their Senate seat. Palmer’s candidate won a seat and Wayne Dropulich from the Sport and Rec Party won a seat. The result of that first count should stand as the result in WA and be declared.

In the first count the last two seats went to the PUP and ALP. In the recount they went to the Greens and Sports Party.

IrishPete 9:25 pm 01 Nov 13

Roundhead89 said :

Palmer has a point. A general election is supposed to give a snapshot of what the electorate is feeling on a particular day. To now hold a Senate election in WA will distort the result of that election and effectively create a by-election where people feel they can vote whichever way they like without it affecting the government.

The Greens bought on the recount in WA because they lost their Senate seat. Palmer’s candidate won a seat and Wayne Dropulich from the Sport and Rec Party won a seat. The result of that first count should stand as the result in WA and be declared. The fact that all those votes disappeared during the recount should invalidate the recount. I’m fairly sure the High Court sitting as The Court of Disputed Returns will rule this way when the case is heard.

err, just no.

It was reported that just 14 votes determined a preference flow at a key point in the count. As there is an automatic recount in lower house seats at a much higher threshold, and in percentage terms a hugely higher threshold, it is entirely appropriate to hold a recount. To then lose 1300 votes before they could be recounted means that the original vote cannot be checked, and that’s a huge problem. If that means a new election, so be it.

And HOW does anyone lose 1300 votes? it’s not like that’s a couple of slips of paper – given the size of the Senate ballot papers, that’s a big chunk of paper, like a car boot full. Very very dodgy. I’m not suggesting it’s deliberate, but it’s really slack. Is this also happening elsewhere and going undetected?

IP

Roundhead89 5:52 pm 01 Nov 13

Palmer has a point. A general election is supposed to give a snapshot of what the electorate is feeling on a particular day. To now hold a Senate election in WA will distort the result of that election and effectively create a by-election where people feel they can vote whichever way they like without it affecting the government.

The Greens bought on the recount in WA because they lost their Senate seat. Palmer’s candidate won a seat and Wayne Dropulich from the Sport and Rec Party won a seat. The result of that first count should stand as the result in WA and be declared. The fact that all those votes disappeared during the recount should invalidate the recount. I’m fairly sure the High Court sitting as The Court of Disputed Returns will rule this way when the case is heard.

HiddenDragon 1:16 pm 01 Nov 13

Thumper said :

In recent weeks Clive Palmer, albeit without evidence, has blackened its name at every opportunity.

With the important part being, “without evidence”.

Palmer is an arrogant bully and a fool who is treating the Australian public with complete disdain.

His interview with Leigh Sales last night on the 7.30 report was as infuriating as much as it was rude, obnoxious and, dare I say it these days, misogynistic.

I’m surprised Sales didn’t simply terminate the interview.

Tony Jones has a lot to answer for on this score.

HiddenDragon 1:15 pm 01 Nov 13

johnboy said :

The local issue is the glittering careers of the canberrans at the electoral commission.

True, and that’s juicy enough, but then there’s the added intrigue of the hanging chads and the shadowy role of Wendi Deng in all of this.

laraeddy 1:13 pm 01 Nov 13

astrojax said :

i know that senators pop over to canberra for a few days a year, but what has this story to do with sunny canberra again? does perth have its own site called ‘wa-mbulance!’? 🙂

At one level, that’s true, but I reckon there are a couple of points of relevance for fellow Canberrans.

Firstly, any of our fellow citizens in the APS can feel very comforted by the bit that describes the actions of an incoming Minister in deciding to publicly ‘carpet’ a public servant – presumably because the Minister wants a pretext to get rid of him. (I assume the Electoral Commissioner is a statutory office, and so he/she can’t just be sacked like an ‘ordinary’ department head). Fair enough – losing 1300 votes is very bad form, and should result in some very interesting phone-calls to West Block and an invitation to maybe make a visit up the Hill a bit of a priority. But public floggings really have no place in good government.

And then there is the broader issue that the Lib/Nats spent more than a little bit of their last term trying to bring about the odd ‘fix’ to the electoral system that, golly gosh, just happened to do their cause no end of good. Like the 100,000 odd under 18yo people who had to be added to the roll, at the last minute, in 2007 after the Howard Govt’s attempt at a gerrymander of sorts got rolled in the High Court. And all the totally unsubstantiated crap about the (pick today’s made-up number) false names on the electoral roll. Looks like the hunters are circling again for another go – starting with the usual tactic of trashing the name of anyone they think might raise an objection.

Shame they got given such a free kick with this ‘stuff-up’.

Thumper 12:52 pm 01 Nov 13

In recent weeks Clive Palmer, albeit without evidence, has blackened its name at every opportunity.

With the important part being, “without evidence”.

Palmer is an arrogant bully and a fool who is treating the Australian public with complete disdain.

His interview with Leigh Sales last night on the 7.30 report was as infuriating as much as it was rude, obnoxious and, dare I say it these days, misogynistic.

I’m surprised Sales didn’t simply terminate the interview.

johnboy 12:44 pm 01 Nov 13

The local issue is the glittering careers of the canberrans at the electoral commission.

breda 12:33 pm 01 Nov 13

It has to do with the woefully inadequate Electoral Act and the administration of it.

Given that Clive has just been elected with a margin of 58 votes, it seems pretty topical to me.

pierce 12:30 pm 01 Nov 13

Palmer also reported not so long ago that the Greens were part of a CIA conspiracy – entertaining as it may be, I do wish we’d stop giving this man credence by reporting his utterances.

Deref 12:26 pm 01 Nov 13

Gods – wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a new ballot and Palmer was dumped! Ahhhhh – such a beautiful dream.

astrojax 11:58 am 01 Nov 13

i know that senators pop over to canberra for a few days a year, but what has this story to do with sunny canberra again? does perth have its own site called ‘wa-mbulance!’? 🙂

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