Are West Australians heading back to the polls?

17Jul

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Calls are growing for an unprecedented new Senate election in Western Australia.

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It comes after almost 1400 ballot papers mysteriously vanished during the drawn-out recount of votes from the election in September.

A new election would be an early test of voter satisfaction with the Abbott government – and could determine just how difficult its task may be in getting legislation through the new Senate after next July.

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The fact that the ballot papers are missing came to light during the recount of Senate votes cast in Western Australia in September.

The recount was ordered because of the extremely close battle for the sixth Senate seat between Greens Senator Scott Ludlam and Palmer United Party candidate Dio Wang, who won in the initial count.

The Australian Electoral Commission says an exhaustive search has been conducted, including of all premises where Senate votes were stored, and it appears they will not turn up.

It says there is nothing to suggest anything improper has occurred but Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty has been called in to conduct an independent investigation.

Mr Keelty’s task will include identifying if fraud is involved.

Missing are 1255 formal votes and 120 informal votes from the electorates of Pearce and Forrest.

It’s expected the AEC will shortly declare a result from the recount.

After this, any candidate or West Australian voter or even the AEC itself would have 40 days to petition the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, for a fresh election.

West Australian Senator Scott Ludlum says the Commission should not declare the result until Mr Keelty’s investigation is concluded.

Senator Ludlum says another election should be a last resort.

“If this ends up in the Court of Disputed Returns with two inconclusive counts competing against each other with potentially equally legitimate claims with people saying hang on the first one was dodgy but so was the second then maybe the only way to resolve it is with a by-election. My preference though before we go there would be to make sure that if there’s a simpler opportunity ie: Mr Keelty says ‘here’s where you have gone wrong’ that we avail ourselves of that opportunity to make this a lot simpler.

The situation has been described as bizarre by Clive Palmer, who has finally won his House of Representatives seat of Fairfax in Queensland by just 53 votes.

Mr Palmer’s party will definitely have at least two Senators after next July – and three if Dio Wang gets the last Senate seat in Western Australia.

He says the AEC should either accept the result of the first count of votes, with Dio Wang as the winner, or hold a new election.

“I don’t think you can count the second vote because it hasn’t been completed so it’s invalid really. So you either go back to the first vote or you have a new election if that’s what it has to be. Now the AEC mightn’t like that. They might declare the poll based on half the of the recount or partial recount. I just don’t think that’s valid and it would certainly attack democracy.”

Independent South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon says fresh polls should be held if over one-thousand misplaced votes in Western Australia can’t be found.

And Senator Xenophon says it’s vital the matter is resolved.

“I think there ought to be a very thorough parliamentary inquiry, as the Special Minister of State has foreshadowed, to find out what occurred, in addition to the inquiry by Mick Keelty. When you consider there are only 14 votes in this, out of 1.3 million cast, then 1375 votes could have made a material difference, enough to swing the result, not just for one Senator but for two.”

Special Minister for State Michael Ronaldson says the news about the missing votes is deeply disappointing and risks damaging trust in Australia’s democratic institutions.

He says he will ask a federal parliamentary committee to review all aspects of the 2013 federal election, including the WA Senate recount process.

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