Monday, 24 February 2014

Transcript of Interview - ABC News 24 Afternoon Live - 5 February 2014

Transcript of Interview with Greg JennettABC News 24 – Afternoon Live

Wednesday, 5 February 20143.20 pm

E & O E

SUBJECT: Electoral Matters Committee Public Hearings

KIM LANDERS: Last year’s election is run and won but it wasn’t a good one for the Australian Electoral Commission, with lost ballots in Western Australia and other allegations by the head of the Palmer United Party, Clive Palmer. Now, begins a day of reckoning, Parliament’s Committee on Electoral Matters is starting what will be a long inquiry into the problems and earlier we spoke to the inquiry Chairman Liberal MP Tony Smith just before the hearings got underway.

GREG JENNETT: Looking generally at the 2013 election, Mr Smith, would you say it’s been the poorest performance ever by the AEC?

TONY SMITH: Well, we begin our public hearings today and our first item of business is dealing with what can only be described as the West Australian Senate votes debacle. I mean, make no mistake, this is the biggest known failure by the AEC in living memory.

GREG JENNETT: That’s quite a big call, on what do you base that accusation?

TONY SMITH: Well, look more than a thousand votes, more than thirteen hundred votes, were lost and then the AEC initiated inquiry into how that happened, then revealed a smorgasbord of other flaws that have really left the public dumbfounded and their confidence in the AEC dramatically diminished, I think.

GREG JENNETT: Are you only looking for the facts and the answers on how that went so wrong or could you come up with radical solutions to fix it?

TONY SMITH: We haven’t heard all of the evidence yet, we’ve got quite a bit from the Kelty Inquiry and today is the start of it. We will have a range of hearings, but it’s important that we scrutinise this strongly so that the systems are put in place to prevent it happening again or for that matter to prevent other failures from occurring.

GREG JENNETT: Because, what I am wondering about is, is it possible that some of those functions around say ballot papers, security, storage and transport, would they always stay with the AEC or would there be options to look at other agencies or even companies to perform some of those duties in the future?

TONY SMITH: We haven’t considered any of that yet Greg, it’s going to be a comprehensive inquiry that will examine this issue and any other issues. For instance, we want to know whether there were other problems in Australia as well, we want to look at how the systems failed, so today is the beginning of that and we’ll be hearing from the Acting Commissioner who’s the person charged with implementing the recommendations of the Kelty Report.

GREG JENNETT: Is there reason to suspect that there were other problems in other areas? You have the very public accusations or claims by Clive Palmer in Fairfax at the time, is there any anecdotal evidence that other problems existed?

TONY SMITH: What we want to get to the bottom of is how much was an isolated incident in Western Australia. I mean it came down to two divisions where votes were lost, so we are going to look at that and look at whether the processes were flawed, whether the processes weren’t followed or what combination. So we’ll hear from the AEC in a little over an hour.

GREG JENNETT: And how does timing work here, because we’ve got the looming possibility of the High Court ordering a re-run election in WA for the Senate. Could you make recommendations, could in fact legislative changes be made ahead of that re-run if it happens?

TONY SMITH: Well, we’re not speculating on what the High Court may or may not do. It’s obviously in the throes of making its decision now, but we are examining this thoroughly and I wouldn’t expect that the Committee is going to rush to a judgement in the next few weeks.

GREG JENNETT: Alright, now you change tack a bit tomorrow and you look at the Senate preferential voting system, particularly above the line. I think you have suggested that above the line voting in the Senate can pole vault, almost randomly, a micro-party in. But isn’t one the problems that it’s not almost random, it’s actually being deliberately worked by people with an interest.

TONY SMITH: I suppose what I mean there is what’s random is once you have the tight tactical preference swapping that has become a feature with the above the line voting, one of those micro-party candidates can be pole vaulted in and I think when the public see a Senator get elected with a small primary vote, fifteen or sixteen thousand, about the size of a typical suburb, into the Australian Senate they’re bewildered.

GREG JENNETT: So, what sort of options are available there?

TONY SMITH: We want to hear all the options, I think that’s the important thing. I’ve pick up a lot of public concern. The Special Minister of State rightly highlighted this an issue. These two days of hearings I think Greg are dealing with the two stand out issues of the 2013 campaign. This inquiry always happens, it’s important to look to reforms now and in the years ahead, but these two issues, they’re fluorescent examples really, for inquiry. In terms of the options, we’re open for submissions and we want to hear all of the options.

GREG JENNETT: Alright, we’ll let you get to work on hearing the evidence and let you get off to the committee, thank you.

TONY SMITH: That’s good Greg and look forward to coming back.

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