Transcript of Interview with Julie DoyleABC News 24 – Capital Hill
Friday, 21 February 20141.10 pm
E & O E
SUBJECT: WA Senate Election;Electoral Matters Committee Public Hearings; Australian Electoral Commission;
JULIE DOYLE: Well voters and candidates in WA are preparing to head back to the polls after this week’s ruling by the High Court declaring the Senate election void. A date for the new poll hasn’t been set yet, but all 6 Senate positions will be up for grabs. The High Court made its decision after it was revealed more than 1300 ballot papers had gone missing. The Parliamentary Committee examining the election is pushing ahead with its inquiry into what went wrong. The Committee’s chair, Tony Smith, joined me from Melbourne a short time ago.
Tony - you referred to this whole episode as an extraordinary debacle. Is a fresh election the best result?
TONY SMITH MP: Well look, there’s been 5 months of uncertainty and the High Court’s had grappled with that. The election is now on. But it has been an extraordinary debacle. This is the greatest failure in the AEC’s history and they admitted as much at our first hearing that we had just a few weeks ago. So it’s quite right and proper that the Committee is investigating how this occurred so that we can seek to prevent similar failures into the future.
DOYLE: Now on that, you’re going to continue your investigation while, in effect, there’s an election campaign under way now for the Senate in WA. How will you continue to do that investigation during this time?
SMITH: What we will do is continue our investigations, but in a way that doesn’t hinder the WA election. So we are going to proceed with our hearings in Canberra with Mick Keelty who conducted the report into the lost votes, and with the head of the AEC Ed Killesteyn. We won’t conduct public hearings in WA during the campaign period. But once the campaign is over, we will of course have public hearings and site visits. I should add that having these hearings in early March with the head of the Electoral Commission will provide an opportunity for WA voters to get a public assurance that all of the relevant recommendations have been implemented before they go to the polls.
DOYLE: So on that, you’re having the Electoral Commissioner give evidence for the inquiry as you mentioned. Do you think he should take responsibility for what’s gone wrong here?
SMITH: Well look, we’re in the middle of the inquiry and we haven’t heard from him yet, so I do want to hear from him. There’s no doubt that this has been an extraordinary debacle, as I said yesterday. There was a cavalcade of failures by the AEC. The Keelty Report really did reveal a smorgasbord of failures right through the system.
DOYLE: So does the buck stop with the Commissioner then?
SMITH: It’d be unfair of me to answer that without hearing from him, without the Committee looking at this thoroughly. We need to hear from the head of the electoral commission. We’re going to need to hear from other members of the Electoral Committee at appropriate times before we make some calm and considered findings and recommendations.
DOYLE: Now you’ve also said that the Committee will be using this re-run election to examine the tighter security measures, relating to ballot papers. So are you planning on going to WA and watch the counting? Is that what you’re talking about?
SMITH: As soon as we think it’s practical, the Committee will be over in WA, consistent with us not hindering the election. We want the AEC officials in WA to concentrate on their critical task during this new election. But ballot security and a whole range of other issues were major, major problems and that’s what led to this catastrophe over in WA. The Electoral Commission has said they accept the recommendations of the Keelty report. We want to take the opportunity, at the right time, to have a look at how they’ve been implemented.
DOYLE: Tony Smith - we’ll leave it there. Thank you very much for joining me.
SMITH: Thank you.