Monday, 7 April 2014

Transcript of Interview - Tom Elliott 3AW Drive - 4 April 2014

Transcript of interview with Tom Elliott 3AW - Drive

Friday 4 April 2014

4:10pm

E&OE

SUBJECTS: Senate voting; electronic voting; voter identification

TOM ELLIOTT: Our voting system has worked very well here in Australia for the best part of 100 years, but could it be improved? Now at the last federal election, more than 6 months ago now, 1370 senate votes in Western Australia were lost by the Australian Electoral Commission. As a result, West Australians tomorrow have to go back to the polls and who knows what might happen with the senate candidates they pick.

On top of this, just a couple of days ago, a ballot box was taken to an aged care facility in WA. The ballot box was later declared to be insecure and 75 votes cast by the residents of the aged care facility are now invalid. Those people will have to vote again. And several months ago, when speaking about our voting system we concluded on this program that there was nothing really stopping you on a polling day from going and voting at multiple electoral booths. They cross your names off in each booth, but you can just go to the next one and vote again and again and again.

Now they might come to you and say ‘What were you doing?’ and you could just say ‘Well I have no recollection of it’ – a bit like Arthur Sinodinos - I don’t recall. And you can get away with it. I mean, in a sense that all your votes would be counted.

So it seems to me that, given with the internet these days if you have shares in a company, you can vote in the companies AGM online. That doesn’t seem to trouble people. We do so many other things online I mean we do our banking; we trust our credit card details. Why can’t we just vote online? Why do we even have to have polling booths?

Tony Smith is the federal member for Casey and Chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. He’s been good enough to join us now. Tony, good afternoon.

TONY SMITH: G’day, Tom. How are you?

ELLIOTT: Good, thank you. Now I read your article in the Herald Sun today. You suggest it’s time we jumped into the 21 st century. What do you have in mind?

SMITH: Well look, I’ve long believed that we should update our democratic processes. As you rightly made the point in that introduction, when we vote we are just asked a few questions - our name and address, and whether we’ve voted anywhere else that day and handed a ballot paper - and there’s nothing to stop multiple voting, as you’ve pointed out, people voting at booths throughout the electorate in which they live up to 30 or 40 times. There’s also nothing to stop people voting in your name. And in fact, at the last election there were many cases of multiple voting. Lots of them are mistakes, but there’s a case of someone voting 15 times.

People have been pursued, so first and foremost I think we should be moving to a computer based electoral roll. So taking your point, as your name is crossed off, it’s crossed off on an interactive roll so it goes off on every other booth in the electorate.

ELLIOTT: Right, so that would mean if you went into one booth, and its crossed off electronically, it would be then impossible to vote again at another booth.

SMITH: That’s right and it’s a system they’ve used in ACT elections and made use of in the Griffith by– lection but it’s something that I think is long overdue and it would be one very important integrity measure and personally I’ve always thought showing some ID is important as well.

ELLIOTT: Yes I can’t believe we don’t have to that I mean, you have to show id to buy cigarettes or alcohol, to get into venues etc., to drive a car. But to vote, which is arguably more important than any of those things, you don’t have to.

SMITH: That’s absolutely right. I don’t think the public would find that onerous at all. You can have a number of forms of ID that can verify. Now the critics of this have said in the past, well we haven’t had any evidence of large scale problems, but of course, if you have a close result, Tom, of 20 or 30 votes, and taking your earlier point, someone had voted 20 or 30 times, what we now know from the High Court is you’d have to re-run that election.

ELLIOTT: And that’s very expensive. Now tell me, do you think the AEC requires a bit of reform itself given it appears to have stuffed up a couple of times?

SMITH: Yeah, it certainly needs cultural change. I mean you mention the 1370 lost votes. When that occurred as they were doing the recount over there in the very close election, they called in former AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty and he really uncovered a smorgasbord of flaws with votes being transported insecurely, in one case on the back of an open truck, and stored next to rubbish at the pre-poll centre, incorrectly marked... And really he couldn’t ascertain what happened to them sadly, Tom, because there were so many possibilities.

ELLIOTT: Okay, now final question. The whole way Senate voting works, I think, is one of the things that emerged out of the last election was the appearance of all these so-called micro-parties. I mean the Motoring Enthusiast Party and that sort of thing. It’s called into question - most of us to be honest could not explain how senate voting really works - do you think that the method by which we vote for senators also needs reform?

SMITH: I’ve said since I became Chair of this inquiry that status quo is not an option. This has been brewing for a long time and you gave the Victorian case of the Motoring Enthusiast Party that got 0.51% of the primary vote. But by virtue of tight preference deals among all those micro parties, many of whom have polar opposite views by the way, catapulted him into the Senate. Your point is completely valid. Most voters freely admit they don’t understand the intricacies of Senate voting, but they now know enough to think that if that’s what it can produce, there absolutely should be some change. So were looking at that very closely.

ELLIOTT: Ok, so your chair of Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. When do you report and when do these changes come through?

SMITH: Well on the Senate voting issue that you’ve just raised, we’ve determined we’ll report quite early on that issue separately. Normally we’d travel around for a year hearing evidence and produce a big volume of recommendations, but this is such an important issue we’ll report before the Budget on that issue, and then later on some of the other issues.

ELLIOTT: Okay, so you’ll report in the next month then?

SMITH: That’s right. We’ll report out of session with some recommendations based on some of the public hearings and submissions we’ve already had, and we’ve got a few more to go.

ELLIOTT: Well we look forward to seeing them. Tony Smith, Member for Casey and Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, thank you very much for your time.

SMITH: Thanks Tom, and have a good weekend.

<ENDS>

Media inquiries: Andrew Hallam (0404 043 764)

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