Transcript of interview with Lyndal Curtis
ABC 24 Capital Hill
Thursday 31 July 20141:20pm
SUBJECTS: Mr Clive Palmer MP; electronic voting; Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters; Senate voting reform
LYNDAL CURTIS: Tony Smith, welcome to Capital Hill.
TONY SMITH: Thanks Lyndal.
CURTIS: As part of the hearings, Clive Palmer from the Palmer United Party was scheduled to appear. He didn’t. Would you like him to give some evidence before the Committee?
SMITH: Well the history of this is important, Lyndal. We didn’t request Mr Palmer appear. He made a submission earlier on in the year and he gave a speech at the National Press club, but from our perspective there wasn’t anything new we needed to learn. Mr Palmer himself requested to appear. He was offered some dates at hearings in Sydney and in Adelaide and ultimately, confirmed that he wanted to appear. His office confirmed that in writing with us and it was locked in a couple of weeks ago. So it was a surprise to us that he didn’t appear on the day. But from our perspective, we just wanted to absolutely make clear that he made the request, we were happy to accommodate him. In the end that request has been unreservedly withdrawn.
CURTIS: Now the acting Electoral Commissioner told the hearing this morning the Commission has a long way to go. Is it, though, starting on the right foot?
SMITH: I think Mr Rogers candour, his level of detail is to be commended. I think the leadership is on the right track, but Lyndal, it’s a long track. It really is a long track. What the West Australian lost votes debacle uncovered was a smorgasbord of vulnerabilities and failings that certainly go beyond Western Australia.
CURTIS: Is it the ultimate aim to make sure the public can absolutely have trust in the results that the Electoral Commission provides from each election?
SMITH: You’ll always have mistakes, and all of us on the Committee accept that. But where you’ve got processes in place that aren’t followed, and you’ve got errors that just shouldn’t ever occur in an election, Mr Rogers has rightly acknowledged that, and not only has he dealt with the issues out of the Keelty Inquiry, I think this morning what he really said to the Committee was he was stress testing every aspect of the organisation and its administration
CURTIS: He also said that with everything that’s going on with all the audits and inquiries and responses the Electoral Commission is making, the Commission will not be in a position to even try, on a large scale, electronic voting by the time of the next election. From your perspective, is electronic voting a priority, or is it an idea that’s still has substantial question marks over it?
SMITH: We’ve taken a lot of evidence on it, and its one of those things in the public that’s very popular. When it comes it its implementation there are varying views. One, about how you’d adapt our voting system to it. Most people think of electronic voting in terms of the ease of voting over the internet, and that’s something that’s quite rare, but the logistics involved, Mr Rogers pointed out this morning…
CURTIS: …And also the chance of having someone standing over your shoulder directing you to vote, if you’re doing it on the internet from the privacy of your own home…
SMITH: …And all of these things need to be considered; also the risks around security of votes. I mean you’ve got risks with any system, so we’re systematically looking at that. I mean the thing I would say is its worth dispelling any notion that at the next election there’s going to be any widespread electronic voting, in a logistics sense. I think he made the obvious point that there are long lead times if you want to do this as safely as possible.
CURTIS: Now finally your Committee made interim recommendations on changes to Senate voting in the wake of the preference gaming at the last election. We haven’t seen any legislation. Would you like to see that through parliament before the next election?
SMITH: Certainly we want to see change before the next election. I mean, one of the reasons we worked so hard to produce what was a unanimous report early was to give time for consideration of that. And that’s why we’ve produced the report on the Friday before the Budget. Lydal, I never thought it would take priority over the Budget. I’ve worked on Budgets in another capacity before… the appropriation bills, abolishing the carbon tax and the like… so it’s not urgent this week or even next month, but in good time before the next election we think those reforms are important because we’ve reached the point where the Senate ballot paper in states like New South Wales and Victoria—it’s the maximum printable width. It can’t get any bigger and they’re handing out magnifying sheets—it’s a nonsense and it was one of the other big issue that left voters bewildered after the last election.
CURTIS: Is there any sense that it’s a failure of the major parties to actually get people to join them? They feel like there’s not a home for them, so they flock, or people start their own parties, or they consider voting for smaller parties?
SMITH: That wasn’t an issue that drove us. What’s driven this is the change in Senate voting 30 years ago, and the ease in registering a party, and the fact that to vote above the line, which 95% of people do, just to put one for a party, means you forfeit your preferences to group voting tickets and you no longer control them. So what we want to do is not restore power to political parties, but restore power to the voter to state your preferences to the extent you wish with optional preferential voting. One, one two three…, and you know exactly who you’re preferencing and you’re not forfeiting it to group voting tickets
CURTIS: We’ll have to leave it there. Tony Smith thanks very much for your time
SMITH: Thanks Lyndal.
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