PRICE: So we need to go back to, perhaps, adopt a system like they have in some other countries overseas where you get dye put on your finger?
SMITH: No – I don’t think we need to do that.
ANDREW BOLT: But tony some examples then of the world backing off electronic technology?
SMITH: Two good ones. Ireland, where about a decade ago they decided to go down the electronic path. They purchased all the machines at huge cost—50 million euros and just they were about to use them, some experts demonstrated how unsafe they were and the authorities decided not to use them.
BOLT: When you say demonstrated how unsafe… in what way?
SMITH: They could be hacked into.
BOLT: So, someone… you know... with lots of money and adopting, you know, ripping off someone’s name, call themselves Clive Palmer for example, could have hacked into the system and cast 5000 votes for himself.
SMITH: Yeah, I mean basically the computer scientists were able to prove a whole range of security vulnerabilities and they dumped it. They dumped the machines. And you know, they sold them for 9 euros as scrap metal.
BOLT: Oh… that’s shocking. That’s why Ireland’s economy is a basket case now?
SMITH: Well, I won’t commentate on anything than electronic voting but, another one, another country you’re familiar with—the Netherlands—which actually has a long history of electronic voting.
PRICE: The homeland Andrew.
BOLT: Yeah. Oh I hear the nation anthem striking up
SMITH: They decided they would move from machine voting to a form of electronic voting over the net and they’d started to embark on this but they got their security agencies to have a look at it and it was demonstrated that it was very insecure. It could easily be hacked.
BOLT: So really…
SMITH: And they banned it! They’ve actually banned electronic voting. I didn’t think they banned anything in the Netherlands
BOLT: (laughter) There’s a new mood in the Netherlands, I tell you that! So that’s interesting. So theoretically we could have an election if we adopted this thing, and end up with a Prime Minister who happened to be an agent of the communist government that wasn’t on the ballot paper, thanks to a lot of hacking from Beijing!
PRICE: You’re out on the wing here a bit here Andrew!
BOLT: Well if you’re looking at hackers, we more hack attacks from china than probably any other country.
PRICE: So does that mean we’re not changing anything?
SMITH: No – we are recommending some critical changes and they are for the AEC to absolutely modernize its systems in terms of what you have the polling booth. So Steve, at the moment when you go into vote, after you’ve got you’re sausage sandwich you say you’re name, you assert you’ve voted again that day and they cross it off a paper list. Of course, that paper list is identical in every booth in the electorate in which you live.
PRICE: You can go around to a couple of booths.
SMITH: Or someone can in your name, if they know where you happen to vote. And there are lots of errors and the rest. So we’ve said look, get a computer based system so when a voters name is crossed off at whatever primary…
PRICE: So Tony Smith walks into his local booth in Casey…
PRICE: Says I’m Tony Smith of Fred Avenue. I’m here to vote. They punch it into the computer and it eliminates you from the roll.
SMITH: It’ll take me off at every other booth within the electorate.
BOLT: That is more like it! Is that the most common way of people casting multiple votes? The fact that their name wasn’t crossed off the list?
SMITH: There’s a few. I mean there were 18000 at the last election. 10 000 the AEC tell us were an error. I’m a good example—if you have a name like Smith, the officials sometimes make mistakes. Others have admitted to multiple voting. Sometimes it’s quite innocent. You know they might have cast a postal vote and they’re worried it hasn’t got in. Or they’ve voted at a nursing home and someone else has taken them on the day. There are some people who’ve been referred to the DPP, and then there’s about 6 000 where no one knows. The AEC has written to them a few times and…
PRICE: Shady characters, Tony.
BOLT: What about Clive Palmer’s obsession, you know, this secret cabal of former Defence Force personnel in the AEC and the issue of pencils? Did you have a look at whether we should have pens?
SMITH: We’re going to look at all that sort of stuff in the final report. We wanted to get this done to dispel any myth that there could be widespread electronic voting at the next election. And interesting you ask those questions. Clive Palmer was due to appear before our Committee a few months back, Andrew, at his own request. He wrote to us and said he wanted to come along. We scheduled the hearing and were all in Canberra for it. And he didn’t show at the last minute.
BOLT: A no show!
SMITH: So we didn’t get to ask any of those questions.
BOLT: No no no… you must be wrong, Tony, because I know, I’ve heard Clive say that this is one the biggest issues we face. That this was a scandal. He was going to smash it. I think he was going to sue people. He was going to sue people and you’re telling… you’re trying to tell me now that Clive Palmer, when it to actually came to do something practical, didn’t front? Was a no show?
SMITH: Yeah that’s right. His chief of staff came along and obviously it wasn’t appropriate we had a long hearing with his chief of staff but we did
BOLT: What a clown
PRICE: Just a couple of quick suggestions from people on the board here Tony. What about using the tab for electronic voting?
SMITH: Look we understand, I mean, that when people think about voting as one of the American experts said, they’d rather be online than in-line. And with so many transactions that we do electronically, it’s natural that peoples starting point, but the point I make is when you really think about it and look at the evidence, it’s not like any other transaction.
PRICE: What about swiping our Medicare card?
SMITH: Well you’re going to an issue of voter ID which is something we’re looking at, as for voting—that would be still a huge rollout of lots of technology into thousands and thousands of polling places. Look the technology will evolve. We think the next steps for the AEC are to modernize the systems so that you’ve got more security about voting. And the other thing we’ve said is, have a look at scanning ballot papers to assist in count. Not to replace the count, but to provide and extra verification.
PRICE: Without putting words in your mouth. Do I get a sense that the problem is not big enough to commit a massive amount of money to fix it?
SMITH: Well, you’ve got a choice. To do it as safely as possible you’d have to commit to a massive amount of money. And interestingly in the U.S. where they’ve got machine voting in some states, they’re moving away from it because of cost and because the machines malfunction. I mean in one state, a few elections back, a machine failed to count 4 000 votes and the margin was about 2 000 votes. In Western Australia they lost bits of paper, in the U.S. they still lost votes and in another state, the machine malfunctioned—imagine this—imagine if Andrew bolt and Steve Price were each running, it flipped the votes. So if you voted for Andrew Bolt, they went to Steve Price’s column.
PRICE: I’d be against that!
BOLT: No I’d be for that!
PRICE: Fascinating stuff, Tony.
BOLT: But just before we go Tony, I don’t know that you’ve read it, but I wrote a piece today. It was a little bit…trying to be helpful to the Government which isn’t selling its message properly. You’re behind 45 to 55 in the polls. I put out a list of suggestions about getting tougher, better media strategy, and not so much foreign affairs. Get on the domestic agenda. Fix the budget. Impasse as best you can. Take it up the opposition. Stop being nice. Any of that advice strike you as actually not a bad idea?
SMITH: Well look, we’re always open to advice. It’s rough and tumble up here. It’s a pretty different Senate situation. I remember when I was much younger and the Howard was elected. I was working as an advisor. It was tough going as well, but the first year—you mentioned at the start—that Western Australian senate re-run that cost $23 million, so no one in the Government would say we’re not open to advice.
BOLT: No, I know you’re open to advice. What I’m trying to say… to get from you… is a sense of… there are things that need changing; they will be changed because you are 45 to 55 behind. That is terrible. And you still haven’t got the harsh medicine down. You haven’t got the luxury of saying ‘and for the next 2 years we can kiss and make it all sweet again’.
SMITH: Well, we’ve just got to the best we can every day.
BOLT: Yeah you’re always doing the best... I’m wondering what are you going to change, Tony?
SMITH: Well, we’ve got a big team. I’m part of it. I’m not the biggest of it, but I’m part of it. And I’ll do the best I can every day.
BOLT: Thank you, Tony.
SMITH: Thank you.
PRICE: Good on you. Tony Smith. Twenty-two minutes to nine.
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