Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Transcript of Interview - Sky PVO News Hour - 27 October 2014

Transcript of interview with Peter van OnselenSky News – PVO News Hour

Monday 27 October 20147:30pm


SUBJECTS: Australian Electoral Commission Annual Report; Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters; electronic electoral rolls; voter identification

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Great to have you on the show again. The report that was handed down… did anything surprise you in that?

TONY SMITH: No—I had a good read of it. I think the acting head of the Electoral Commission deserves credit for acknowledging that the West Australian failure was the biggest failure in the AEC’s history and the report tells us that they are looking right through every aspect of the organisation to see where they can improve things.

VAN ONSELEN: What are some of the options there?

SMITH: Well, as you pointed out in your introduction, Peter, having an electronic electoral roll… so that when you walk into a polling booth and your name is crossed off, it’s simultaneously goes off in every other booth in the electorate. So at the moment you have paper rolls, and you walk in and your name is crossed off, but there’s nothing to stop someone walking in in your name in another booth.

VAN ONSELEN:… or you doing it multiple times yourself, if you feel so inclined…

SMITH: Correct.

VAN ONSELEN: Well it’s just remarkable to me that where we are now—the digital age—that we would still have an old fashioned system like we do. I mean, are we unique amongst developed countries in that sense?

SMITH: We’re not unique but the technological catch up is necessary. They did trial this at the last federal election, but because of what happened in Western Australia they were very focussed on the Griffith by-election, on doing everything to the best degree they possibly could. So in that by-election every booth, every polling place had that computer technology and I’m encouraged by that and obviously we want to see a bigger rollout at the next election.

VAN ONSELEN: Now we talked a lot earlier in the year about electoral reform particularly obviously to the Senate, in light of what happened with some of the unusual, shall we say, results that came about there. There’s been a fair bit of bullishness in the past. Liberal Party, National Party, Labor Party… I think the Greens have been on board as well. That hasn’t changed has it? It’s just gone a little bit quiet, why is that?

SMITH: Well, we tabled our report in good time and it’s now up to the Government to consider its response to it, and the timing of any legislation. But the important thing as I’ve pointed out, Peter, is that it’s a unanimous report. So it’s durable, and that’s important because if you’re going to have electoral reform you don’t want chopping and changing on your electoral laws every 4 or 5 years.

VAN ONSELEN: Are you still confident that they’re going to follow the report’s recommendations though? That was certainly the expectation in the media at the start of the year. Is it a case of ‘this can come later’?

SMITH: As I’ve said it’s not urgent this week or this month, but its vital reform for the future and for the next election because in your state, the Senate ballot paper had 110 boxes. It can’t get any bigger. Literally, they cannot print on a bigger ballot paper. All they can do is reduce the size of the font for the candidates and they’re handing out magnifying sheets. So, that’s where we’re at…

VAN ONSELEN: Are you as cynical as me though, Tony Smith? Do you think…

SMITH: No! Definitely not!

VAN ONSELEN: Well, maybe not generally. But on this specific point… what about on this specific point? I mean it seems to me, and I can understand it—I’m not even that critical of it quite frankly—that perhaps what the Executive are doing is they’re deciding just to shelve this and come back to it at a later date, because they can… because in the meantime they really need to work with some of these smaller parties, in conjunction with Palmer United to try and get the budget through? No harder way to try to achieve that, I wouldn’t have thought, Tony Smith, than to be saying that you’re trying to change the law to get rid of these people at the same time as trying to negotiate with them?

SMITH: I think there’s a range of things, Peter. With electoral changes there’s time, as I said. There are also lots of things in the Senate… so there’s always a bit of a battle to get in there. And we’re going to report on other matters as well in the coming months. We’ve got some hearings coming up in November. There are some other things we’re considering.

VAN ONSELEN: What sort of things?

SMITH: Voter identification. That’s something that we’re considering. The electronic roll we’ve spoken about, would be a great step forward.

VAN ONSELEN: Labor’s opposed to that generally aren’t they? They tend to not like the idea of ID based voting… why do you suspect that is? The altruistic argument is that its because people that may be…the homeless people are marginalised. The more cynical argument is that if you’re looking to stack, or have some sort of fraudulent impact then the last thing you’d want is ID.

SMITH: It’s in our terms of reference; that’s why we’re looking at it. But I’ve long supported a form of voter ID and I’ve never really got to the bottom of why they’re so opposed it. I mean, we have ID in so many forms for so many things… as you’ve pointed out, to hire a DVD or a video. But when it comes to our democratic destiny, we don’t have any at all and I think that’s something that we need to consider. We’re considering it as part of our inquiry. And talking about how we compare with other nations, we’re well behind the rest of the world on that score.

VAN ONSELEN: Yeah and I think it’s bizarre. I’m in your camp on that one. Tony Smith—I appreciate your time as always. Thanks very much.

SMITH: Thanks, Peter.


Media inquiries: Andrew Hallam (0404 043 764)

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