Elections vulnerable to the corrupt

Posted: January 12, 2021 in Ranting
Tags: , , , , ,

When we look at aftermath of the USA election, it is easy to feel rather self-righteous in Australia that it could not happen here. Except our system is actually in a rather bad way but nobody in parliament wants to do a thing about it, even when we are now vulnerable to the corrupt.

Our electoral system is much more centralised than that of the USA. So, we will not see the same sort of state-by-state drama here. But what we do have is an outdated Electoral Act and a largely powerless Australian Electoral Commission. Our 2019 election emphasised just how vulnerable our system really is.

Following the implosion of Palmer United Party, Clive Palmer deregistered PUP in 2017. But then Senator Brian Burston, originally elected for One Nation, fell out with Pauline Hanson, and quit her party. Palmer suddenly decided to re-enter politics in 2018 by starting up a new party. Because Palmer was able to have Burston, a sitting parliamentarian, sign the relevant paperwork, that meant the usual rules for registering a political party, such as minimum member numbers, did not apply.

The AEC then allowed Palmer to register his new party as United Australia Party. The original UAP was one of the parties merged to form the Liberal Party of Australia in 1944. In its time, the original UAP provided two Prime Ministers – Joseph Lyons and Robert Menzies. Billy Hughes, after Labor kicked him out, was also in UAP for a while.

The Clive Palmer version of UAP clearly has nothing to do with the original UAP. However, that has not stopped him declaring that his party is the party of those three former Prime Ministers. Their website still includes that statement.

Complainants to the AEC about that blatantly false claim by Palmer’s party, were in for a rude shock. So long as a statement is made in conjunction with electoral campaigning, the structure of the Electoral Act and the way the courts have interpreted it, means that there is ‘no truth’ in political advertising. So, Palmer is legally allowed to tell that blatant lie. And under that loophole, there was nothing stopping UAP, or anyone else, making up as many outrageous lies as they want.

Rod Culleton was elected as a Senator in WA for One Nation but soon fell out with Pauline Hanson and went independent. He was then found to be ineligible, first due to being guilty of an offense which carried a potential prison term of up to one year and then by the WA courts declaring him bankrupt.

The AEC were no doubt surprised in 2019 to see a nomination for the Senate from Culleton. As still an undischarged bankrupt, Culleton was not eligible, yet he signed off the statement that he did not know of any reasons making him ineligible.

Now we get to the real stupidity. Despite Culleton being clearly ineligible and would appear to have made a false statement on his nomination, the AEC were not allowed to refuse it. Instead, Culleton appeared on the WA Senate ballot paper.

Following the dual citizenship eligibility crisis in 2017, nominations for election to parliament now include a checklist of things such as being born outside of Australia or to parents from outside Australia. All nominees are required to complete that information as a means of establishing eligibility. Except when Palmer’s UAP dropped a bunch of nomination forms on the AEC in 2019, a lot of them did not contain those correct details.

The AEC again lacked the power to refuse nominations, even when they were not fully completed. Instead, all those nominations, no matter how poorly or inaccurately completed, had to be accepted.

Our last election also saw signs appearing at some polling stations, placed near official AEC material, using much the same colour schemes and font for the English script as the AEC materials. However, the body of the signs contained directions in Chinese that the ‘right’ way to vote was to vote only for the Liberal candidate.

That stunt had every appearance of trying to con Asian citizens that the AEC was directing them to vote for the Liberals. And, yet again, the AEC lacked the authority to do anything about it. Under the Act, it seems the only time the authorities can do anything about attempts to wrongfully influence voting is if someone stands next to you in the booth, physically stopping you from voting from who you wish to vote for.

Our Electoral Act needs urgent review. And the AEC needs to be given sensible, common sense powers to refuse ineligible nominations. All before our next election. But try and get parliament to even discuss these things and you soon realise that nobody is interested in doing a thing about it.

Do we really have to end up with people in parliament, perhaps with a balance of power, as a result of fraudulent activities before anyone thinks perhaps we should have fixed it when we could have?

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