More than 1,300 Senate votes have vanished, a former head of the Australian Federal Police is investigating and billionaire mining tycoon turned politician Clive Palmer is calling for blood.
The federal minister responsible, Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson, spoke to Electoral Commissioner Ed Killesteyn and told him he viewed the situation “very dimly”.
The 1,375 missing senate ballots from the Western Australian Senate recount were classified as 1,255 formal above-the-line ballots and 120 informal votes.
Australian Electoral commission (AEC) staff say they’ve looked everywhere but the ballots, needed for the recount, have gone.
“I apologise to the electors of Western Australia and to the candidates and parties for this failure,” says electoral commissioner Killesteyn.
The job of finding them, or at least what happened, is now with Mick Keelty, the former Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police. He’s got a free hand to speak to anyone and use any resources he wants.
At stake is the last Senate spot for the state of Western Australia.
Greens senator Scott Ludlam and the Sports Party’s Wayne Dropulich had separately called for the recount after party preferences saw them lose out to the Palmer United Party’s Zhenya (Dio) Wang and Labor senator Louise Pratt respectively.
Ludlam was only 14 votes shy of the Palmer United Party’s Wang.
The big question now is what to do about the recount and what happens to the original Senate vote declaration?
One possibility is a new election for the Senate in Western Australia.
If the result is challenged, the case may go to the High Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns.
Constitution lawyer Anne Twomey of the University of Sydney says the High Court would consider practicalities, such as the margins involved, when deciding if a fresh election is needed.
“Because the first count was so tight .. obviously the prospects of a High Court decision ordering a re-run ballot would be very high,” Professor Twomey told ABC Radio.
Clive Palmer knows what should be done.
“Will somebody take responsibility for this fiasco and fall on their sword?” said Clive Palmer calling for a judicial inquiry.
“If the AEC is unable to count all the ballots then the first count must stand,” he told ABC Radio.
“That would be the law in the matter.”
The AEC agreed to a request for a recount from the Greens after Palmer United Party candidate Dio Wang was declared the winner of the fifth Senate seat in WA.
Mr Palmer said the Palmer United Party had strongly objected against the decision to order a recount as well as to only recount above the line ballots.
“There had already been discrepancies in this recount with several hundred ballots mistakenly placed in the informal pile,” he said in a written statement.
“We have already seen a number of discrepancies in the counting in my electorate of Fairfax on the Sunshine Coast.
“Is the AEC trying to rig the election? Are they committing a fraud? Or are they just completely incompetent?
Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson told the electoral commissioner the situation is unsatisfactory.
“The news that the AEC cannot find 1,375 ballot papers relating to the WA Senate recount is as disconcerting as it is deeply disappointing,” he said in a statement.
“I have personally expressed to the Electoral Commissioner my strong view that this situation is totally unsatisfactory and that I, as the responsible Minister, view this matter very dimly.”
Greens Senator Scott Ludlum urged the electoral commission to keep looking for the missing votes and not declare the result until they’ve been found.
“It’s really surprising – We were within a few days of the result being declared,” he said.
The Greens want no result to be determined “until votes have been found”.
He said the AEC had proposed to declare a result on Monday, ahead of the original November 8 deadline.
“Mr Palmer’s proposal is not really in accord with reality,” he said, highlighting the recent discovery of hundreds of votes as reason that “a call for a recount was obviously completely justified”.
It was “too soon” to determine whether or not the Greens would dispute the result.
The AEC said the recount would be completed shortly and it would “consider whether any petition to the Court of Disputed Returns is necessary”.
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