WA Senate Election Probe 'Inconclusive'; Commission Promises To Address Logistical Failures

Results of former AFP head Mick Keelty’s five-week investigation into Western Australia’s 1,370 missing Senate votes have come back inconclusive.

The Australian Electoral Commission asked Keelty to find the votes, or at least the reason behind their disappearance, on October 31.

The votes were critical to WA’s Federal Election result, with four senators – from Labor, the Greens, Palmer United, and the Sports Party – in a tight race for two seats.

Keelty today reported that there was no evidence of any deliberate action to destroy or remove ballot papers but said the systems in place in WA made it difficult for him to reach a conclusive finding.

From the report:

In the 2013 Senate election in WA, the AEC failed to meet its own high standards and damaged its reputation with the community and Parliament.

The loose planning culture in WA and the complacent attitude toward ballot papers following the fresh scrutiny were manifested in: inadequate skill development and training, a series of minor errors, poor material management practices, flawed contract management and quality control, erroneous assumptions and lax supervision and enforcement combined to create an environment where these high standards could not be met.

It is likely that the fate of the ballots will never be known: whether they were simply lost, were the subject of deliberate human intervention, or suffered some other misadventure such as accidental disposal.

Regardless, the system of control established by WA was simply not sufficient to minimise the risk of such an occurrence, or to then provide an auditable trail or evidence of a continuous chain of custody to enable the Inquiry to uncover, with certainty, what happened.

There are national material management policies and procedures that should be enhanced, strengthened, created or enforced, as appropriate.  Greater national consistency in this area would likely provide the AEC with a higher level of assurance about the security and accountability of ballots.

However, any lack of understanding of national standards does not excuse the lack of detail evident in the planning and conduct of operations in WA.

This is all the more stark given that material management practices were identified as an area of weakness in the evaluation of WA’s conduct of the 2010 Federal Election, but these findings were not incorporated into the WA office’s planning of the 2013 Federal Election.

The AEC accepted all Keelty’s 32 recommendations for improving ballot procedures, and established a “dedicated task force” led by Deputy Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers to implement them.

Keelty’s full report is available here.

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