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Hanson hoaxer speaks out: and the trail leads to… Mickey Mouse

Mickey Mouse could hold the key to the motivation behind Pauline Hanson email forger Sean Castle, with an exclusive interview revealing the Glendenning teacher is influenced by a body of thought associated with an eccentric lobby group convinced Australia’s voting system is corrupt.

Speaking to the media for the first time since admitting to the ruse in the NSW Supreme Court ten days ago, Castle revealed his supreme mistrust of the electoral system — one possible motivation for the stunt purporting to shine a light on the internal processes of the NSW Electoral Commission.

Although prevented by a court order from discussing the specifics of the case, Ratter offered his general take on the apparent corruption at the heart of Australian democracy.

Why don’t you look around how easy is it for people to go and vote in someone else’s name?,” Rattner told Crikey, when contacted on his home number.

You know, all they have to do is know a person’s name. There’s no identity checks. There is an old saying amongst a political party…you know, vote early and vote often. You’ve got to ask yourself there’s lots of flaws but like, you know who I am. People know who I am now and people can easily find my date of birth and my address through court documents which are public files.

At the next election there’d be no problem for some smart a-se to go and use my details and go to seven or eight polling booths and say ‘I’m Sean Castle, this is my address, this is my date of birth’ and they just go tick on the manual piece of paper because there’s no database that says that a person has voted on the day. Maybe in a few months time I’d start getting fines.”

Until now, the motivation behind Castle’s elaborate experiment — in which he fabricated emails from two electoral officials claiming “1200” votes for Hanson had been misplaced, and posed as a Daily Telegraph journalist to get embargoed access to the progressive upper house vote — has remained shrouded in mystery.

But while Castle has stayed mum, the media is also yet to twig that his pseudonym “Michael Rattner” is a direct reference to “Mickey Mouse”.

The big-eared Disney star has a storied history when it comes to allegations of voting fraud that all lead to the same source — the HS Chapman Society, its president Dr Amy McGrath and its secretary — the former Liberal member for Macquarie and 1996 Fred Nile Senate candidate Alasdair Webster.

The Society’s central claim — that Australia’s voting roll is corrupt and that elaborate checks are needed to prevent fraud — gets regular play from Coalition MPs like Andrew Southcott and Sophie Mirabella. Many of its recommendations fed into the Howard government’s controversial 2006 reforms to the Electoral Act (now reversed) that banned prisoners from voting and closed the roll on the dates writs were issued. Its most prominent media backer is shock jock Alan Jones.

The coincidences between the Ratter case and HS Chapman’s view of the world are striking.

Between March 13, 1998 and July 8, 1999 a “Michael Raton” (Raton is Spanish for mouse) was fraudulently enrolled at a Woodford address, deep in Alasdair Webster’s former Macquarie electorate. According to oral evidence given by Amy McGrath to the Joint Standing Committee into Electoral Matters in 2001, Raton had been placed on the roll to “test the system” against fraud.  Later that day, then JSCEM chair Christopher Pyne sent out an erroneous press release breathlessly reporting McGrath’s evidence.

The Raton case echoed another famous instance in which a fraudulent feline  — “Curacao Fischer-Catt” — was enrolled in 1990, also in Macquarie, while Webster was a sitting MP.

After a ‘welcome to the electorate’ message was sent by Webster to the cat’s owner, Justine Fischer, Fischer responded with a nudge-nudge wink- wink letter stating that “under the Australian Constitution cats are not allowed to vote” and a follow-up letter to the editor in the Blue Mountains Gazette with the headline “going co-co for votes”.  The case was referred by Webster to the Macquarie Divisional Returning Officer who passed it on to the Australian Federal Police.

Castle denied he had ever attended a HS Chapman Society meeting. When probed specifically on the glaring link between Raton and Rattner he referred to the court order.

It’s best that I don’t comment on that because it could open up a whole new range of stuff for me if I talk about that sort of stuff,” Castle told Crikey.

You can draw your own strings from that.”

According to the Australian Electoral Commission’s response to the 2001 joint standing committee, it was of “some significance” that the Raton and Catt cases “both involved individuals ‘testing the system’ by enrolling as ‘pest exterminators’” in Macquarie while Webster was a political player there.

Webster was Liberal Member for Macquarie between 1984 and 1993 but switched to Fred Nile’s Call to Australian party (later re-named the Christian Democratic Party) for the 1996 Senate tilt. He also represented Nile’s group at the 1998 Constitutional Convention.

Webster told Crikey he had only heard of Sean Castle through media reports. Amy McGrath is in the UK and did not respond to an email requesting comment.

There is little evidence of systematic voter fraud in Australia. In a report to Parliament in 2002, the Australian National Audit Office concluded that “the Australian electoral roll is one of high integrity, and that it can be relied on for electoral purposes.”

But after nearly every state and federal election for the past 25 years, McGrath — the wife of retired NSW judge Frank McGrath — and her associates give voluminous oral and written evidence to parliamentary inquiries alleging the system is fatally flawed. Each time they do, the AEC or the equivalent state body is forced to debunk the claims in fastidious detail.

In a piece for Inside Story last year, Swinburne University’s Peter Browne and Brian Costar explained the genesis of the voter fraud movement, arguing that the group’s underpinning raison d’être was a hostility to compulsory voting, translating in practice to a hostility towards people who support the Labor Party.

But could Castle have had a secondary motive, drawn from the Nile camp’s desperation to ensure the Greens failed to snag a 5th upper house seat? The answer probably lies deep within the murky online tributaries of the NSW right.

Castle teaches history at Toongabbie Christian School, whose fundamentalist statement of faith would seem firmly in Nile’s orbit. And bear in mind that an innocuous April 3 email from a Pauline Hanson scrutineer that kick-started the ruse must have been seen by Castle for him to dream up the intervention — suggesting he was in touch, perhaps in a peripheral way, with the broader Hanson camp.

A Hanson victory in the upper house would have delivered the fringe Right 5 seats with the Shooters and Fishers Party and Nile’s CDP — one more than the Greens, who without Hanson foe Jeremy Buckingham would have been marooned on 4.

Hanson’s principle barrister Peter Lowe told Crikey that Nile’s name had never come up in the course of the investigation and Castle is currently prohibited from commenting in that kind of detail.

Meanwhile, all parties to the case are eagerly awaiting tomorrow’s 9:30am judgement, with suggestions that magistrate Peter McClellen may refer false affidavits in the case to the NSW Attorney General or the NSW parliament. Hanson’s legal bill of around $100,000 is expected to be absorbed by the taxpayer.

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  • 1
    rossco
    Posted Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Castle? Rattner? Ratter?
    I assume these are all the one person with aliases.

  • 2
    ggm
    Posted Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Albert Langer come back! We need some balance in this right-shifted debate on voting process…

  • 3
    Jim Reiher
    Posted Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Hanson’s legal bill of around $100,000 is expected to be absorbed by the taxpayer.” - WHY? would anyone else get the same act of grace? She initiated the action based on unconfirmed contacts…. why would we cover her costs?

  • 4
    tony huddy
    Posted Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    So let me get this straight. Sean Castle is a fundamentalist Christian who is concerned about widespread voter fraud. In the absence of actual evidence of election fraud, he fraudulently created emails implying election fraud, in order to possibly alter the election outcome, which would be (I assume) election fraud.

    That’s a whole lot of awesomeness right there.

  • 5
    Greig White
    Posted Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Sorry to be pedantic but…
    “Hanson’s principle barrister Peter Lowe…”
    …is surely an oxymoron?

  • 6
    kate
    Posted Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    @Tony, it fits perfectly with the fundie MO.

    First: create your “truth”
    Then: manufacture the “facts”

  • 7
    geomac
    Posted Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I can think of no reason where Hanson and her legal team should be let off lightly. To proceed to court without having had personal meetings with the alleged informant is beyond belief. I think of watergate and deepthroat where info was given and revealed. It was left to the administration to refute that information which in the end brought down a president. Check , check and check again then publish for the public good. Everyone involved in this farce has been doing it for their own advancement. This Castle fellow has to pay for fraud , Hanson for frivolous court action and her legal team for complying to her request. Incompetence gets bandied around a lot these days without foundation but this deserves that term.

  • 8
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Pity Hanson’s legal bill couldn’t be made a “Pass to Castle”?

    (“Labor”, “pagan”, “miscreant”, “heretic” - to some fundamentalists, with a particular political barrow to push, and funding to protect, seem interchangeable)

  • 9
    Posted Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I am also puzzled as to why we should pay for this guy’s deliberate deception and Pauline Hanson’s greed and incompetence. Why is this our responsibility?

    Regarding the electoral rolls, I thought you needed a birth certificate or passport to enrol. You do have to prove ID. Since the AEC has a central database, you can’t enrol under the same name with the same DOB/ID more than once, no matter where you are. After an election, that same central database is updated with details of who voted where. So how can you vote more than once, and how can you enrol in two places or enrol if you don’t exist?

    As to the constant bombarding of the electoral commissions by this conspiracy group, surely there’s a penalty for vexatious claims, and a provision for the commissions to ignore repeated claims by a person or group shown to be vexatious?

  • 10
    Grinder
    Posted Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    He is wrong about the electoral roll. Your name is crossed off the complete roll when you vote at the polling place. I’m not sure if it is done every time, but the rolls from each polling place in an electorate can be scanned and if someone’s name is crossed off from two separate rolls, it can be detected easily. I’m sure if there was a close result and fraud was widely alleged, it would be pretty easy to check out.

  • 11
    SusieQ
    Posted Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    So the people concerned about fraud have (allegedly) sent fraudulent emails??? And they call themselves Christians? As expressed by others, why should the taxpayer pick up the costs for this farce?

  • 12
    Grinder
    Posted Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Heh. “…the school only employs staff who can set an example of Christian faith in everyday living.”

    http://www.tcs.nsw.edu.au/about_us/staff.html

    I must have a totally wrong idea of what it means to set a Christian example.

  • 13
    Oscar Jones
    Posted Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    I feel sorry for Hanson being deceived but why are we paying her legal bill ?

    In fact why is anyone ?. A good brief would have ensured Ratner was real and interviewed in person before launching legal action.

  • 14
    Malcolm Street
    Posted Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    One simple objection I have to the claims of the H C Chapman society is that if there was the wide-spread voter fraud they allege, you’d expect to see a marked difference between opinion polls before an election and the result. In the last couple of federal elections, in as much as there has been any difference, it’s been that the Coalition does better in the election than the polls. So are they saying it’s Coalition voters who are rorting?

    As for Sean Castle, this guy’s a teacher? But even more frightening, looking at its “Statement of Faith”, his “school” is a school? Our taxes are supporting this bigoted, fundamentalist bullsh*t?!!!

    Agree totally that no way should the taxpayer foot Hanson’s legal bill. Either she ignored advice from her legal team, in which case she launched frivolous litigation and should pay for it herself, or she received bad advice from her legal team in which case she should sue them for the costs.

  • 15
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    What an extraordinary story … not so much a hoax as a plot.

    Mt goodness aren’t there some industrial strength ratbags in the NSW parliament?

    Excellent bit of digging Andrew.

  • 16
    freecountry
    Posted Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    Swinburne University’s Peter Browne and Brian Costar explained the genesis of the voter fraud movement, arguing that the group’s underpinning raison d’être was a hostility to compulsory voting, translating in practice to a hostility towards people who support the Labor Party.

    That’s funny if it really is their motive, because compulsory voting is one of the best protections against electoral fraud — as this “Rattner” character said, any double voting comes out in the wash later. The NSW Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters hold a public inquiry into the conduct of every election as a matter of course, so it would be a bit hard for double voting to go unnoticed.

    Actually, the double voting thing sounds to me like something dreamed up on the spot, while Mr Crook was actually questioning him. Interestingly, it sounds like a much less plausible scenario than the allegation that started this, that electoral counting workers would fraudulently discard hundreds of Hansen votes. For any other political candidate, no. But when the candidate was Pauline Hanson … the only living Australian politician to have served prison time as — let’s face it — a political prisoner … well, it didn’t sound impossible, put it that way. The allegation needed to be investigated, even if the evidence was thin and the witness a bit of an enigma.

    As for whether Hanson should pay everyone’s legal bills, I confess I’m a bit confused about why the whole thing was a civil case at all. If Pauline Hanson, or any other citizen, received prima facie evidence of electoral fraud taking place, especially within the electoral commission itself, it would be the person’s civic duty to report it to the authorities, and a very high priority for the authorities to investigate it. Should she have exercised her judgement and decided it was all a hoax? I should hope not. I should hope anyone in possession of information would leave that to the authorities to determine.

    If you tell the police you think there’s been a crime, and a coronial inquest finds there wasn’t a crime after all, do you have to pay court costs?

    After all, suppose the whole thing had been true. The leaked emails would have been evidence of a crime, I think we can agree on that. The question is, who would be the victim?

    (a) Pauline Hanson
    (b) the 1200 voters allegedly cheated of their votes
    (c) the people of NSW
    (d) all of the above

    The answer, to my mind, would be (c) the people of NSW. Think about it: why do we have compulsory voting? It’s not to detect fraud, that’s a happy side effect but it’s not the reason.

    Attendance at a voting booth is like jury duty. You don’t have a right to serve on a jury; you have a right to be tried by a jury if you’re accused of a crime. But there can be no right to a thing without the obligation for others to provide you with that thing. So your right to a jury becomes an obligation for every eligible juror to serve on your jury if called upon. In the same way, you have a right to live under a democratically elected government. But what use is your right if citizens aren’t obliged to provide you with it? That’s why, when I vote I’m actually fulfilling your right, and when you vote you’re actually fulfilling mine. In my opinion, you’re not living under the protection of democracy unless everyone else is obliged to contribute their small part.

    Which brings me back to the voter fraud movement and the obligatory vote. Those who cry about the right to vote and the right not to vote (and it’s going to kill you, an hour of your precious time once every few years) are missing the whole point. And if the system is defrauded, then the whole state becomes the victim, its democratic protection against arbitrary power is weakened. Hanson did the right thing by questioning the election result. Why should she now pay for it?

  • 17
    Bobalot
    Posted Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    FreeCountry once again takes over 600 words to say something that could have succinctly communicated for 1/6th of that.

  • 18
    TheTruthHurts
    Posted Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    He is wrong about the electoral roll. Your name is crossed off the complete roll when you vote at the polling place. I’m not sure if it is done every time, but the rolls from each polling place in an electorate can be scanned and if someone’s name is crossed off from two separate rolls, it can be detected easily. I’m sure if there was a close result and fraud was widely alleged, it would be pretty easy to check out.

    Great and how do you pull their vote out of the ballot box?

    If you go and vote 100 times at 100 different polling places, it would be nigh impossible to pull your votes out of the tally.

    What is needed is electronic electoral rolls and ID needing to be displayed to vote.

  • 19
    Jackol
    Posted Friday, 24 June 2011 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    While you are correct Truthy, you miss the point - while there is currently no way to determine on the day whether someone has abused the system, such an event is auditable after the fact and is included by the relevant electoral commission in its summary of the integrity of the voting process.

    If the electoral commission found any evidence of any significant rorting, then maybe it might be worth changing the system. The level of fraud has been very low in Australian elections using the current system, and we can and do measure the level of fraud to reassure ourselves that this remains true.

  • 20
    Grinder
    Posted Friday, 24 June 2011 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Truthhurter,

    There is no way to pull votes out of the ballot box, of course. If there was evidence of widespread fraud (you’d need quite a few polling places in an electorate for your above scenario), and the number of potential double votes was greater than the final vote margin, I guess there could be the case for void election.

    Not ideal. But while the system can’t prevent fraud, it can detect and measure it.

  • 21
    Posted Saturday, 25 June 2011 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    TTH probably thinks the Electoral Commission has been infiltrated by underground Maoist mole people. That’s why we need ID to vote.

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