Australia has one of the slackest voting systems in the Western world when it comes to ensuring there is no rorting yet no-one bothers to crack down on it. Crikey’s vote-rigging expert Rory Rorter attended a fascinating conference recently which shed new light on a disturbing and little-discussed problem.
The Society, established in 1997, is named after the Hon. Henry Samuel Chapman (1803-1881), defence barrister for the Eureka rebels and author of our original world-first secret ballot law. Its aims are, in brief, to promote the principles of fair elections in Australia, and identify the opportunity for, and the occurrence of, electoral fraud, malpractice and maladministration, and to promote legislative and administrative solutions to these problems. (Website: www.hschapman.org.au)
The quality of the speakers at the Forum was very good. They were from a mixture of Labor and Coalition backgrounds, as were presumably the audience of about 25. We heard from the hugely impressive President, Sydney historian Dr Amy McGrath OAM, MA, PhD, author of several books including “The Forging of Votes” which describes, among other things, the battles fought by her husband and others in the Federated Ironworkers’ Association in Sydney against Communist control of their Union.
First speaker and Chairman of the Forum was Ken Chapman, past Mayor and Councillor of Fairfield Council in Sydney. He gave a talk on corrupt practices in the ALP as presented to the recent CJC Inquiry in Queensland, and was there a difference between Queensland and the rest of Australia? (Answer: NO.) He described practices he experienced when he first joined the ALP in 1962, when he was asked to vote in the names of dead people. (He refused – clap from audience.) He then gave a background brief on ethnic branch stacking in Fowler, an electorate in Sydney’s western suburbs and the start of it in the State seat of Cabramatta where Member John Newman was assassinated in September 1994. Mr Chapman worked for John Newman. He resigned from the ALP in 1995.
The second speaker, Dr Russell Smith, Senior Research Officer of the Australian Institute of Criminology, gave a lecture on “The Risks and Benefits of Electronic Voting”, the technology for which, in large scale elections, is some way in the future. To sum up in a sentence (which hardly does justice to the lecture), the easy frauding of electoral rolls and multiple voting which exists now in alarming proportions could be reduced by electronic voting, but problems of identification, security and access to the internet for the whole adult population seem insurmountable for the time being.
Third speaker was Lyle Allan, former teacher in business studies at Victoria TAFE College, and a Labor insider and former President of the ALP disputes tribunal. He was described on the flyer as “Victorian expert on branch stacking, with the quote “recruits are known as stacks and stackers are known as warlords … seats can allegedly be bought for a figure between $2000 and $5000” (providing they have factional backing, Lyle said later). He explained that with the stacker paying $27 per membership, a “recruit” has to merely sign a form and attend one meeting. In a few cases people do not know they have joined the Party – signatures can be forged and someone else can represent them at the meeting. These votes are used in preselections…this does not result in the best people being elected to Parliament. All factions do it – it is a Party tradition, and is widespread especially among ethnic communities in safe and marginal ALP seats – formerly mainly an Irish practice. Lyle quoted Mary Delahunty’s preselection in Northcote as the result of Theo Theophanous’ Greek “recruiting” and the former Mayor of Darebin Nazir el Asmar’s Lebanese “recruiting”. Mary may be unaware of this.
For critising branch stacking, Lyle was called “a bigot and a racist” by the acting Editor of a Greek newspaper. Lyle commented that the media in general seem not to want to publicise branch stacking. He cited the case of a Herald Sun journalist writing an article on it in March 2000 which was published in the first edition which goes to country Victoria, but was dropped from the subsequent editions, so Melbourne readers never saw it.
(One unintentionally amusing comment later from a naive member of the audience on the ALP’s “hijacking” of the migrant vote by one means or another was: “These migrants arrive confused and with little English – they need guidance …” But not into the ALP by corrupt means, others would have thought!)
Fourth speaker was Geoff Moss from a National Party background in Queensland – investigator of the Khemlani affair, among many other investigations of national interest, and author of “The Dickson Report” which is based on the 1993 Federal election. This investigation of the Dickson electorate in Queensland was funded by private enterprise through the Enterprise Council based in Queensland. The investigation began after a significant discrepancy appeared between the number of enrolled voters who voted for the Senate on 13 March, and those who voted from the same electoral roll in the by-election for the House of Reps 5 weeks later, the by-election being caused by the death of one of the candidates between the issue of writs and polling day.
After the Australian Electoral Commission failed to act, the Enterprise Council analysed the computer disc of the Electorate roll, and did a habitation check of suspicious names and addresses. This revealed around 4000 bogus electors – that is, not living at their recorded addresses, if they existed at all. There were instances of 15 people at a golf club, 14 on a vacant block, 10 with different surnames living in a caravan, large numbers in small houses, and much use of vacant caravan sites and PO boxes for addresses. One would conclude that Michael Lavarch, who won Dickson by 347 votes, was not honestly elected in 1993. Nor was Cheryl Kernot in 1998, with likely malpractice in the handling of postal votes, and the Divisional Returning Officer’s late insertion of informal votes counted as formal AFTER the scrutineers had signed off at Albany Creek booth – enough to get Cheryl over the line. (See APPENDIX 1 for a brief summary of the Dickson Report’s findings on who voted in Dickson on 17 April 1993.)
Our Federal, State and most Trade Union elections are conducted by the AUSTRALIAN ELECTORAL COMMISSION, which is a statutory body established in 1984 by an Act introduced by then Acting Minister of State Kim Beazley, to replace the old Commonwealth Electoral Office. At the same time the old system of voting within one’s subdivision was abolished – one can vote at any booth in the electorate, making it much easier for multiple voters to remain undetected. The AEC’s failure to take any effective action over most reports and evidence of electoral fraud since 1984, and its persecution of some of its officers who attempted to do so, was discussed at length. We were told that the AEC had a formal agreement with a body of Trade Union officials through the National Consultative Council, set up in 1986 by the Hawke Government to “have input into the AEC”. (But no other group had input into the AEC.) One can see why the AEC is run in the interests of the ALP.
Solutions suggested by Geoff Moss in the interests of justice and democracy in preserving the value of everyone’s vote were:
1. To have a Government-appointed razor gang review the management of the AEC in Canberra and in all States, and ensure truly independent, competent people are in charge to run our elections.
2. The AEC would need to do an honest habitation survey of the whole of Australia, and clean up the electoral rolls (at least 800,000 names should be taken off ).
3. They would need to institute many changes to eliminate electoral fraud and ballot rigging now so easy to do, such as insisting on ID when enrolling and voting (NONE is required at present ).
The Howard Government attempted legislative electoral reform when it came to office. Senator Nick Minchin and others put together 60 recommendations which the ALP and Democrat Senators reduced to an emasculated 20, which are now before the States. The whole thing has been rejected and stalled by Premier Beattie ( fancy that! ), with 3 other ALP governed States following suit.
The speakers and members of the audience shared experiences of a wide range rorting practices known to them or experienced by them, including cemetery voting, scanning death notices within 2 weeks of an election in order to vote in those names, voter enrolments on next door vacant blocks, carloads/busloads of voters going from booth to booth on election days, destruction of Coalition postal votes, boxes of votes going missing from some booths, corruption in Union elections etc etc. It was a distressing litany of dishonesty. We were told the electoral roll throughout Australia was probably distorted by 4.8% bogus enrolments in 1993 (presumably more now), and by anecdotal and hard evidence, most are concentrated in the marginal seats. The recent Queensland election was conducted without the electoral rolls being cleaned up. What hope for a fair and honest Federal election this year!
Finally, the failure of the media to investigate or take any sustained interest in these issues was commented on – not sexy enough! (Really? What about political bias?)
APPENDIX 1: SOME OF THE FINDINGS FROM THE DICKSON REPORT ON THAT PART OF THE DICKSON ELECTORATE ROLL WHICH WAS INVESTIGATED:
1. 3.13% of electors on the certified roll did not reside at their nominated addresses.
2. 1.3 % of electors enrolled at caravan parks DID NOT EXIST, and 1.8% enrolled at caravan parks have been identified AS DECEASED PERSONS.
4. 7.3% of Enrolled religious Non Voters either VOTED OR WERE VOTED FOR.
5. MULTIPLE ENROLMENTS at habitation households cast doubt over the validity of the rolls with regard to 5.4% of enrolled voters.
5. 0.15% of 1.0% votes cast ARE MULTIPLE VOTES CAST based on AEC records.
APPENDIX 2: “CORRUPT ELECTIONS: Recent Australian Studies and Experiences of Ballot Rigging” – Ed. Charles Copeman and Amy McGrath – published by the Society in 1997 and available from them, is a “must read” for those concerned about these issues. Also “THE FRAUDING OF VOTES”: Amy McGrath, 1996, about to be reprinted.