Michael Ronaldson’s remarkable efforts at shameless hypocrisy continue. The Opposition Shadow Minister of State continues to oppose any Government moves to improve accountability and transparency in the electoral system while claiming the Government represents some new nadir in Australian democracy.

Today’s effort was to word up The Australian on an answer he got to a Parliamentary Question on Notice asked of the Australian Electoral Commission. He had asked about the AEC’s efforts to track down incorrect enrolments and how many there were. The AEC described its ongoing program of checking the rolls, and said the average number of incorrect enrolments per electorate in those it had investigated was 3200. Electorates vary significantly in size but many have around 90,000 enrolments.

That’s consistent with an ANAO audit a few years back of over 96% accuracy in an electoral roll that, over a three-year election cycle, sees over two million people enrol, re-enrol or change their enrolment. It’s also a maximum figure, given not too many people worry about updating their enrolment details in the year after an election.

Not good enough for Ronaldson, however. “I am deeply concerned,” he thundered. “20 per cent of seats have margins less than the average error rate. We don’t know how much is simple error and how much is deliberate fraud.”

The Coalition are eager to sell the idea of widespread electoral fraud, despite the Electoral Commission being unable to establish anything resembling it in repeated efforts. The LNP are alleging fraud in the Queensland State seat of Chatsworth, where Andrea Caltabiano lost to Labor’s candidate by 70-odd votes. Federal MP Stuart Robert rose in Parliament recently to say the ALP was responsible for most “electoral abuses”. Now Ronaldson appears to be suggesting the result of the last election might have been the consequence of fraud.

That’s not because they’re Coalition MPs but because they’ve lost elections recently. Labor was guilty of similar whinging when it was in Opposition.

What marks Ronaldson’s new complaints out as special is the Howard Government’s successful attempt in its last term to curb enrolment by closing the electoral rolls the day election writs are issued for new voters and three days later for people with incorrect details. There was plenty of publicity for these changes, so no voter had an excuse not get on the roll. But the changes were targeted at young voters whom the Government worried were disposed to vote for Kevin Rudd, but who were more likely to have left their enrolment up to the last minute.

In one of those small examples of how nothing went right for the Howard Government in its last days, this didn’t actually work as planned, partly because of a public holiday in some states and partly because Howard wanted some more time to sign off on vote-buying initiatives. So writs weren’t issued until three days after the election was called.

Even so, compared to the 2004 election, there were 137,000 fewer enrolments after the calling of the election, giving an indication of how many new voters missed out on voting because of the Howard Government’s changes. This doesn’t include those who were too late to amend their incorrect details. The number would have been far greater if the Howard plan had been implemented as intended and rolls were closed immediately.

For Ronaldson to sniff that somehow there is doubt about the election result and it’s the AEC’s fault, is probably beyond hypocritical and well into unmitigated gall territory.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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