news Western Australians are likely to be forced to vote again for their Senate representatives in Federal Parliament, in a move which will once again place the seat of Greens Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam in doubt, as the Australian Electoral Commission last week confirmed it would seek a by election in the state.
Earlier this month the AEC declared Ludlam had held his Senate seat in Western Australia following a controversial recount of the state’s Senate vote in September’s Federal Election. The decision followed a re-count and reversed an earlier declaration which had found Ludlam had lost his seat.
For the past several mnths since the Federal Election was held, Ludlam has been locked in a hard-fought battle to hold his seat, due to a complex flow of preferences between tiny political parties such as the Australian Christians, the Australian Sports Party and the Shooters and Fishers Party.
The final WA Senate vote initially elected three Liberal Party candidates, two Labor candidates and a candidate from the new Palmer United Party, despite the fact that the Greens took 9.48 percent of the initial vote and the Palmer United Party took 5 percent of the initial vote. This decision was reversed following a recount, and Ludlam and a representative from the Australian Sports Party were awarded Senate seats.
However, the whole process has been called into question by the fact that the AEC also revealed it lost 1,375 votes during the recent Federal Election and would not be able to re-count those votes. This situation, along with the fact that Ludlam’s team was able to find “hundreds” of misplaced votes during the recount, and the very slim margin (as close as 14 votes) in some portions of the count, has called the overall WA Senate election into doubt.
Late last week the Australian Electoral Commission noted that it had authorised the Electoral Commissioner to lodge a petition with the Court of Disputed Returns in respect of the 2013 Western Australian Senate election. The Court is a jurisdiction established by Parliament and exercised by the High Court, although cases can also be referred to the Federal Court.
“The petition seeks an order from the Court that the WA Senate election of six senators be declared void,” the AEC wrote in a media statement.
“Given the closeness of the margins that favoured the final two declared candidates, the petition is based on the premise that the inability to include 1370 missing ballot papers in the recount of the WA Senate election means that the election was likely to be affected for the purposes of s 362(3) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.”
“As the matter is now before the Court the AEC will not be making any further comment. The AEC recently appointed Mr Mick Keelty AO to conduct an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the missing ballots. Mr Keelty’s inquiries are continuing.”
Ludlam published a brief statement in reaction, saying: “I welcome the news that today the AEC has reached a decision on their next course of action. As I am a named respondent to the AECs petition we’ll be seeking legal advice and won’t be commenting further at this time.”
Ludlam’s re-appointment is being closely watched by the Australian digital rights community, due to the Senator’s role over the past half-decade after he was elected in 2007 increasingly coming to focus on holding powerful government departments and law enforcement bodies, politicians, corporations and other groups to account for increasing privacy rights violations and the encroachment of telecommunications surveillance in the digital age.
My view on Ludlam and the Greens in general is pretty well-known: I believe they have a better track record on technology policy than either Labor or the Coalition. As I argued before the Federal Election campaign on Delimiter 2.0 (subscriber content):
“When it comes to technology policy in Australia’s 2013 Federal Election, there is one party with a better approach on almost every front. From supporting an all-fibre National Broadband Network to protecting Australians’ digital privacy rights, the Greens generally have their major competitors beat when it comes to technology policy, and their parliamentary experience gives them an edge on minor party rivals.”
Ludlam’s work in particular is important due to the fact that the Senator is pretty much the only Federal Parliamentarian attempting to hold powerful departments and agencies such as the Attorney-General’s Department, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Signals Directorate and ASIO to account when it comes to digital rights issues. If he loses his seat, our democracy is likely to be significantly weakened in this area. Hopefully WA voters will reward the Senator’s continued interest in this area in any by-election.