news The parliamentary future of Greens Senator and Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam is once again in doubt, following a decision by the High Court today that will likely mean a fresh election should be held for the Western Australian Senate, following mistakes made during last year’s Federal Election.
In early October, the Australian Electoral Commission announced that Ludlam had lost his seat, with candidates from the Liberal, Labor and Palmer United parties elected to the Senate from Western Australia in September’s Federal Election, 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.
The news came as a blow to the Australian digital rights community, due to Ludlam’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. Ludlam has also been extremely active in the National Broadband Network debate.
However, the Greens and the Australian Sports Party successfully appealed for a recount of the vote, given the very small margin in some parts of the counting (just 14 votes in one place) and the reported existence of anomalies in the count. At one point, Ludlam revealed “hundreds” of misplaced votes had been found.
Ludlam eventually retained his seat in the AEC’s recount, but a permanent decision on the issue was taken to the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, with the Australian Electoral Commission and several other parties arguing that the loss of 1,370 ballot papers during the election meant that a new election should be held.
In a brief statement released this afternoon, the High Court noted that the legal issues had required the court to consider whether it could decide who should have been elected and whether it could come to that conclusion by looking at records made in earlier counts about the 1,370 lost ballot papers.
“The court held that it was precluded under the Act from looking at records of earlier counts of the lost ballot papers,” the High Court’s conclusion read. “It found that, without regard to the voting intentions recorded in those ballot papers, the conclusion that the loss probably affected the result of the election was inevitable. The number of ballot papers lost far exceeded the margin between the candidates at the determinative point in the count.
“And the re-count yielded different tallies of votes and different decisions about rejection or acceptance of ballot papers from those reached in the earlier counts, in numbers which could not be dismissed as irrelevant or trivial.”
The court rejected the argument of some complainants that it could determine who should have been elected in the WA Senate electiion by combining the results of the re-count with the records
made in earlier counts about the lost ballot papers, stating that method of ascertaining the result of the polling was one for which electoral legislation did not provide.
“The court concluded that it is therefore unnecessary for it to consider whether certain ballot papers had been wrongly accepted or rejected by the AEC in the re-count,” it stated.
The decision does not mean that the WA Senate election has been declared void, but it does mean that it may be declared void soon, and additionally that it will be likely that Western Australia will need to hold a new Senate Election, given that the current result cannot be considered valid. The High Court will hold a further hearing on Thursday this week on the issue. The Senate roles in question expire in mid-2014, so there is still some time before the election absolutely needs to be held.
And the wait continues ;) In all honesty, with the importance of the NBN and Internet surveillance issues at the moment, I believe this wait will benefit Ludlam. But who can say how the preference allocations will affect the vote — last time it was a shambles, as the result shows.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting