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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
25/11/2016
Conduct of the 2016 federal election and matters related thereto

PROHASKA, Mr Thor, Private capacity

[13:30]

CHAIR: I will just note that we have gone a little over time, but I have had a talk to the Deputy Chair and we will extend this out to accommodate the last witness. Welcome, Mr Prohaska. You have been waiting very patiently there!

Mr Prohaska : Thank you. I was the independent candidate for Dickson. It was as a result of that that I put in a submission.

CHAIR: Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and it does attract parliamentary privilege. I now invite you to make a brief opening statement before we proceed to questions and discussion.

Mr Prohaska : Thank you very much. I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak to the submission I made. I would like to divide it into two parts: first, the submission that I put in; and second, the additional details I provided, which I became aware of after I had put the submission in.

To summarise my submission, basically, it speaks to fairness and truth in advertising. I am assuming that the committee members have read my submission, so I will not go into the details of that. I will just say that when you are up against a very well-resourced and well-oiled machine like GetUp! it is very difficult, where the truth and certain matters have been represented in a particular way, for an independent candidate to counter that. So I feel that the misleading and deceptive conduct that GetUp! did was not in the best interest of democracy, and it certainly had an impact on my campaign.

The second bit I have been advised has not been distributed to the committee. It has been? Okay. Basically, what I was asking for out of that first submission was that any participant in the electoral political process should have to abide by a standard set of rules, which does not appear to be the case. The second part—the additional information—is to do with the 2010 determination by the AEC that GetUp! was not an associated entity. My submission to the AEC is that that be looked at again in light of the fact that GetUp! stepped across the line from giving a score card to now issuing how-to-vote cards. I believe, from my layman's perspective, that it warrants looking at again by the AEC. I looked at all the how-to-vote cards that were issued by GetUp! and over 90 per cent of them were basically for the Greens and the Labor Party. They put on their website that they are independent, that they are not party political and that their core value is participatory democracy. I believe that all of those items do not match up with their behaviour.

CHAIR: Does that conclude your opening statement?

Mr Prohaska : Yes, it concludes my statement.

Mr MORTON: Would it be a great surprise to that the chairperson of GetUp! was somebody that actually advocated voting for the Greens party at the last election and was a member of the Greens?

Mr Prohaska : Not at all. The person who was involved in the 'Ditch Dutton in Dickson' campaign is a member of the Greens. So at that level there is another instance of a direct relationship—maybe not direct, but they openly declared themselves as a Greens member.

Mr MORTON: That is very interesting. I always thought the saying was 'behind the colour green is the colour red' but you have to go orange, green and red now to get there.

CHAIR: Is that a tutorial or is that a question?

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I thought that was a very good question.

CHAIR: I was just clarifying.

Mr MORTON: Moving onto my question, in relation to the colour red, one of the board members of the Greens, when I had GetUp! in front of us, was very active in the Labor Party, was a senior office-holder there and on election day was wearing his red shirt for Susan Templeman in the New South Wales seat, not advocating on behalf of GetUp! Does that worry you or concern you?

Mr Prohaska : It worries me and concerns me that that behaviour goes along with their public position that they are independent. So in that context, yes it does.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Deceptive.

Mr MORTON: In the examples I have given you, is there any reason why you think that the GetUp!—I was going to say 'party'; you can excuse me for coming to that conclusion—organisation only had Labor and Greens how-to-vote cards on the piece of paper they were handing out? Why did they not have Labor, Greens and an Independent option?

Mr Prohaska : That was 90 per cent of them, roughly.

Mr MORTON: But in your case?

Mr Prohaska : In my case, yes, there was only Labor and Greens. They looked at each electorate and they looked at their core values and what their members wanted. On that basis, they made a determination on the person who was most likely to win. They were supporting those on the basis of how closely they were aligned with what they were trying to achieve.

Mr MORTON: We hear these claims of what their members want. How do we know what the members want?

Mr Prohaska : Having been a member of GetUp! going back to when they had 2,000 members, I use the term 'member' loosely. You do not join GetUp. You just sort of say: here is my email address, send me stuff. When I first heard about what they were doing, I thought participatory democracy was a really good idea—let's see what the majority in the electorate want; let's bring it together. I actually held two GetUp! get-togethers at my place over the years. For the information that we collected and provided to GetUp, I never saw anything come back to us to say 'This is how we are going to take your feedback of where you sit on these particular policy positions and this is how is now incorporated into our overall campaign strategy or the issues.' So on the face of what I have seen, they asked for this information from their members but then they choose to do what they will with it. I see no traceability between that information that was collected from our get-togethers and how that then translated into their key top priorities.

Mr MORTON: This is quite something. On the issues that GetUp! said they were concerned about, did you campaign on those issues? Is there any reason why? Did you give GetUp! any reason to think you were not supporting them on the issues they were campaigning on?

Mr Prohaska : Are we speaking specifically to the 2016 election?

Mr MORTON: Yes, specifically in the election. They were talking about a set of issues that were important to them. Were you out there campaigning against those issues that they were talking about or were they part of your platform? Was there any reason why you were not included on the how-to-vote card as an option by GetUp?

Mr Prohaska : The reason why I was put in third place on both the Greens and the Labor how-to-vote cards—because they put two of them side-by-side—was that I was not likely to win in their determination, and that is the only thing that I can say with any certainty.

Mr MORTON: They said that to you, did they?

Mr Prohaska : That is what they have put in their information with regard to how they determined who was going to be on their how-to-vote cards, or the positioning of them. With regard to particular policies, this is the reason why I contacted them in the first instance; I was very concerned. I did not know they were going to do a how-to-vote card; I thought it was going to be their traditional scorecard. Because my basic proposition to the voters of my electorate is that I seek to represent what the majority think on each and every policy issue, I was concerned GetUp! was going to look at me and go, 'This guy's got no policies, so we're going to mark him down on each of these areas.' So that was why I contacted them; that is why I tried to get some understanding and dialogue with them. But I was also wanting to partner with them because when they said they were going to have the campaign to ditch Dutton in Dickson, I thought, 'As much respect as I have for Mr Dutton, I believe that we could have a more effective representative in our electorate.'

Mr MORTON: I think I can judge the level of respect there from your comments, but continue.

Mr Prohaska : You might actually be surprised because now that I know Peter personally—and I have had numerous conversations with him—I think the simplistic polarisation between the left and right of politics is too simplistic and does not really do justice to the individuals participating.

Mr MORTON: I do not want to get into the debate of whether or not you are a member or a subscriber, but were you a member of GetUp!—as GetUp! knows them—at the time of the election? Were you on their email list?

Mr Prohaska : I was on their email list, because that is how I got to find out about my how-to-vote card.

Mr MORTON: So they would count you in their number when they talk about how many members they have got.

Mr Prohaska : Me and a whole heap of other people in similar circumstances to me, yes.

Mr MORTON: So just clarifying: GetUp! would refer to you as a member of their organisation.

Mr Prohaska : They would, yes, which I think is slightly misleading as well.

Mr MORTON: And they put out how-to-vote cards for candidates for two political parties rather than putting out a how-to-vote card for one of their own members. That is what happened, is it?

Mr Prohaska : Accurate summation.

Mr MORTON: Thank you.

Mr DICK: Thanks, Mr Prohaska. Just reading through your evidence and your submission, which is very detailed, am I right in saying you were negotiating with or attempting to contact GetUp! because you were not happy with your placement on their scorecard or how-to-vote card?

Mr Prohaska : No, I was concerned that they would look at me as not having a policy platform, other than to say that I wish to find out what the majority think. If they look at me and say, 'Where is he on solar energy? Where is he on protecting the reef? Where he is on—

Mr DICK: They could not ascertain that.

Mr Prohaska : That is right.

Mr DICK: I do not know much about GetUp! So they made a decision on, for example, the Prince Charles Hospital issue—and I will just show the committee the scorecard that I am referring to, Madam Chair. Because of that issue, those candidates were, in their words, in favour of stopping the LNP cuts of $54 billion. Is that what is on the document?

Mr Prohaska : Yes.

Mr DICK: As a result, if you are not telling an organisation what you think or what you believe about the $54 billion cuts, does it not make sense then that they do not know, as an organisation, what your position is. It is pretty clear for some of the other examples. Maybe Mr Dutton and Family First gave statements—I am not sure; I do not know—but you have just said you did not give any policy statements because you just went with what the majority wanted.

Mr Prohaska : I did say that.

Mr DICK: I am just playing devil's advocate. Does it not make sense that, if you are a member-based organisation—and even if you are a member—and you have to make a decision on advocating for who supports stopping cuts or whatever, you are going to support people that agreed with you?

Mr Prohaska : Well, it would obviously make sense.

Mr DICK: And in 2013 you were the Palmer United candidate for Petrie?

Mr Prohaska : That is correct.

Mr DICK: The Palmer United Party had policies on health, education and all of those things. As a political participant and with your long involvement—I think you were a state candidate as well?

Mr Prohaska : That is correct.

Mr DICK: For the state seat of Pine Rivers?

Mr Prohaska : Yes.

Mr DICK: With those statements, those issues, I suppose if you were in the position of GetUp!—and I am not a member of GetUp!—they would make decisions on that. If you were No. 1 and they had done a separate ballot paper for you, advocating a vote for you as No. 1, or someone else—a higher vote, for example—you would not have a problem with that?

Mr Prohaska : I would not, because it would be in line with their core value of participatory democracy, and I was No. 1 out of all the candidates in that electorate. So that would be in keeping with their approach.

Mr DICK: I will just defer to my colleague.

Senator KETTER: Mr Prohaska, you identified that as a primary criterion for GetUp!, but isn't it fair to say that, based on the material you have put to us, participatory democracy is one of the criteria—

Mr Prohaska : One.

Senator KETTER: and others are equality and a renewable energy future, and those are just three examples of what they consider to be their core values and policy priorities?

Mr Prohaska : True. However, participatory democracy goes across all policy areas, whereas those two that you have mentioned sit underneath that level. They are a lower level. They are specific policy positions. So there is a difference between participatory democracy being a core value and, then, a position on particular policy areas. I see a distinction between those two.

Mr DICK: I understand your statement. But the actual how-to-vote card was not about participatory democracy; it was specifically about the Prince Charles Hospital, and it reads, from the document you have provided to us:

Doctors warn that Coalition health cuts will lead to more deaths in emergency and see you pay more for visits to your GP. Below are parties committed to fully restoring hospital funding to 2020 and unfreezing the Medicare rebate.

Did you tell GetUp! you were happy to restore hospital funding to 2020 and you would unfreeze the Medicare rebate?

Mr Prohaska : Well, if they had asked me—

Mr DICK: Because that is the determination they clearly made.

Mr Prohaska : Yes, that is true, and this is part of their misleading behaviour. They also said that they made every reasonable effort to contact all candidates to find out what their position was. They did not speak to me at all, even though I had opened up the door on numerous occasions to speak to them about that and the related matters. They refused to talk to me after that initial meeting I had with them. All communication was cut off.

Mr DICK: Did they ask you about health and education at that meeting?

Mr Prohaska : No, they did not, and that is one of the things that I find unacceptable about them making the statement that they made every reasonable effort to ask all the candidates, but they did not ask me. I do not know if they asked the LDP or the Greens or Family First in my electorate either. I do not know that. So, if they did not ask me, then how could they put me at No. 3 and the other candidates at Nos 4, 5 and 6? How did they come to that determination? I cannot answer that.

Mr DICK: But, if they had designated you as No. 1, you would have been okay with that—even without telling that information?

Mr Prohaska : I would have been okay with it, because I feel that what I was proposing with regards to being a representative of what the majority position is in the electorate would be in keeping with GetUp's core value. Yes, I would have been okay with that.

Mr DICK: I do not mean any disrespect, but, if they had done that and if this had three candidates on it, would you be here today? I am trying to get to the rub of—

CHAIR: No, I think it is a valid question.

Mr GILES: No, it is a good question.

Mr DICK: And I do not mean any disrespect.

Mr Prohaska : Well, the one thing I can say for certain is I probably would not have dug through their website with the forensic level of inquiry that I did, after they behaved that way.

Mr DICK: To get to the bottom of it.

Mr Prohaska : That is right. So it was there that it became patently clear to me that their comment that they were independent and non-party-political did not match up with the observed behaviour. So, probably not—and, again, I feel that because, if they had done that, I would have gone, 'Well, they should be putting me first because I am more likely to be able to deliver what the majority of their members want.' If I may just go back, in regard to Palmer United Party, I would just like to put on the record that from day one, when I was invited to be a candidate for Palmer United, the first question I asked the person who invited me was: can I represent what the majority in the electorate want, even if it is not what the party or Clive wants? And that person who invited me said, 'That is exactly what Clive wants. So it was on that basis that I joined Palmer United and was the candidate, and throughout the entire election I consistently said internally within the organisation, 'I represent what the majority in Petrie would want,' and I told that to everybody who I was speaking to during the campaign, so there is no inconsistency between my saying this now and what I said back then—not that it matters anyway.

CHAIR: Mr Morton, I understand you have questions.

Mr MORTON: I have two items to clarify. What were these things called again that you had in you home?

Mr Prohaska : The get-togethers.

Mr MORTON: When were they held and what were the main issues that came out of them?

Mr Prohaska : I think it was going back before the 2013 election. It was in early 2013. The next one was—I cannot remember. I would have to go back and check my records. It was before that.

Mr MORTON: Rather than have me ask a series of questions, I ask you: do you believe that the selection of this issue of The Prince Charles Hospital was in order to select an issue that enabled GetUp! to advocate a vote for Labor and the Greens rather than have issues that had popped up previously in your get-togethers?

CHAIR: That is a rather speculative question, Mr Morton.

Mr MORTON: I have had to come to it in a very quick way, so I have just thrown it out there for the witness to respond to.

Mr Prohaska : Because the last get-together was several years ago, it was before this issue of The Prince Charles Hospital became something that was being publicly campaigned about.

Mr MORTON: In relation to how-to-vote cards, did you issue a how-to-vote card?

Mr Prohaska : I was going to, but I came to the point of—well, I did, but it was: me, 1; you choose. So I did not actually advocate any preferences for other parties.

Mr MORTON: Thank you.

CHAIR: I do have to conclude it there. Mr Prohaska, thank you very much for your written submission and also for your evidence here today. It is certainly another interesting perspective for this committee to consider. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and will have the opportunity to request corrections to transcription errors. I now declare this public hearing closed.

Committee adjourned at 13:52