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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
Conduct of the 2013 federal election and matters related thereto
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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
Hawke, Alex, MP
Macdonald, Sen Ian
Griffin, Alan, MP
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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
(Joint-Thursday, 13 March 2014)
CHAIR (Mr Tony Smith)
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Senator IAN MACDONALD
- Mr HAWKE
Content WindowJoint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters - 13/03/2014 - Conduct of the 2013 federal election and matters related thereto
McGRATH, Dr Amy, President, HS Chapman Society
CHAIR: It is good to see you again. As you would be aware from previous hearings, the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, although the hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings in the respective houses. Thank you very much for appearing today. I think you have appeared at every electoral matters committee inquiry, certainly in the last 20 years or so.
Dr McGrath : Seventeen, but not during the last two regimes.
CHAIR: We do not have a submission as yet, but we have a summary of your positions, which are quite longstanding. Would you like to make a short opening statement?
Dr McGrath : I would like the first bit that I say to be off the record and the second bit to be on the record.
CHAIR: There is a difficulty with that: this is a public hearing.
Dr McGrath : Well, I do not mind.
CHAIR: Just be fully aware that this is a public hearing, so everything you say will be recorded in Hansard.
Dr McGrath : I should state that my personal origins are with the Labor Party, because it has been constantly presumed over the last 17 years that I am from the Liberal Party. This is very important because the HS Chapman Society is seen as a Liberal organisation, which it is not; it is half and half. My deputy, Ken Chapman, lived in Cabramatta and was mayor of Cabramatta before Latham. He is well known; he cleaned up the drug trafficking with Tim Pearce and he is a man with very acute and long experience of politics. I was a member of the Labor Party. I married into it and was in it until my husband became a judge, appointed by the Liberal Party. He was involved in politics very seriously on the waterfront in his 20s.
CHAIR: I do not wish to cut you off. That is interesting history, but I do—
Dr McGrath : It is important because people constantly think he is doing the work I am. He is a constitutional expert and was appointed as chief of the court by the Labor Party. I say this because I was comprehensively insulted by the last chair of this committee in the last session so that I had to go to the parliament, to the clerk and the speakers, for an apology, which I never really got. That is the end of that statement.
CHAIR: I hope you do not find me insulting—
Dr McGrath : No, I do not. If you are in the Labor Party you are quite used to it.
CHAIR: Given that you have been here many times and we have been dealing with a number of technical electoral issues, if you have a short opening statement—
Dr McGrath : It is not all that short because it is extremely important to what I think. I think when you hear it you will realise I am right. I do not think there is any circumstance in this whereby you can dictate how long it will be.
CHAIR: Okay. I invite you to begin.
Dr McGrath : I am making this statement because I have spent 17 years with everybody chipping at the edges of the electoral system. It is a waste of time; politicians' experience will tell them that. What they are forgetting to do in this crisis in Western Australia is to go to the top for its solution. We get the 30 improvements from the man who investigated that in Western Australia, but you have to go back to 1971 to understand how we got to the position that occurred in Western Australia. You must do that: go back to the history.
This will be a statement which will praise your committee for its existence, but it will condemn the AEC in certain respects, if that is okay. It is not an attack on you in any way, because I am going to validate your existence. The crisis of the Western Australian Senate election, condemned by the former police chief Mr Keelty, has been over 40 years in the making. It began when the ALP removed elections from ministerial control. That was in around 1971 or 1972. It continued in 1978 when a Public Service Commission inquiry rejected the demand for a new electoral system on the grounds that, once established, the present system could never be brought back. That point emphasises the fact that the Public Service Commission ran that process of elections and there was a Public Service board in case there were queries about how it was run; there was an authority in place.
As soon as the Labor Party came into power in 1983 it planned the new system under an independent statutory authority. Those involved were Mick Young, a longstanding leader of the Australian Workers' Union; Graham Richardson, whose father was a longstanding Postal Workers' Union official; Senator Ray, a leader of the Victorian ALP; and Kim Beazley, a close parliamentary colleague of Mick Young. In fact, he introduced these reforms—if you can call them that—because Mick Young was stood down over issues involving the Russian embassy. Graham Richardson later told his biographer, 'We did it to ensure we stayed in power as long as possible and to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to change it,' which is what you are here to do.
The first move was made on 13 December 1983. A number of minor changes to the electoral process passed through parliament on 13 December unnoticed by anyone—Christmas was upon everybody. They did not include division-wide voting, because that would have meant reconstructing the entire act. They did not want to do that, because people publicly noticed. The Commonwealth Electoral Act is still constituted on the basis of subdivisional voting, which raises issues of the validity of all elections since that time. The transfer of electoral authority to an independent electoral authority, the Australian Electoral Commission, by the Hawke government was complemented by the creation of a body of oversight in this federal parliament, which is what you are, first as a select committee and then as the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters of today.
The AEC proved a disastrous decision. It had concentrated control in one full-time commissioner with two part-time commissioners, all but one of whom had no electoral experience during the next 30 years. It was likewise with the subsequent two commissioners. Compare this with the UK: six commissioners plus four non-voting also. We must be the only country in the world that only has one full-time commissioner without experience.
The AEC has progressively destroyed the training, authority and independence of divisional returning officers, even to living in the electorates they administer. At the time of the last election, the AEC was planning to cluster them in groups of six and nine. It was unable to prevent computer intrusion in the count in the 1987 and the 1993 elections. If you remember in the 1987 election changes were made while watching the computer and they denigrated the—
CHAIR: We might come to that in questioning.
Dr McGrath : This story is told in my book, Frauding of Elections?, copies of which I have here. I have brought this in to show you how many books I have written on fraud. I think that qualifies me as an expert. JSCM, however, made a wise decision when it revived the practice of elections and qualified committees. I read a paper for the Sir Samuel Griffiths Society on that very point. The committees existed from 1856 or whenever a state got voting until the last in 1961. When the last of these qualifications committees—which is what you are—Labor wanted to change to the present system of the AEC. That was when law courts were not considered by anybody to be the proper body to consider election results. There were long debates about that. You will be happy to know I am at the end. However, it is arguable that politicians need an added recourse for their complaints of fraud by the creation of a Commonwealth election ombudsman.
CHAIR: I know we have some questions on that. Are you happy if we proceed to questions?
Dr McGrath : I am saying that is right and proper that you be here and have the role, only it should not be interfered with by an independent AEC.
Mr HAWKE: Thank you, Dr McGrath, for appearing before us. Rest assured that I will not hold Labor Party heritage against you in this committee. Thank you to revealing that. I was unaware of it.
Dr McGrath : Can you please use the microphone. You must remember that I am 92 plus. You look very youthful, all the lot of you.
Mr HAWKE: I want to ask a question about your proposal for an ombudsman, which is a longstanding proposal going back many years. Do you still hold the view after 2013 election that an ombudsman would be an effective change in the Australian electoral system and why?
Dr McGrath : Because both parties have supported it and also because it is the only thing of mine that the editorial editor of the Sydney Morning Herald has ever supported. I have a copy of the editorial if you want to see it. It is universally accepted that it should be so because the electoral commission should not be required to investigate itself in my opinion. It does not have the power; it does not have the money; and another body should do it. A Commonwealth ombudsman is important because there is nowhere for politicians who have lost their electorates to put their complaints or anything else on the record. All politicians should be able to do that when they retire. The consummate example was Alistair Webster who ran a whole court case only to find out that he could not question the roll. It cost $100,000 to justify himself as a politician, and that is outrageous. A Commonwealth ombudsman can collect material—material such as you have collected. In the case of Alistair, it was a summation of all the things that were wrong. It is not one big fraud; it was small frauds in all sectors you could think of: Plymouth Brethren votes and all those others who do not vote and then creating people, and even cats and dogs, to vote. It haunts all politicians that they will not be able to leave the record of their service behind. In my case, who do I leave that with? That goes in the rubbish bin. Considering the fact that the Sydney Morning Herald backed it and people constantly, on both sides, have backed, it is the only thing that I think has ever been backed by both parties.
I should add something else about that. I took it up with Mr Maywald, who is director of prosecutions in the Commonwealth Ombudsman's office. They were agreeable to take it on board. Even the then head of the AEC, Colin Hughes, who disliked anything I ever did, approved it and said it should be in the parliament—he made a little amendment. Later on he was calling me a witch—but I will not go into that—but he did approve of that one.
Mr HAWKE: Thank you.
CHAIR: Mr Hawke has a longstanding appointment and must leave, so thank you. I will open it up to some other questioning. I should say, if you would like to make a more detailed submission in the coming weeks, we would be happy to receive that.
Dr McGrath : So you do not want me to talk about any more of this?
CHAIR: No, we will have some more questions.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Good afternoon, Dr McGrath—it is good to see you again. I have attended some of your lectures in the past and have a copy of your book, although this looks like a later edition. Is this a recent addition?
Dr McGrath : No, it is not. I have left some copies for those members who do not have a copy of that.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: It must have a new cover on it.
CHAIR: I think it does.
Dr McGrath : If the members here do not know, it tells the whole story of the reversal of power in the Electoral Commission since it was formed. They reversed the power and it is not a good thing for any politician on any side. What they did is described in the book—the steps that were taken to reverse power. That comes from the DROs themselves. Probably you do not know about the many protests of divisional returning officers about what was being done, including being taken out of their electorates. Most recently, they were planning to put six and nine in clusters in electorates.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I was just making reference to the fact that I have a copy of your book in my library. It seems to have a new cover now, but that was not my question. I have heard you speak about the Western Australian Senate election. What were your thoughts on the election in Fairfax in Queensland?
Dr McGrath : That is very important. They had the same problem. Indi was subject to the same thing as well, down in Wangaratta.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes, that is right. Did you follow the election in Fairfax closely?
Dr McGrath : No, I did not because I have another book coming out. I also only had 10 days notice of this. And my disabled husband was thrown out of a revolving door. The point about Indi and Fairfax that I do know is that a divisional returning officer of the old school, who is retired—and some of those divisional returning officers ought to be brought back to this inquiry because they could tell you how it was in the past—said that in the old school they would have done that in five days, not 55 or whatever it was. He said they are all totally incompetent. The DROs now are not trained. The whole thing has been reversed, with all the power in Canberra. They do not get proper training at any time; they get manuals. That has to be looked at. I think I have said that in another submission.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: There were a lot of challenges—I think in fact every single vote was challenged, as it turned out, which seems to be possible under the electoral laws. Are you conscious of the reason for some being allowed and some not being allowed? Do you have a general view on that approach? Is that a part of the system that has fallen down?
Dr McGrath : I am not up to date on that but there is no limit when you start counting votes. In Germany, it is four per cent, I think. If you do not get four per cent of the vote, it is out. That would considerably cut it down. I think that is an essential reform for both parties—to stop looking like a circus, which they do.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thanks for that observation.
Dr McGrath : Indi is another example. That was different.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Have you followed that closely?
Dr McGrath : They suddenly discovered a box. It was important because GetUp! ran a campaign down there. They are forming a new party at the moment. They found a box which had a thousand ballot papers, and it was ticked that it had been checked. The thousand votes suddenly became 2,000 and that put McGowan over the line. That should never have been allowed.
Mr GRIFFIN: On the ombudsman issue, how big an office and what sort of budget do you think would be required? How would you set it up?
Dr McGrath : How to set up—
Mr GRIFFIN: I am not alienated from the concept of what you might do to have independent scrutiny of the Electoral Commission. I think that is a reasonable question to ask. You suggested the potential of setting up an ombudsman's office. I am just wondering if you have thought about how big it might be and what it might require from a budgetary point of view in order to make it viable.
Dr McGrath : I should not think it would be a lot because it is only one person that you need. They only have one person—like Maywald or others—and a typist.
Mr GRIFFIN: Normally they would have research staff or administrative staff.
Dr McGrath : Yes.
Mr GRIFFIN: Most ombudsmen have investigative staff underneath them.
Dr McGrath : I have not worked that out but I know that Maywald did not have much staff and he handled general inquiries. I think that is something that you should be asking them, not me.
Mr GRIFFIN: Just given that you have raised the concept—
Dr McGrath : I have had general acclaim for the principle; I think I can retire from it.
Mr GRIFFIN: Beyond that, my sense would be that such an ombudsman would have a particular role in the immediate lead-up to, and in the aftermath of, an election but—
Dr McGrath : Yes, that is an important point. What is outrageous is that you have to find all of the evidence in 40 days. The other thing is that the scanning centres are a big scam. They are taking all the rolls away to scanning centres, or even sending them electronically anywhere. I am opposed to electronics for those purposes—for elections—not otherwise.
Mr GRIFFIN: My point would be that over a normal 2½- to three-year term—
Dr McGrath : You need to know that they used to keep the votes for seven years. They now burn them after six months. That related to the—
Mr GRIFFIN: That depends on whether they are House of Representatives or Senate ballots. I think it is six months after the election—once it has been approved—House of Representatives ballot papers are destroyed. But the Senate ballot papers are maintained throughout the time of the Senate that it elects. For example, the Senate ballot papers for the 2007 election are still kept because there are still a few months to go with respect to that term. They will only be destroyed post the end of that term.
Dr McGrath : Judging by the 1987 election even that time of destroying them is too short. That was only unravelled well into 1988, when a communist came forward and said it had been dudded. That caused an uproar. It was so late by the time that they realised it was true—
Mr GRIFFIN: Which election—
Dr McGrath : The 1987 election.
Mr GRIFFIN: Are you talking about the House of Representatives or the Senate ballot papers?
Dr McGrath : The House of Representatives was dudded. There is another story; it is in the book The Stolen Election. The media decided—when they knew it had been done, late in 1988 to 1989—that it was just too late to run that story. So there are modifications needed sometimes. It was too late to run the story without causing chaos. Look at the chaos of Western Australia. The media refused to take the story.
CHAIR: Thank you for appearing today. Thank you for your words and for the information you have provided us. If you would like to provide any further information during the course of the inquiry please feel free to do so.
Dr McGrath : Can I mention the title of one of them?
Dr McGrath : It is that the AEC is in breach of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. In those instances I—
CHAIR: The best thing to do is to deal with the secretariat staff to provide any documents.
Dr McGrath : I am fighting back. I thank you for being eight people. I am used to providing evidence to three or four, and it all dies. I am saying in front of you that that evidence is there so that you know and you do not miss it.
CHAIR: You provide any documents that you would like to the secretariat. We have processes for accepting them at our next meeting.
Dr McGrath : That has to do with the battle of the Australian Electoral Commission with its own divisional returning officers. Otherwise you do not know what to look for.
CHAIR: If you provide them all to the secretariat staff we will be able to have a look at them and assess them.
Resolved that these proceedings be published.
Committee adjourned at 13:11