‘Reform’, a busy word, is generally thought of as synonymous with improvement. But when the opposite applies, it leads to disaster. Undergoing continual ‘reform’, the once sturdy Australian ballot has been gradually debased, its parts changed, abandoned or ignored, until we’re left with a scandalous shambles now masquerading as Australian ‘democracy’.
Leaking like a bucket with a hundred holes, it is based on a system of honesty no business would accept. Of those who voted in Canning last month, how many voted twice or more – in their own name, as a phantom with a false name or gave grandpa a vote from the grave? No-one knows. It’s invisible crime. Most people are honest, but those that aren’t feel no stab of conscience: they have heard the siren call of Noble Cause Corruption – the belief that illegal conduct is justified when it’s not for personal benefit (‘traditional corruption’) but for a ‘noble cause’ – the ‘good’ of their party.
As IR expert Grace Collier puts it, referring to unions, but equally applicable here: ‘Anything improper can be justified as proper when it is for “the good”… when a law is “unjust” you have a “duty” to ignore it. Civil disobedience is okay if the end justifies the means’. Illegality is in the eye of the beholder. It’s the culture of self disillusion. In 1983/4 the Australian Electoral Office responsible to parliament, became the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), an independent statutory authority responsible to itself. Under the guise of ‘reform’, to make voting ‘easier and simpler’, it axed specific polling places (subdivisional rolls), where a name was on the roll at only one polling place; now a name is there at all polling booths in an electorate. Could a person vote at several or more? Of course, the desire for power is a motivator without equal and if something CAN be done, it will be done if it advantages the cause of the perpetrator. But any suggestion of malfeasance often brings with it a contemptuous put-down ‘just a conspiracy theory – b-o-r-i-n-g’, while the AEC’s attitude to changes proposed by the Joint Standing Committees that follow every election, has been dismissive and defensive. The obvious flaw – that no ID is required when you actually vote – has met with risible objections of ‘too expensive’, ‘intrusive’, ‘discriminatory’.
Having your hair cut is about the only thing these days where you don’t have to produce ID. Yet presenting ID on an electronic roll, where a name is removed from all rolls once a person has voted, is a simple, inexpensive first step in cleaning things up. But the AEC thinks otherwise. In July 2013 the AEC took the extraordinary step of putting 1.5 million young Australians over eighteen on the electoral roll by harvesting names from ‘third parties’ – the tax office, motor registration and so on. The new enrolees were not asked, nor told. Did someone vote in their name? No-one knows. This infringement of personal liberty was barely reported and the normally noisy privacy lobby remained mute.
Pre-poll and postal voting, once intended only for those with a genuine reason to vote early, have increased exponentially as eligibility rules have collapsed: 2.5 million people voted early in 2010; in 2013 it was 3.2 million. Did they vote again on election day?
In the 2013 federal election, more than 1,000 votes disappeared, then miraculously reappeared in Sophie Mirabella’s electorate of Indi. Two women living 300 km from Indi now face criminal charges for alleged vote fraud. After the 2013 WA Senate election, 1,375 votes went ‘missing’, none turned up anywhere, the electoral commissioner was hauled over the coals, and former police commissioner Mick Kelty called in to investigate.His report was scathing, calling the election a ‘disaster’ and leading him to comment that the votes could have been tampered with, mistakenly thrown out with the rubbish, or destroyed with criminal intent. ‘I cannot rule it out’, was Kelty’s conclusion ‘because the system was so bad I cannot’.
The original Australian Ballot of 1856, where voting papers were numbered and traceable if a result was in doubt, was adopted by Britain and other Western countries. Now inaction by the AEC and successive governments to halt its systematic debasement has left us with pathetic remnants of what was once the envy of the world.
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