Our democracy is under attack in Australia, writes Mark Aldridge, and those in positions of power don't want you to know about it.
ELECTIONS in Australia over the past decade have endured many attacks on what we should be our most democratic right: that of a “free and informed vote”. So, what really goes on?
As Australia’s most avid fighter for reform and a fair go for democracy, I have uncovered dodgier practices than any one of us would believe existed, yet most of the important issues are very much out in the open.
I will take the August 2010 Federal election as a perfect example.Chief justice of the high court Murray Gleeson once said, “If change be necessary, it must be by the free will of an informed electorate” so lets look at the words “free” and “informed”.
A free vote is one not tainted by “You must attend” and “You must preference every candidate”. The sole reason for such measures is that in a two party preferred system, it is paramount that the ill informed attend and mark their ballot, because the two party count then ensures the desired two party outcome, simply because the two parties write the laws in their favor.
When and if this bias fails, they simply write new laws to combat the problem. As we have seen over the past decade, in this federal election there was blank boxes above the line, the word Independent was not to be found, many minor parties had been recently deregistered, the common law of elections regarding our rights have been attacked and even laws to prevent us talking about elections online were introduced.
Road safety initiatives for roadside signs are ignored during elections, legislation has been written to ensure election promises do not have to be kept and, even worse, the protections for voters under the electoral acts are now simply ignored on an ever increasing basis, as if compliance is some how optional.
So lets look at the conduct we now enjoy.
Your right to be informed is out the window, neither the electoral commission nor the media are forced in any way to let you know who the candidates are. When it comes to knowing “how to vote” and what your rights and obligations are under the electoral acts, the Act does say the commission must ensure you do understand, but they simply ignore this obligation.
In the polling booths, the Act states that how to vote information must be prominently displayed, and also voting tickets (preference information), but in the last two elections, none could be found.
There is not a chance in hell that Australians could consider the electoral commissions have upheld the law when it comes to their obligations to ensure that the public are adequately informed of their rights and obligations.
So now let us look at the conduct we have come to expect.
Mobile polling is a service to aid our sick and elderly. In the state election, 77 institutions were denied service, and I have several affidavits confirming undue influence and dodgy practices where service did occur. Our most vulnerable voters were denied their most basic rights. Some telling us that polling staff asked from the door to their rooms whether they wanted to vote Labor or Liberal, and marked their ballot for them. They did not even get to see the ballot. One lady asked to vote Greens and the response was "they aren't running". Her granddaughter was the candidate.
Postal vote applications are now sent by the hundreds of thousands, and the return address, in most cases, is a major party head-office, not the electoral commissioner. In the South Australian State election, such applications doubled. The affidavit I bluffed out of the electoral commissioner in court shows over 7,500 applications were found to be dodgy and – get this – over 16,500 ballots simply went missing in SA. Why? What happened to them?
When considering these numbers, remember this: the state Labor party sent out many thousands of letters to the public, inside they had a reply paid envelope with the name of the opposition leader “Isobel Redmond”, so many voters sent back information they thought was going to the Liberal party, but every one ended back at the Labor parties head office. Ask yourself "why?".
Now lets get down to the most sickening of dodgy practices. Labor were caught dressing up as another party, and handing out dodgy “how to vote cards” but this has now become the norm, and the same happened at the federal election in Queensland by the Liberal Party. Is nothing bloody sacred?
Over 77,000 South Australian voters found their names no longer on the electoral roll. When they attended to vote, in most cases none were offered a declaration vote. Seems that the electoral commission sent out letters mid year, and if there was no reply, their names were removed from the roll, denying their right to vote. Do we have no enforceable rights in Australia?
Reports of dead people remaining on the roll were of no concern and the commission ignored people registered at non-existing addresses. Dare I go into the issues of multiple voting?
The many polling booth staff that confided in me after the state election showed a clear picture that many of the tens of thousands of informal votes were more the result of mistakes rather than deliberately wanting their votes not to count. This is a direct result of demanding we preference every candidate and the fact that how to vote information was absent.
What makes matters worse for our democratic freedoms is even the candidates themselves are denied contact details to ensure we can make informed preference deals, so even a vote for me can end up where even I would not have liked it to go.
Polling booth staff are meant to assist and police conduct on the day of an election to ensure you are empowered to cast a valid vote. They have adequate stationery – all the polling booths have the required posters and that those handing out “how to vote cards” adhere to the law – but it just doesn't happen.
No how to vote information or the prescribed posters were in the booths in either the state or Federal elections from reports I received. And from what I personally saw, how to vote cards were left in cubicles against the law, posters and those handing out how to vote information breached the electoral law and many booths at both elections ran out of ballot papers.
In the state election, many people simply missed out on voting. But here is an interesting new story about election conduct: in the state election if you made a mistake you could simply cross it out, but during the federal election voters were handed a rubber.
So ask your self why we are handed a piece of paper and a pencil, rather than say a pen, or a secure electronic device?
The laws will be re-written again in the next couple of years, to ensure more power to the two party system, and the JSCEM (Joint standing committee on electoral matters) will probably again find the people are not happy and as usual the parties will ignore their recommendations and the reforms we, the people, demand.
So what do we do about it, the media will not make this public, not a single provable fact. The only ones who can now back my ideas for reform are the people, but how do we get their attention?
So here are the simple reforms we need:
- a Booklet to every home that explains how to vote, who the candidates are, their contact details and a brief of their ideals;
- bring in optional preferential voting, so we do not have to preference those we oppose;
- modify the counting of ballot papers to favor the most preferred rather than the current two party count;
- demand an Independent body to oversee electoral reforms and police the conduct of elections;
- bring those who are involved in dodgy practices to account;
- supply the electorate with pens;
- do not allow mistakes to be crossed out but ensure there are replacement ballot papers so the voters intention is clear;
- ensure adequate stationary and equipment is in the polling booths and ensure it is displayed correctly.
How simple is that? The major parties will still enjoy media favoritism and huge taxpayer dollars to outperform the minor players, but at least the results will be democratic.
Yet, ask yourselves, why we will probably never see such reforms?
I bet you guessed it right!
Mark M Aldridge
INDEPENDENT & fighter for democracy.
08 82847482 / 0403379500