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August 01st 2010 print

David Flint

Fraud and the election: High Court challenge

A last minute challenge to a 2006 Howard government amendment to the Electoral Act is being rushed to a High Court hearing before the election. The amendment closed the rolls one day after the election writs are issued.

Legislation in the eighties allowed for a generous seven day period, ostensibly to make voting easier. But critics said this latitude opened the door to more fraud. Some even alleged that this was its very purpose. 

 They said the Electoral Commission was inundated in the seven days with an unmanageable flood of registrations, many of which would be removed well after they had cast their secret ballots when it was found they were unknown at the place registered.

 In one celebrated Queensland instance registrations were found to have been made for electors residing on both sides of a very long road one side of which was a waterfront without dwellings.

The High Court case, inspired by the well endowed American style political activist organisation GetUp!, came before Justice Hayne  on Thursday, 29 July. His Honour directed that the case be heard by the Full Court this Wednesday 4 August. This should allow a decision to be made in time for the election on 21 August.

Readers will recall the remarkable representation given to GetUp! at the 2020 Summit. The governance panel recorded a 98% vote in favour of a politicians’ republic, and this was adopted by a standing ovation at the plenary session. All of which was reminiscent of the best days of the Supreme Soviet.

The motion for this, if you could dignify with a touch of procedural propriety what was no more than a vague suggestion based on a thought bubble, was “moved” by some GetUp! grandee.

Pity the resolution adopted was legal gibberish, calling on the ending of constitutional links with the UK. These went almost a quarter of a century before the Summit, but none of the celebrities there had noticed.

Although this debacle  demonstrated that the 2020 Summit must have been the most gerrymandered “citizens assembly” ( to use the mot de jour) in the history of the nation, there wasn’t a peep out of GetUp! complaining about this travesty.

Now it seems that 100,000 people, who couldn’t be bothered to get on to the roll in time for an election which has been endlessly talked about in the media for most of the year, curiously waited until the rolls closed then rushed the AEC to register, and then meticulously did so before the seven days had expired. This is curious behaviour indeed.

 Not one of these registrations is of course designed to manipulate the vote in any marginal electorate. Nor was this  some stunt dreamed up to hoodwink  Their Honours on the  High Court.

It would be surprising if the High Court were to find the amendment unconstitutional, because I can’t seem to find the clause in the Constitution which says its alright to close the roll  seven days after the writs but not one day after.

But you never know – I thought the reliance of the Howard government’s “big bang” Work Choices legislation on the corporations power would obviously be found to be unconstitutional, after all what has industrial relations legislation to do with the corporations power since there was a perfectly good conciliation and arbitration power that  there. But nobody asked me and only Justice Kirby and Justice Callinan thought so. I have no doubt that our Founding Fathers would have agreed with us, if I may put myself in the Their Honours company.

But if the Court had invalidated Work Choices, Peter Van Onselen’s belated wish that the Howard government had been re-elected would have probably been fulfilled. The ACTU’s advertising on that was the most effective political advertising since Gough Whitlam’s It’s Time,and as everyone knows, government advertising is always money – yours – down the drain.

( A word to those who do not subscribe to The Weekend Australian. In the 31 July issue, Dr. Van Onselen,  the newspaper’s contributing editor, surprised us all when he wrote that if the past three years have taught us anything “it