There is no doubt that the Western Australian Senate election was a public relations disaster for the Australian Electoral Commission. Hopefully lessons have been learned.
In the appeal to the Court of Disputed Returns, many commentators are calling for a fresh election to resolve the situation.
Electoral Reform Australia disagrees with this course of action.
At the election held in September, the voters of Western Australia elected six Senators. There is no dispute about the three Liberals and the lead Labor candidate who were declared elected. Why should these candidates have to recontest seats that they clearly and undisputedly won? Why should they have to spend more time and money? Would it be fair if, in a new election, one of these candidates failed to be re-elected?
It cannot be guaranteed that two out of the four candidates who are competing for the last two Senate seats will win in a new election. Would it be fair if a complete outsider won one or both of the disputed seats? Remember, it will not be the voters who will decide this election but the party “general secretaries” who will submit the registered group voting tickets that will decide the result. It is also highly likely that over 100 candidates will contest this election as everyone knows that all that is required to win is a “cute” name and a favourable draw on the ballot paper.
A new election will not be fought on the same grounds as in September 2013. It is not hard to see that a new election will be seen as a referendum on the performance of the Abbott government.
A significantly different electorate will vote: some voters will have died and many will have since turned eighteen.
Regardless of the legality, it would not be fair to have an election for just the two disputed positions. Were this to happen, the quota for election would be 33.34% instead of the 14.29% that applies when six candidates are elected. This would effectively eliminate all minor party prospects.
What needs to happen, unpalatable and unsatisfactory as it seems, is for the Court of Disputed Returns to examine both counts, make a decision and, on the balance of probabilities, declare elected the candidates that they believe won the election.
The High Court of Australia is composed of honourable and respected jurists: Electoral Reform Australia believes that we need to trust their judgment in this matter. Any other course of action leads to worse outcomes with lasting implications.