A MONETARY fine could be the penalty if enrolment “irregularities” in Indi are proven — but that’s if it gets that far.
University of Queensland’s Graeme Orr, an expert in electoral law, said there was little precedent to dictate what the likely penalty would be because enrolment offences are so rarely prosecuted, partly because they are so widespread.
Professor Orr said it was particularly common for young people studying or working elsewhere to maintain their parents’ address on the electoral roll for stability.
“Who knows how many there are; it would be very unlikely if there weren’t younger activists (in all parties) moving around and maintaining their home address,” he said.
“I wouldn’t be fining people unless there was a clear intent they were enrolling somewhere where they had no connection.”
The Australian Federal Police has confirmed it is examining 27 voters, believed to be young supporters of independent MP Cathy McGowan who grew up in Indi, for “enrolment irregularities”.
The AFP will not confirm the allegations but they appear to range from failing to update addresses, to changing electorates from Melbourne to Indi despite not living in the North East full-time, and collusion.
Professor Orr, who has written several books on electoral law, said many people failed to update their addresses but “the idea of charging someone for not updating their enrolment is just bizarre”.
“Technically, every time you move you are meant to tell the AEC within 21 days but lots of people don’t, and the AEC doesn’t go around playing Stasi cop,” he said.
He agreed there was a grey area for many people, particularly young people, over where they called home with the AEC allowing students to remain registered at their parents’ addresses.
“If you think of fly-in-fly-out workers, students ... the idea of a real place of living isn’t just where you keep your stuff,” he said.
“Courts all over the world have recognised you can be entitled to be registered in more than one place ... it would be pretty tough putting a criminal conviction against someone for a symbolic attachment to Indi.”
Professor Orr said that proof of conspiracy would make it a much more serious matter, and a clear intent to rort could result in a criminal charge.
Professor Orr said the bigger problem was the number of Australians who were not enrolled at all.