AN Australian Electoral Commission investigation into allegations of electoral fraud in Indi during last year’s federal poll will not be a trigger for a new election.
That’s according to the Australian Electoral Commission and the Commonwealth Electoral Act which shows an election result cannot be contested based on the correctness of the electoral roll.
The commission’s new electoral integrity unit is investigating about 20 younger supporters involved with independent MP Cathy McGowan’s campaign last year, who are alleged to have changed their electoral details back to their family homes in Indi despite living, working or studying elsewhere.
They’re also accused of encouraging others to do the same in a campaign of systemic enrolment fraud to boost Ms McGowan’s vote.
Ms McGowan won by 439 votes to defeat Sophie Mirabella, the only Liberal MP to lose a seat in the election.
Those involved in the campaign have firmly denied the allegations, and welcomed the commission’s investigation, as has the Liberal Party.
Ms McGowan — who is not part of the investigation — also supported it and called on people to wait for the outcome before passing judgment.
But public debate has escalated with a flood of comments on The Border Mail’s website, including voters’ own questions as to how the investigation was launched and whether they’d go back to the polls.
But the Australian Electoral Commission yesterday made it clear that was not an option.
A spokeswoman pointed to legislation which showed an election result can only be contested in the Court of Disputed Returns within 40 days of the election — which has clearly passed.
Regardless, she said, the Electoral Act also says election results cannot be contested based on whether or not the electoral roll is correct.
The allegations in Indi were first raised with the commission last week, while the possibility of false enrolments in an unnamed seat was noted in a Liberal Party submission to the joint standing committee for electoral matters several months ago.
There were more than 1800 new enrolments in Indi ahead of the election.
Asked if all new enrolments would be scrutinised, or just those brought to the commission’s attention, the spokeswoman said: “The acting electoral commissioner (Tom Rogers) has already advised we are looking into this matter with the highest priority and we can make no further comment at this time.”
She could also not indicate when the investigation would conclude, nor specify how it determined if deliberate enrolment fraud or collusion had taken place.
The commission says people can enrol at an address they have lived at full-time for one month; however, it also states people “temporarily away from home” such as students, can remain at their home addresses.
WHAT IS ENROLMENT FRAUD?
Fraudulent enrolment is prohibited in the Electoral Act and can include forging enrolment papers, unlawfully signing an enrolment paper or — as is alleged in Indi — making a false or misleading statement on enrolment papers. In this case, about 20 young people have been accused of changing their address when they live, work or study elsewhere. The offence is punishable by up to 12 months prison.
WHAT ARE THE RULES?
The Electoral Act states that anyone who has lived at an address for at least one month is entitled (s.99) or potentially required (s.101) to change their address on the electoral roll. The act further states that “the validity of any enrolment shall not in any case be questioned on the ground that the person enrolled has not in fact lived at the relevant address for one month”.
BUT there’s also the following advice from the Australian Electoral Commission: “You should enrol for the address which is your permanent residential address. This is the address you intend to return to even if you are living somewhere else temporarily. For example, while studying at university you can remain on the electoral roll for your home address.”
WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR
Just three people have been named:
- Cambell Klose, Cathy McGowan’s campaign media adviser, who moved home to Yackandandah from Melbourne in June 2013 to work on the campaign, and changed his address in August.
- Ben McGowan, Ms McGowan’s nephew and another key campaigner, voted in Indi from a Wodonga pre-poll site. He started studying a scholarship in Darwin in July. He had always been enrolled in Indi, and voted in the electorate in all past elections despite having lived in different areas.
- Sophie Fuchsen, a university student and campaign volunteer who grew up in the North East. She was enrolled in Melbourne and transferred back to Indi because — as she shared publicly on Twitter — “I care more about Indi”. After she posted this, a tweet was sent from Ms McGowan’s Twitter account saying “Go Sophie”. It is not known where she lived during the campaign.