Minister Cormann refuses to answer questions regarding the security of the postal ballot

by Lex Stewart, President of Vote Australia

Possibly, Yes. Massive frauds cannot be ruled out yet.

It might be that the officers of the ABS (with staff seconded from the AEC) have conducted the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey in an honest and accurate manner, so that the Australian public can trust the result.

However it is also possible that massive frauds have been conducted, and that the true result could have been 60% no, and 40% yes.

We do not yet have sufficient information to rule out the possibility that the AMLPS result was massively frauded.

Liberal Finance Minister and Acting Minister for State Mathias Cormann has so far refused to answer questions relating to the bona fides of the Same Sex Marriage plebiscite.

Over the period 26 September to 8 November I asked about 30 questions of the ABS and of the Minister Cormann.

In the absence of answers at this stage, it is impossible to verify the accuracy and integrity of what happened in the AMLPS.

I say this from my perspectives both as President of Vote Australia, and as a Consultant Engineer who does Audits of factories and farms for Workplace Health and Safety and for Food Safety, issuing ‘HACCP’ compliance certificates.

It is almost meaningless if I inspect a factory and find that the food being produced is free of contamination, or that nobody was killed or injured on that day.

It is not just what happens when I am present in a factory or farm that matters. There needs to be in place a robust “quality assurance” program, with transparency and accountability.

Before I can issue a compliance certificate, I need to check the management, methods, training, etc to make sure that hazards have been assessed and that procedures are in place to ensure food safety or human safety for the other 364 days of the year.

The lack of evidence of a robust “quality assurance” program and procedures in the ABS is alarming.

Based on the somewhat limited information to hand so far:

  • Website, notably the two sections with titles:- “Quality & Integrity Statement” and “External Observers
  • The “Fraud Control Plan and fraud control measures”and its related ‘comprehensive risk assessment’ mentioned on have not been made public
  • And this plan and assessment seem not to have been audited by independent experts
  • Unsatisfactory answers by the ABS to some of my 9 questions of 26 September
  • Lack of answers by the ABS to my questions numbered 10 to 22 of 7 and 8 November
  • Lack of answers by the Minister’s office to my 8 questions numbered A to G
  • Apparent anomalies in the mathematical patterns of votes
  • The refusal by Protoviti, the auditor engaged by the ABS, to answer my questions
  • The ABS not making public the Protoviti reports (likely they have done excellent work, but only within the scope of the ‘terms of reference’ set for them by the ABS)
  • The strange phenomenon that Protoviti employees were forced to sign a “non-disclosure” agreement – the sort of thing only relevant to matters of defence and commercial competitiveness re tenders etc
  • The lack of any publicly-available knowledge as to whether the ‘terms of reference’ (i.e. the scope of activities that Protoviti was asked to address) were adequate or had been set too restrictively by the ABS
  • The inherent possibility that ABS computers could have been ‘hacked’ unless the “cyber security controls including extensive use of data encryption” were of a higher standard than that which normally prevails in Canberra public service agencies

it is not yet possible to discount the real possibility that massive frauds may have occurred, and that we cannot trust the result.

The ABS initially promised answers to my questions of 7 and 8 November “within 48 hours”.  Then on 13 November my telephone enquiries as to progress caused a telephone call from a senior ABS manager who said that replies should occur “within another week or so”.

From my 23 years experience in the NSW and Commonwealth Public Services, including having worked for 6 MPs, including a Minister and a Senator, I am aware of the convention that Ministerial correspondence has a normal turnaround of 3 weeks. Therefore, my enquiries of 8 November should normally have received a reply or an interim acknowledgment from Minister Cormann’s office by 29 November.

In September, I telephoned the ABS asking about scrutineering of the AMPLS, and received an emphatic rebuff, words to the effect of ‘this is a survey NOT an election, and, whereas the Commonwealth Electoral Act allows scrutineering, the ABS legislation relates to privacy.’

Why do we have Scrutineers in elections?

The AEC Scrutineers Handbook tells us:-

to “confirm the integrity of the election processes” to “observe every stage” “ensuring that Australia’s proud democratic tradition of transparent elections is maintained, [because] Transparency and integrity in the conduct of elections have, after all, been the hallmarks of Australia’s federal electoral system”  (quote from page 3, emphasis added)

The word ‘Scrutineer’ occurs 94 times in the Commonwealth Electoral Act, and the word “scrutiny” occurs 155 times, so evidently these things are important in our democracy.

The ABS states on its website that

“The role of observers was different to that of a scrutineer in an election.  As the survey was conducted under the authority of the Census and Statistics Act 1905, the rights and obligations of scrutineers under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984, or other legislation did not apply.”

The ABS is in effect boasting that it did not need to be as rigorous as that normal standard of transparency and accountability provided by scrutineers under the Electoral Act.

The ABS website does not fool me at all. Without fully adequate answers to my 30 questions, it will not be possible to be happy that the AMLPS result is reliable and that it was not affected by fraud.

Lex Stewart is President of Vote Australia, whose members have 25 years of expertise in elections and scrutineering.