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Victorian Electoral Commission botch the 2012 Manningham Council Election.

And the V.E.C. are very reluctant to accept responsibility for it.

 

Background.

As you may be aware, several news articles have appeared in the Manningham Leader and The Weekly Review complaining about the conduct of the 2012 Mannningham Council election. The problem was that an ineligible candidate was on the ballot cards. And it is said that his votes skewed the distribution of preferences in a way that resulted in another candidate unfairly losing the election.

 

There are many reasons why a candidate may be ineligible to stand for election under section 29 of the Local Government Act 1989. The problem is that no one is pro-actively checking the eligibility of candidates for a council election.

So who should be checking the eligibility of candidates? Is anyone dodging responsibility here?

 

VEC Responsibilities in Local Elections.

Looking at the Victorian Electoral Commission's own statements in their 2002-2003 Annual Report, we see:

Page 6 "The VEC contributes to democracy in Victoria by ensuring that elections are conducted fairly and according to law."

Page 7 "Role of the Electoral Commissioner

The Electoral Commissioner’s chief responsibility is to conduct elections according to law and with complete impartiality. The Electoral Commissioner is appointed by the Governor-in-Council for a ten-year term. Under the Electoral Act 2002 (the Act) the Electoral Commissioner is independent of the government of the day and reports directly to Parliament. The Act is assigned to the Attorney-General and the Electoral Commissioner is expected to implement the Act without direction from the Government or the Minister. By virtue of section 16(1)(c) of the Public Sector Management and Employment Act 1998, the Electoral Commissioner has all the functions of a department head in relation to officers and employees of the VEC."

The Electoral Commissioner chief responsibility (and thereby also the VEC's job) is to conduct elections according to the law and to implement the law.

The Commissioner is expected to implement the Act without direction from Government or Minister. That is, he is expected to be pro-active and ensure elections are conducted according to law and not be driven or pushed to do this. The Electoral Commissioner is to function like a department head, managing people and resources, to ensure the desired outcomes and objectives are achieved.

 

From the above you get the impression that it should be the VEC's responsibility to check a candidate's eligibility.

It is important to note that the VEC is expected to be the driving force to ensure the act is implemented. As they themselves say, their job is to implement the act without direction from either Government or ministers. I.e. "to go and do this job and to continually revise current practices to ensure that the best possible procedures and practices are in place". As they themselves say, the VEC is to act largely like an independent department.

Since the VEC is expected to act on it's own, without being directed by government or minister, just maintaining the status quo or worse still, allowing practices to deteriorate to a point where only the bare minimum work is being done, would not be satisfactory in discharging these responsibilities.

 

Part of the law the VEC is required to implement spells out the eligibility of candidates to stand - that is, section 29 of the Local Government Act 1989.

The fact that VEC requires a declaration from each candidate stating their eligibility to stand for councilor, indicates that VEC see this as part of the law that they need to implement. 

 

And this is also the VEC's first problem.

What the VEC has done, in effect, is hand-ball the responsibility of enforcing the law and checking candidate eligibility to the candidates themselves. 

They require each candidate to first understand and interpret the law, interpret their own actions and then sign a statement saying their own actions have not breached the law as they understand it. And the VEC leaves it at that. No further investigation is done.

And as we all know, we all have our own interpretation of things, especially things we do ourselves.

So at this point, the VEC think they have done all that is required of them. They have a signed piece of paper in their hands which in their thinking is proof to them and to anyone else that they have done their job.

In fact, the VEC is doing the minimum work that they can get away with. They have since taken it a step further and now want to avoid all responsibility in this area.

 

The VEC divest themselves of responsibility.

Their has been a subtle change in emphasis at the VEC since the 2002/2003 Annual Report I quoted above. Let me quote to you from the 2011-2012 Annual Report.

Page 4 "The VEC’s core business includes the conduct of elections, maintenance of the enrollment register and ensuring fair and equitable representation for electors at State and local government levels. ... With all elections conducted in accordance with legislation, we maintained our record of no elections being overturned as a result of VEC error."

It appears that their 'core business' has shrunk significantly in scope. They itemize what they regard as their core business and it seems that 'ensuring elections are conducted according to law' and 'implementing the Act' are now not included in their core business.

It seems that now elections just take place according to law. And who ensures elections do take place according to law? They do not say.

Page 2 "The VEC’s operations are governed by six main pieces of legislation ... Subject to these acts, the VEC maintains the electoral enrollment register, conducts State elections, local government elections, statutory elections, commercial and community elections, and boundary reviews"

 

What happened to their core responsibilities to 'implement the Act' and 'ensure elections are conducted according to law'? It appears the VEC is now not that keen to say this is their responsibility. 

They almost do. They say elections are 'conducted according to law'. But they now seem very reluctant to say that it is their job to ensure elections are conducted according to law.

 

The VEC handballs the 2012 council election problem to the Inspectorate.

The VEC hand-balled the entire problem of the 2012 election to the inspectorate and then proceeded to make silly statements along the lines of 'the problem of ineligible candidates has not occurred before'. 

If they are not proactively checking candidate eligibility then how do they know this? (see Manningham Leader, 22 May 2012 page 19). I think what they mean to say is that they have no signed pieces of paper in their possession where a candidate says 'I want to stand for local council and I am not eligible under law to do so'.

Beyond this, the V.E.C. doesn't have a clue as to whether the candidates were eligible or not.

 

The problem with the 2012 candidate was staring them in the face.

The problem with the candidate in the 2012 Manningham elections was obvious and known to the public. 

It was a matter of the criminal record of one of the candidates. A criminal conviction is public knowledge and is normally printed in more than one newspaper. In this particular instance it was even printed in international newspapers (The Weekly Reviews, 2 Nov 2012, page 4). 

Also the V.E.C. was sent emails on 25 Sept 2012 detailing the candidates criminal past. This was one month before the elections on 26 Oct 2012. Instead of taking decisive action their first priority was to dodge responsibility. (The Weekly Review, 2 Nov 2012, page 4).

The V.E.C. said that when it received the emails it passed them on the Government Inspectorate to investigate. However, the inspectorate said it received a formal complaint only a week before the council election (not the one month V.E.C. spoke of). 

So are V.E.C. saying they took three weeks to forward these emails? An election was underway, someone informed them of a serious breach of the law and they saw no need to take prompt action? And by the time they did act, the postal votes had already been mailed out. Is this what the VEC is actually saying?

 

This whole problem came about because V.E.C. did not do their job to 'implement the act' and to ensure that elections are 'conducted according to law', which in 2002 was their chief responsibility. They hand balled responsibility to the candidates and blame to the inspectorate.

 

Just how half hearted and lazy is the V.E.C?

It is not hard to get a police check.

Years ago, I handed out Neighbourhood Watch newsletters. The group in charge ran a police check on me. And all I was doing was putting what many call junk mail into people's letter boxes. 

Apparently putting junk mail into people's letter boxes requires more scrutiny and people with a higher ethical standard than does representing people as an elected Councillor.

It seems that V.E.C. cannot be bothered to proactively implement aspects of the law if it requires any effort or a little bit of responsibility. (Note that proactively implementing the law is what the 2002/3 annual report saw as V.E.C.'s core business.)

 

Now we come to this 'record' the V.E.C. is so vocal about.

On page 4 of the V.E.C. 2011/12 Annual Report: 

"The V.E.C.’s core business includes the conduct of elections, maintenance of the enrollment register and ensuring fair and equitable representation for electors at State and local government levels ... With all elections conducted in accordance with legislation, we maintained our record of no elections being overturned as a result of VEC error."

How about that! They are proud that no election they ran has ever been overturned because of an error on their part. But the 2012 Manningham election puts that record in jeopardy.

You can be quite sure that V.E.C. will do everything it can to dodge all responsibility for this problem. This record is very important to them. Basically, it is a piece of self-serving, self-promoting, job-preserving office-politics.

One harmful side effect of this job-preserving 'record', is that the V.E.C. will be loathe to entertain complaints about potential V.E.C. shortcomings and failures. Such complaints put their jobs under scrutiny and worse still puts their very generous pensions in jeopardy.

However, instead of focusing on office politics and playing the games 'its not my job' and 'its not my fault', I think it would be better if they read their 2002/2003 Annual Report to remind themselves of what their job actually is.

 

28 June 2013.

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