Court challenges to poll likely

by Chris Griffith
Published 23 July 1995 in The Sunday Mail


my face


The knife-edge election result means some unsuccessful candidates could lodge court challenges in closely-contested seats should any voting irregularities be uncovered.

With Labor likely to govern with a one seat majority, there could be a rerun of the 1989 scenario where Nickin, won and held for a year by the Liberal's Bob King, reverted to the National's Neil Turner after a court ruled ballot papers favouring Mr Turner had been wrongly excluded from the count.

It is a grim prospect that has happened many times before, but in the Queensland context of government with a likely one-seat majority, it could be a nightmare.

The state election may be a week ago, but Queensland could face months of political instability and possibly a mid-term change in government, if a protracted review of the election led to the outcomes in some seats being overturned and the Goss government losing its parliamentary majority.

In the 1985 Victorian election, a court voided the result in the Upper House seat of Nunawading after it ruled 59 votes had been wrongly excluded. Prior to the ruling, the result had been an absolute dead-heat , and the successful candidate had been drawn from a hat.

Similarly, Nick Greiner's slim majority in NSW was eroded when a court voided the result in The Entrance.

In the wake of these cases, Queensland electoral commissioner Des O'Shea yesterday emphatically denied claims of voting problems involving absentee and postal votes. In particular, two voters last week said they had not voted because polling booths in South Brisbane and Yeronga had run out of absentee voting papers. One of them had attempted to cast an absentee vote for Redlands at around 5.45pm in South Brisbane.

"That's about the fifth district I've heard about it in so far -- everyone I've checked has been totally negative," Mr O'Shea said. He said all booths had been "generously supplied" with ballot papers, and in Brisbane "there was no booth that couldn't be supplied in 20 minutes".

Mr O'Shea also rejected concern that voters may have completed and posted postal vote slips after 6pm on Saturday night -- the legal cutoff point. The scenario exists that some voters may have filled out postal votes after been horrified by the close result on Saturday night.

Mr O'Shea admitted the electoral commission could not rely on Australia Post stamping envelopes. "We rely on the voter certifying that they'd voted before 6pm on polling day, and a witness verifying that statement.

"We also look at where the votes come from. If they come from the next suburb and they don't arrive until the following Friday, you'd set them aside for consideration by the courts later."

Mr O'Shea said some postal delays had been much longer than anticipated. "There are two absentee votes taken at Warrego for Mundingburra that were posted on Monday. They haven't been received yet.

"These votes would have found their way back to the returning officer at Mitchell, and from there to Mundingburra at Townsville."