Western Australian voters will head back to the polls to elect six federal senators after the country’s top court rejected the results of a Sept. 7 ballot.
The Australian Electoral Commission lost 1,370 ballot papers cast in the last poll and said in court filings those voters were disenfranchised. It urged the court to order new elections for the six seats in the upper house of parliament.
High Court of Australia Justice Kenneth Hayne at a hearing in Melbourne today declared the election “absolutely void,” although he didn’t order a new poll.
It will fall to Malcolm McCusker, the governor of Western Australia, to issue a writ calling for a new election, which would include the date of the vote and time lines for candidate nominations, the AEC said in a statement today on its website.
The Senate has the power to block and amend legislation and its composition is crucial to Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s efforts to repeal a carbon-price mechanism and mining profits tax. While Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition has a majority in the lower house, he doesn’t control the Senate where the balance of power is currently held by the Greens and looks set to shift to small, center-right parties when a newly composed 76-member upper house opens July 1.
Under an initial tally of votes in Western Australia, the Liberals won three seats, Labor two and the Palmer United Party one. A recount that was ordered due to the closeness of the result saw Labor and Palmer United, led by mining magnate Clive Palmer, both losing a seat, and the Greens and the Australian Sports Party gaining spots. The recount results were marred by the loss of the ballots.
“The conclusion that the loss probably affected the results of the election was inevitable,” Hayne said in a preliminary ruling on Feb. 18. “The number of ballot papers lost far exceeded the margin between the candidates.”
The case is Between The Australian Electoral Commission and David Johnston. C17/2013. High Court of Australia (Canberra).