Wednesday, 31 July 2019
Earlier today, the Labor Party announced that it would not be challenging the result of the election in the division of Chisholm in Victoria. We were disappointed and frankly appalled by the tactics employed by the Liberal Party in the division of Chisholm and in the division of Kooyong, for that matter. In particular, the Chinese language signs used by the now member for Chisholm and by the member for Kooyong, who is also the Treasurer of Australia, were clearly designed to look like official voting instructions from the Australian Electoral Commission. Translated into English, the signs stated, 'Correct way of voting: fill in '1' next to the Liberal candidate on the green ballot and fill in numbers in other boxes in ascending order.' Let me repeat that—'Correct way of voting: fill in '1' next to the Liberal candidate on the green ballot and fill in numbers in other boxes in ascending order.'
The signs used the same colours of purple and white as the Australian Electoral Commission. The signs were displayed next to the official AEC signs at the entrance of polling places so they would be one of the last things voters saw before they cast their ballots. The signs included no Liberal Party branding at all. The only evidence that the signs originated with the Liberal Party was a barely perceptible script of text at the bottom which indicated that the signs were authorised by the Victorian branch of the Liberal Party. Unlike the rest of the signs, the sneaky, near-invisible authorisation was written in English, presumably so the signs' target audience would not be able to read it. According to AEC and census data, there are approximately 13,000 voters who speak Mandarin or Cantonese at home in the division of Chisholm. The final two-party preferred vote difference between the elected member and Labor's candidate, Jennifer Yang, was 1,090 votes. That means if only 546 voters had changed their votes, Jennifer Yang would have been elected as member for Chisholm. We will never know whether the fake AEC signs in fact misled a sufficient number of voters to change the election result in Chisholm or how many Chinese-Australians were misled or insulted by the signs in the Treasurer's electorate of Kooyong, but there can be no doubt about the intentions of the Liberal Party in devising and placing these fake AEC signs. It should be a matter of great concern to all Australians that the now member for Chisholm, the Treasurer of Australia and the Liberal Party sought to mislead Chinese-speaking Australian voters with their shamefully deceitful signs.
Labor believes there is a strong case that the signs constituted a criminal breach of the Electoral Act; however, the cost and lengthy nature of a legal challenge means we will not be seeking to overturn the outcome of the election through legal action. Now is not the time for us to be looking back at the result of the last election; instead our focus must be on holding this tired third-term Liberal government to account and showing the people of Australia that Labor has the most positive, just and prosperous vision for our nation's future and the best policies to get us there. That is not to say we do not think there should not be consequences for the member for Chisholm, the Treasurer of Australia and the Liberal Party for their disgraceful conduct during the election campaign. Regardless of whether the High Court of Australia sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns finds that these fake AEC signs were in breach of the Electoral Act, the Australian public can see clearly what the Liberal Party were up to. This parliament has a role to play in ensuring that conduct of this nature, where a political party masqueraded as the Australian Electoral Commission to deceive voters, is condemned for what it is. The parliament can ensure, through an inquiry of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters or by legislation if necessary, that it is never repeated. These are matters we will be raising over the coming weeks and months.