While the decision by the high court to overturn the recognition of gay marriage have grabbed most of the headlines in the past two days, there’s been another tussle going on which also as equally worthy of attention – the decision on whether or not Western Australians will have to return to the polls to re-cast their vote for candidates to the Senate.
The situation is a tangled to say the least.
Initially, the ALP candidate Louise Pratt and Palmer United Party’s Zhenya Wang were declared winners. Following a recount, the AEC awarded the seats to the Greens Scott Ludlum and Wayne Dropulich of the Australia Sports Party.
When it was discovered that 1,370 votes were missing, the AEC petitioned the high court to hold another ballot.
Labor and PUP want the AEC to uphold the original decision and avoid another ballot, which is estimated to cost the taxpayer an additional 13 million dollars.
This makes for a fluid dynamic. As it stands in W.A., there are three Liberals, one Labor, one Sports Party and one Greens senator. If the high court upholds the original results, then the balance shifts to three Liberals, two Labor and one PUP holding seats.
At the hearing in Melbourne on Thursday, High Court Justice Kenneth Hayne proposed that the matter be brought forward before a single justice in January and warned that the matter may not be settled before the new Senate sits in July.
If a new ballot were to be held, then the Liberals could be faced with the loss of one seat, leaving the balance of two Liberals, two Labor and one conservative – either PUP or Sports Party.
If this were the case, then the Abbott government would face an effective block to much of its legislation.
In Western Australia, the media is exclusively controlled by News Ltd, and there can be little doubt that the Murdoch press will throw its full weight behind the original outcome in order to maintain the status quo.
Central to this argument will be the cost of an additional 13 million to conduct a ballot of which the results have already been declared.
True democracy however, is not measured in terms of dollars but in the open and honest results of a plebiscite.
The high court should uphold the AEC’s petition to conduct another ballot for the Senate seats in Western Australia.