Jacinta Price fires up over PM Anthony Albanese’s ‘tricky’ move on Voice postal votes
She’s slammed the government for being ‘tricky’ in the latest procedural ploy which she says is designed to impact those most likely to vote No in the ballot.
It follows the recent outcry over Australian Electoral Commission chief Tom Rogers admitting vote counters will accept ticks on ballot papers, but not crosses.
The government is leaving it to the latest possible deadline before allowing the postal vote process to begin, in a move which some say favours the Yes vote.
Although the PM announced the referendum date of October 14 on August 30, the government has still not asked the Governor-General to issue a writ to the AEC.
Under the law, the latest the writ can be issued is 33 days before the date the referendum is due to take place – and that deadline falls on Monday, September 11.
The postal vote process can’t begin until the writ is issued – and the Coalition’s No campaign leader says it’s a deliberate move by the PM to try to skew the result.
Senator Price says squeezing the postal voting window to the absolute minimum required by law has left voters confused because many thought they could vote immediately.
And she says it will most affect those wanting to vote No.
At the 1999 referendum on Australia becoming a republic, 11 per cent more postal voters voted No.
At the last federal election in 2022, three per cent more of the electorate voted for conservative parties by mail.
‘At all times during this referendum process, Mr Albanese has shown he is more interested in putting his thumb on the scales to benefit the Yes camp,’ she told the Sydney Morning Herald.
‘[The] deliberate delay in issuing the writ has confused voters who may have sought postal votes immediately after they heard the date declared.
‘This is usually the process when an election date is announced. With their delay, the government has narrowed the timeframe in which postal votes can be sought.
‘Having clear visibility of the referendum timetable is important to ensure the campaign process is fair for both sides.’
The government claims the delay in issuing the writ has allowed more time for people to enrol to vote, especially in outback areas with a high Indigenous population.
The enrolment period ends seven days after the writ is issued, and the government has relaxed identity rules to make it simpler for some to get on the electoral roll.
Voters now only need a Medicare card or an Australian citizenship certificate to be able to register under changes brought in last February.
‘We’ve made it easier for people to enrol to vote – because Indigenous Australians have long had a lower rate of enrolment,’ said a spokesman.
‘Because of those efforts there are now more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians enrolled to vote than at any point in our nation’s history, soaring from 80 per cent just a year ago, to over 94.1 per cent now.’
They added: ‘There’s nothing unusual about when the writs are being issued.
‘Former Prime Minister John Howard waited six weeks after announcing the date [in 1999] before he issued the writs [for the referendum on the republic].
‘We’re taking the opportunity to ensure as many people can be enrolled to vote as possible – not sure why the opposition would think enrolment is a bad thing.’
The AEC said even with the delayed start to the postal voting process, voters would still have a month to cast their vote by mail until 6pm on October 11.
‘Under the law, postal vote applications can only open once a writ for a referendum (the formal instruction to run the referendum) has been issued,’ said an AEC spokesman.
‘The timing of the writ is up to the government – they advise the Governor-General who issues the writ to the AEC. The process around the issue of a writ is unchanged.’
They added: ‘In recent elections, the AEC has been able to open postal vote applications from the announcement of an election date.
‘But the law for referendums (which is a matter for parliament obviously) is slightly different.
‘For a 14 October referendum the latest a writ can be issued is this Monday 11 September, so at the latest postal votes will open at 6pm on Monday September 11 and be open for a full month (until 6pm on Wednesday October 11).
‘Plenty of time for people to consider their circumstances – whether or not they can vote in-person and, if needed, apply for a postal vote.’
They said they were aware of political parties supplying their own postal vote applications or online links to make applications which they said were legal and happened at every election or referendum.
But they warned using a third party site to make a postal application could put their personal details at risk.
‘The AEC encourages people who need a postal vote to apply directly through the AEC’s website instead,’ they added.
‘Applying for a postal vote directly through the AEC’s website means a ballot paper will be able to be posted out quicker.
‘The AEC also operates under the Privacy Act and postal vote applications involve the disclosure of personal details.’