February 7, 2015

The Court of Disputed Returns

A week later, Queensland appears no nearer to knowing who will form a government.

The counting process seems to be interminably slow. Postal votes do not have to be in until next Tuesday. Surely an earlier cut-off would have been helpful? Can more counters not be drafted in temporarily?

The number of seats in doubt continues to change, from five to four to six to three to four: http://www.abc.net.au/news/qld-election-2015/results/seats-in-doubt/. A couple are predicted to be firmed up over this weekend, but the tail-end Charlies are more likely by the middle to end of next week.

Then there is the enormous spanner of Ferny Grove. During the week this residential suburb in northwest Brisbane looked like a Labor gain, and this morning the website above has it listed as a 'safe Labor gain', with almost 91 per cent of votes counted. But the Palmer United Party candidate, Mark Taverner, is an undischarged bankrupt and was therefore not eligible to be a candidate. Clive Palmer claims Mr Taverner signed a form declaring himself fit to stand, but it's no matter now because the damage has been done and the uncertainty has been prolonged. Who uncovered Taverner is what I'd like to know? The story was first published in News Corps' foremost Queensland dirt rag.

What is the significance of this development? Will the courts overturn the Ferny Grove result and order a by-election, thus leaving Queensland governance floundering for months? According to the ABC's political commentator Antony Green, the answer to that is no. A Court of Disputed Returns case can only be made after the Ferny Grove result is announced. And a case can only be made on the grounds that the votes cast for Mr Taverner had an impact on the result. It is preferences that will be key here. An objector (the LNP candidate?) will have seven days to lodge their case, which may take months to be heard. In the meantime, the declared candidate will have all the rights of an elected Member of Parliament.

It is – as you might expect – much more complicated than this, so I recommend you read Green's blog at (http://blogs.abc.net.au/antony
green/2015/02/the-impact-of-ferny-grove-on-forming-government-in-queensland.html), for more detail, especially about precedents.

I still have questions though. Since we know what we know about Mark Taverner, can the Electoral Commission Queensland conclude after its own investigation that PUP's votes did not influence the result? Is the ECQ bound to take some kind of action, even if no one objects? Is anyone other than the LNP going to take this matter to the Court of Disputed Returns? I'm willing to bet PUP can't be made to pay instead of Queensland taxpayers.

No one seems particularly perturbed about the delay in the resumption of State Government. The only complaint I have heard is from a lady who was 'cranky' at the prospect of a by-election in Ferny Grove. Day-to-day life has continued: no services have ground to a halt; public servants have been paid. I do wonder, however, what those who had been preparing for the 'leasing' of Queensland's public assets have spent their time doing this last week.

The LNP are busy choosing a more electable leader*, and I assume the ALP are deciding who will do what if they are confirmed as the governing party, and what their policies are on a host of subjects not mentioned in the election campaign (infrastructure funding to name but one).

The Independent member for Nicklin (in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland), Peter Wellington, has already decided that he will support Annastacia Palaszczuk. I believe the Katter boys (two Katter's Australian Party MPs already confirmed) are more likely to decide in favour of the LNP, but have deferred their decision until the final tally of seats is known. All in all, only an idiot would try to work their way through all the computations at this stage.

Am I the only person who is fretting about the possibility, if a by-election is called in Ferny Grove, of a most disturbing scenario playing out. With Campbell Newman gone and asset sales a dead issue, the LNP must assume they could win the seat next time around.

So we beat on, boats against the current… (let's hope not) borne back ceaselessly into the past†.

* It was announced at about 2 pm this afternoon that Lawrence Springborg is the new LNP leader, with John-Paul Langbroek as his deputy
With apologies to F Scott Fitzgerald


  1. Hey Jude - the real story here is the mystery of the missing sausage sizzles. Did no-one else notice? Personally I think the snap election caught P&Cs around the state napping. An election without my snag and sauce left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed by the electoral process - and I wonder how many kiddies will be missing a trip to Canberra this year due to this fund-raising disaster! Hopefully the school communities of Ferny Grove will be priming their BBQs at this very moment :)

  2. Hi there, I was aware of concern about the snag gaps on the hustings, although there were some where I was based and very good business was being done, too. I realise how important this tradition is and can appreciate your underwhelmment.
    I do hope, however, that the judge in the Court of Disputed Returns (what a wonderful name that is!) rules with reason and we are spared a by-election in Ferny Grove.
    Thank you for your comment.