MIKE SMITHSON: Remember if you’ve got Isobel’s revenge don’t hesitate to give us a call after midday for a prize. She was stood up on a date with an unnamed Government Minister on Saturday night. She attended a performance of the [Adelaide] Cabaret [Festival] Natalie Cole. I actually saw her there and she looked a little lost at one point, but she was stood up. She admitted to that today. We’re not making fun of it… well, we are a little bit, but if you’ve got a revenge… how should she get back at the gentleman concerned, the unnamed gentleman who is a Government Minister? So it’s the Opposition Leader and the Government Minister… pretty amazing, hey, Simon Birmingham?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Yes, g’day Mike, how are you?
MIKE SMITHSON: Yeah good, have you heard that one about Isobel?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I… sorry, Mike … the bells are ringing here and I wasn’t listening to your intro, so my sincere apologies
MIKE SMITHSON: That’s alright. Poor old Isobel was stood up on a blind date on Saturday night, with a Government Minister would you believe?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh!
MIKE SMITHSON: There you go… Government Minister!
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Government Minister, outrageous indeed!
MIKE SMITHSON: And he stood her up, he left her almost at the altar, and I said ‘is she going to see him again’ and she said she’s not sure, but anyway it wasn’t … there’s no romance, it’s just a friendship. Hey now, I know you’re probably busy, if the bells are ringing that is an ominous sign…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It is Mike, and it is actually… we’re just trying to see whether I can get a pair but it’s not necessarily coming through at present so I am possibly going to have to adjourn you for a moment and I will call [producer] Tammii back pronto.
MIKE SMITHSON: If you have to do a runner…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I have two minutes and 19 seconds to get to the Chamber
MIKE SMITHSON: Okay, well one of the low points of the last State election was the dodgy how-to-vote cards handed out by the Labor Party that looked like Family First, what’s the problem that you see coming up to the Federal election?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well the problem is it’s still a real risk Mike that they could… Labor could do this tactic all over again and that the changes they’re proposing to the Electoral Act are ineffective and just won’t actually deliver the safety… There we are, I have leave, I can stop rushing.
MIKE SMITHSON: Oh, wonderful!
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Excellent, there we go!
MIKE SMITHSON: How do you do that, do you click your fingers? That’s what happens when you’re the most powerful Senator from South Australia, on the Liberal side I might add.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Far from it, Mike, now sorry about that garbled start to the interview.
MIKE SMITHSON: No, that’s alright, well let’s start again, we’ll wipe the slate clean and we’ll start again, for those who don’t know, the…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The joys of parliamentary democracy.
MIKE SMITHSON: It gives me time to read something that I’d already prepared, so you can sit back, relax for a minute or so, but… because I thought one of the low points of the last State election, in fact the very lowest point, was the use of those cards. For those of our listeners who can’t remember, at several polling booths in marginal seats, and I’ll call them ‘Labor stooges’, largely from interstate, were brought in, dressed up to look like Family First supporters the Family First blue T-shirts and slogan, they were wearing those T-shirts … ‘put your family first’. Their how-to-vote cards were designed to get Family First voters to preference Labor candidates, to preference them second. Now, in Mawson Labor won, but said it had nothing to do with the cards. I covered the story down there (on) the day and I’ve never seen a higher level of anger aimed at these people by certain sections of the voting public. It created a huge storm as a result… Mike Rann apologised, said he would not let it happen again, he had no idea it was going to happen, other Labor MPs… some knew it was, some had refused to take part in it… it all seemed pretty dodgy to me. So Simon, walk us through what you’ve tried to do from that point to prevent it happening in the Federal forum.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well thanks, Mike… it was brought to my attention during the morning of the State election campaign [election day], volunteers and helpers from a number of booths sent me messages saying this was going on in seats like Mawson and Morialta and Hartley and elsewhere, and this practice as you say really caused outrage amongst voters who felt that they were in some way effectively defrauded of their vote, conned on their voting intentions and that it was a very, very dodgy tactic by the Labor Party. Now there’s a real risk that under the Federal Electoral Act the same tactic could be employed, and what we want to make sure is that going into the Federal election that won’t happen and that there are not just guarantees given by parties that they won’t do it but that the law ensures that they don’t do it. Now Labor have proposed some amendments to the Electoral Act that Parliament considered this week. We’re not sure that those amendments are clear enough and go far enough, and the Senate will give them a long hard look, but in particular in the House of Reps earlier this week we proposed a toughening of the penalties for this type of behaviour. The current penalty proposed is $1100 for getting the authorisation wrong… well that’s spare change around parties like the Labor Party with their support base, so we think the penalty needs to be a lot tougher, and we also want to make sure that we get the Act right to ensure that this outrageous behaviour that strikes at the heart of our democracy is clearly outlawed and that voters, when they receive a how-to-vote card on election day can have comfort that it is a legitimate how-to-vote card from the party that they think it’s coming from.
MIKE SMITHSON: Well, you would think it’s a ‘no brainer’ because to me it’s the lowest form of deceit in an election campaign, or on election day… however it’s dressed up it just isn’t right … now, I know that Labor has accused, in fact on the day, accused the Liberals of doing the same thing at a State level in the previous election, in 2006. I don’t think it was exactly the same, mind you, and it wasn’t as deceptive as this, but is it a case that there’s a bit of mud that is to be thrown at both sides over this?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, every party looks for its advantage. Certainly the Liberal Party has issued preference cards in the past, encouraging voters to think about where they allocate their preferences, particularly Greens voters or others, but they have never been cards that have attempted to suggest or portray themselves as being from another party. This tactic by the Labor Party volunteers in Family First T-shirts handing out how-to-vote cards stamped ‘Family First’ at the top clearly was an attempt to con voters and to get them to think that this how-to-vote card was a legitimate Family First one. The Liberal Party’s never done anything like that, and for Labor to accuse us of doing so is quite wrong … regardless of who’s at fault what is important is cleaning the Act up and making sure that this can never happen again at a State or Federal election. I know the State Parliament is working through issues with the State parliamentary committee. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is having a look at the matter as well at a Federal level, but of course we face a very imminent Federal election, that means that there’s legislation on the table this fortnight that needs to be dealt with this fortnight … we’re very disappointed that Labor have proposed this insipid $1100 penalty for this type of behaviour. We’re not even convinced that the Act actually clarifies what’s required of these how-to-vote cards effectively and will effectively ban dodgy how-to- vote cards, but as a first step the challenge really is to get the penalty toughened up so that it is an effective deterrent, so that Labor or anybody else is dissuaded from doing this again in future
MIKE SMITHSON: Hear, hear is all I’ve got to say. Simon, thanks for joining us and I hope that when someone from the other side needs a pair, you’ll be just as ready to put up your hand.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Absolutely, Mike, live radio needs live democracy in the parliament but we got through it, thank you very much for your patience.
MIKE SMITHSON: Good on you, thank you Simon Birmingham, Senator… Liberal Senator for South Australia…