Electoral Commissioner quits after WA vote debacle

Electoral Commissioner Ed Killesteyn has resigned following confirmation of a fresh senate poll in Western Australia. AAP

The Australian Electoral Commissioner, Ed Killesteyn, has resigned a day after confirmation that Western Australians will go to a fresh Senate poll caused by the AEC losing 1370 votes.

The government has been furious over the debacle, which this week led to the High Court declaring the WA Senate poll void. It has been clear for some time that Killesteyn’s position was untenable.

The new poll, expected in April, presents a risk for the government. It will decide the precise make up of the collection of “micro” players on whom the Coalition will depend to get its legislation through when the new Senate comes in on July 1. There is a danger for the government that the fresh vote might make it somewhat harder to round up the numbers to pass legislation than had been expected from the September poll.

Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson said in a statement that Killesteyn was on personal leave “and will remain so until his resignation takes effect on 4 July”.

Deputy Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers will act as Electoral Commissioner.

“Events in Western Australia mean that the Australian Electoral Commission must regain the confidence of the community,” Ronaldson said. The government would announce a new commissioner “who will be charged with the restoration of that confidence”.

The September election produced different results on the original count and the recount. The Liberals got three places on both counts. Labor won two on the first count and one on the second. Clive Palmer’s party secured a spot initially but lost it on the recount, when places went to the Greens and the Australian Sports Party.

Palmer has called for a parliamentary inquiry into the AEC, saying Killesteyn’s resignation was not enough.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott flagged he would campaign on the repeal of the carbon tax and the mining tax, which will be put immediately to the new Senate. He said these were “anti-Western Australian taxes”.

“If the public want to see the carbon tax gone, the mining tax gone, people have got to vote for candidates who support the repeal of the carbon tax and the mining tax. The only candidates that you can rely on to repeal the carbon tax and repeal the mining tax are the Coalition’s candidates.”

He expected “to spend plenty of time in Western Australia”.

Labor will have scope for a big scare campaign against coming budget cuts, and the uncertainty about what changes the government will make to Medicare.

This week there have been conflicting signals about the government’s health plans. Treasurer Joe Hockey said today that health, welfare and education programs needed to become sustainable.

“The fact is Medicare is going from $65 billion in the budget today to $75 billion in the budget in just over three years,” he said. Health Minister Peter Dutton earlier this week indicated changes would be needed for sustainability. But Abbott said that as health minister he had been the best friend Medicare ever had and he is not a leopard that changes his spots.

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