Defiant NSW electoral commission rejects senator's complaints

By Stephen Easton

April 1, 2016

The New South Wales Electoral Commission governing body is unfazed by a letter from lawyers acting for Senator Arthur Sinodinos, who feels the independent statutory committee unfairly implied he acted corruptly in a recent public statement.

The Liberal senator and former finance director of the party’s NSW division had his lawyers shoot off the letter soon after the commission announced it would not provide the state branch with $4.4 million in public funding.

Such decisions are made by the three independent members of the commission: chair and former judge Keith Mason, former Queensland auditor-general Les Scanlan, and acting electoral commissioner Linda Franklin, who also independently leads the separate public service agency that supports their work.

Through his lawyers, Sinodinos claimed “erroneous commentary” in the media to the effect that he personally concealed illegal donations through corrupt and illegal actions was a “direct consequence” of the NSWEC’s statement explaining the decision, describing it as a “flawed publication”.

The commission members didn’t flinch at the mildy threatening letter, declining its invitation to retract all references to the controversial senator and former party official, and publish a correction on its website. They also rejected several assertions made by the lawyers.

The laywers relayed the disappointment of Senator Sinodinos that he “was not provided with any opportunity to dispute the Commission’s draft Summary of Facts prior to their publication insofar as they concerned him” but according to the NSWEC’s response, that complaint doesn’t hold water:

“The Party via the then Party Agent, Mr [Simon] McInnes, was provided with a draft Summary of Facts on 26 February 2016.”

The party then asked for an extension of time to comment on the draft statement before it was published, so the commission helpfully suggests Sinodinos may want to direct his complaint to Mr McInnes.

The commission dismisses a long “summary of evidence” which forms the bulk of the legal letter and contains large tracts of testimony from the ICAC inquiry as irrelevant to its decision and its statement explaining it, including all mentions of the senator.

Sinodinos was upset that the three commissioners apparently had not considered his “detailed submissions” to the ICAC inquiry, which were subject to a suppression order, and claimed they dragged his name through the mud using “loose language” including a reference to illegal donations being “washed through” other organisations.

The NSWEC also rejected both of those grievances:

“Responding to the specific matters you have raised: (1) The loose language of “washed through” that you attribute to the commission was not in fact used in any of the documents published on its website on 23 March 2016; (2) The commission has neither seen nor taken account of what you refer to as suppressed submissions made by your client to the ICAC.”

Unlike many government bodies, which often try to keep such quarrels private if possible, the NSWEC seems unwilling to take public criticism lying down. Last year under the watch of former commissioner Colin Barry, who retired at the end of last year, the commission went to great lengths to rebut strong public criticisms of its iVote electronic voting system, and question the motivations of the two academics who made them.

A recruitment process for a permanent Electoral Commissioner is underway.

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