COMMENT by FRANK BAARDA
Politicians will adjust their policies in relation to Australia’s First Peoples in the aftermath of the referendum’s No vote.
Their priority is likely to be how the referendum will affect their chances of re-election rather than what is best in the Nation’s interest. That is not new.
In the remote communities our political clout is minimal and relies much on how we are perceived and on goodwill. I therefore think the bush’s Yes vote is of great importance.
Almost lost in the wide ranging angst ridden or victorious reportage on the No vote there was an article in The Guardian about Senator Jacinta Price: “One thing we do know is the way in which Indigenous people in remote communities are exploited for the purpose of somebody else’s agenda,” she said.
“I think we probably need to look at the way the Australian Electoral Commission … conduct themselves when it comes to remote polling at elections and referendums.
“I think we should take away those who come in with their how-to-votes, unions that come in and overpower vulnerable Aboriginal communities.
“There is a lot that goes on in remote communities that the rest of Australia doesn’t get to see. If we had cameras in those remote communities, at those polling booths, Australia would see what goes on in within those communities. There’s a lot of manipulation.”
Asked if an allegation was being made against the AEC, Mundine intervened, shouting, “you know what, people are committing suicides in these communities.
“People are being raped and beaten and this is the questions you come up with!?
“We had a vote tonight that said Australians want to get things done,” he said.
Mundine urged the media to “stop talking about all this other nonsense and start talking about kids … who are as young as nine and 10 who commit suicide in their communities and those kids who get raped”.
Apart from these allegations being offensive and insulting to myself and my community, they are simply not true, and need to be debunked. Untruths are also called lies or deceptions.
There were 18 mobile polling teams deployed to remote NT. In contrast to the rest of Australia, remote Australia voted Yes, only Remote Mobile Team 4 voted No (49% Yes 51% No), the 17 other remote team results ranged from 52.1 to 92.1% (median 76.7%) Yes.
When I voted in Yuendumu, 300 kms north-west of Alice Springs, there were three people who had bothered to drive out from Alice Springs to support the Yes campaign.
They were sitting outside of the polling place at a respectful (and legal) distance offering Yes campaign material.
At no time did I see them cajole voters. Many voters went to have friendly conversations with these visitors and most didn’t need campaign material.
Voting yes or no is not exactly rocket science. When I voted there was no one there from the NO campaign. I suspect they didn’t bother to come out because they realised that there aren’t enough votes in the bush to turn the tables.
A friend of mine sent me this: “It is not possible within financial constraints for polling booths to be open in every remote community and outstation on the Saturday that polls open in the city and larger regional towns.”
Instead in the fortnight leading up to election day the AEC sends out “Mobile Voting” teams of AEC staff to remote and far remote communities to enable people to register their votes.
AEC Staff travel to most voting places by 4-wheel-drive, some remote polling locations are visited by AEC staff in light aircraft or by chopper.
Whichever way they travel they take with them portable voting booth bins that are lockable.
At the opening of a remote location polling session the booths are unlocked and they remain unlocked for however long the polling place is open, which in most places is for a couple of hours.
Voters place their ballots into the booth’s bin. At the close of the polling session each bin is locked and each lock is protected by a unique seal that is applied.
The AEC team then move to their next polling location where the seals are inspected to ensure the bin contents have not been tampered with, the locks are removed and the bins opened for the next session and the next batch of voters to lodge their ballots.
For the purposes of my information herein a session is that period between when a remote voting booth is opened for voting on a community and when the booth is closed.
That is what the AEC staff do, I know because I have witnessed them doing it in my role as an official scrutineer at six different elections.
I followed the AEC staff in my own vehicle and was present as an official scrutineer at the unsealing and opening of a ballot and at the locking and sealing of each bin.
The AEC staff I witnessed never once engaged in handing out electioneering material such as how to vote cards.
They never once engaged in any form of electioneering.
The AEC staff remained quietly at their posts, they assisted people with general inquiries, but never suggesting who to vote for.
My experience is limited to the NT. The parties are permitted to send scrutineers, the booths I attended as a scrutineer were always attended by two or more CLP scrutineers. Note Jacinta Price is a member of the CLP.
Also note that during the time a booth is open for voting, scrutineers set themselves up according to AEC regulations and offer how to vote cards out to people arriving at the polling place to vote.
At each polling booth I attended all of the party supporters handing out how to vote cards behaved politely and cordially with supporters of opposition parties and with AEC staff and especially with the people arriving to vote.
I did not witness anyone attempting to “overpower vulnerable Aboriginal communities”.
I am absolutely certain that had anybody attempted to overpower anyone the AEC officer in charge at the polling place would have intervened very quickly and put a stop to it.
We are very lucky in Australia that we have the independent Electoral Commissions to oversee and conduct our election and referenda ballots.
I think Jacinta Price has been rather careless with the truth here.
That was my friend. Now to Warren Mundine’s allegations: That wasn’t the first time Warren evoked child rape. Millions of dollars were spent by the AFP during the first five years of the Intervention investigating Mal Brough’s alleged paedophile rings.
They didn’t find any.
Long ago we stopped talking about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. I wish people like Warren Mundine would have the decency to stop talking about alleged community dysfunction and depravity.
AT TOP: Senator Jacinta Nampijimpa Price with Opposition Leader Dutton. The Guardian photo.
UPDATE 10:10am: The unnamed friend in the article who kindly provided the description of how remote community polling takes place in the NT is Forrest Holder.