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Transcript:  Arguments in Favour of Electronic Voting

10th September 2013  |  Comments  |  Transcripts

10 September 2013

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON MALCOLM TURNBULL MP
INTERVIEW WITH VIRGINIA TRIOLI AND MICHAEL ROWLAND
ABC 24

Topics: Electronic Voting, National Broadband Network, mobile phone manners
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VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Malcolm Turnbull good morning and thanks for joining us.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Yes good morning Virginia.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Congratulations for winning your seat again.  Are you confident that you will keep your portfolio?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Yes I am.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Now voting in the Senate is exercising a lot of people.  But as I mentioned, the high informal vote is something you should be dealt with – what do you think the problem is there and how do you think we should deal with it?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well let’s just think about it.  There’s about six per cent of Australians who voted informally in the House of Representatives.  That is eight or nine federal electorates’ votes being cancelled.  So 670,000-odd voters having their vote going unrecorded.  The overwhelming majority of them – and what scrutineers have told me over the years is 90 per cent plus – have voted informal either because they have just voted ‘1’ next to the candidate they have favoured and not numbered the others.  Or they filled in the other boxes incorrectly.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

So these are mistakes they are making rather than someone crossing through the paper –

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Exactly.  There are some people who write, damn you – down with all politicians.  But they are -- that is a few per cent.  Now I think this is a very, very big issue.  A very big issue.  And one of the ways we can deal with it is to consider electronic voting. 

Now I hasten to add, this is not a policy announcement or anything like that. We have a whole process of dealing with the aftermath of elections – there’s a joint parliamentary committee that reviews it.  But I do think we have to start – one of our priorities as a new Government  is to rapidly progress the efficient use of technology to make Government more cost effective and to do a better job for citizens.  And also to enable Australian businesses and households to be more productive. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

But is electronic voting error free?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well you wouldn’t say that anything is error free.  But the current system Virginia is fraught with errors.  I mean, there are a large number of people who are fraudulently in the sense that they go to the polling place and say they are someone else.  Now I think that most of them are doing so honestly – they are doing so on behalf of a friend who is away or who is sick.  And when I first ran for Parliament in 2004, the number of people who came up to me in the street and said, Oh I’ll be away on polling day, and I said, okay well you can vote pre-poll or you can get a postal vote.  And they would say, oh don’t worry I will get my girlfriend to vote for me, or my brother, or my sister – I was shocked. 

So I think we underestimate the extent to which there is improper voting.  Now the virtue of – getting back to the informal vote – the virtue of an electronic voting form is that it would  be like voting – and I’m not suggesting you would do this over the Internet.  You could vote in the polling booth, a closed network so it couldn’t be hacked over the Internet.  And if you misnumbered your boxes, the application would say, you haven’t filled in your form correctly, it’s an informal vote, do you wish to cast an informal vote?  And if you said yes that would be your choice. 

But most people would go, oh gosh and they would fill it in correctly.  Now the Senate is a somewhat – but I think that would make a huge difference to the House of Representatives elections.  Now an issue that people bring up is they say, well why wouldn’t you make it optional preferential as the do in some of the states, including my own in New South Wales. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Well that might be a discussion for the Senate paper as well, which the discussion seems to be building towards.  On that basis, and given how people seem to be quite preoccupied by this, some key personnel are missing now from that Joint Committee, Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.  How quickly will that committee be reconvened?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well I have never sat on that committee myself but it gets reconvened --

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Would you like to sit on that committee?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well I would be a Minister, I would expect.  So ministers don’t sit on those committees. But nonetheless there is a review – I mean people have looked at this over the years, I’d say this Virginia, I think we considerably overestimate the security of the current paper voting system and we also overestimate the insecurity of electronic voting systems.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

That’s a pretty big accusation you just made earlier I wanted to back up to but we need to just move on to some other matters, the claim that you make about how high fraudulent voting is in Australia. Is it just based on that anecdotal experience of yours or do you have something further to back that up?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I can just say to you it is based on my anecdotal experience but when I was campaigning in 2004 and I spent a lot of time you know I campaigned for a year and I was out on the street pretty much every day talking to people.

Once the election was called the number of people who told me that they would get someone else to vote for me, and the first time I was shocked, the second time I was shocked and the third time I started to think my god I’ve been living in a bit of a bubble here, people don’t seem to be taking the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act as seriously as they should.

And you see the point is that you don’t have to show any ID and the system as I say, the system is much more vulnerable than we think.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

OK I need to move on to some other topics, you’re appointing Ziggy Switkowski as co-executive chairman of the NBN –

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well hang on, wait a minute –

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

That’s a report that’s out this morning.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

There’s a report out there this morning saying that he’ll be nominated as chair of the NBN Co. but that decision would be taken by a cabinet decision and obviously if I’m the communications minister it would be my recommendation but we’re making no comment on that and I haven’t discussed that matter with the journalist in question.

This has been written by the way quite a few times. I think it was written up in the Fin Review by David Ramli some months ago so it’s not the first time Ziggy’s name has been flagged. He’s obviously highly qualified and I think most people would regard him as an eminently suitable person but no decision has been taken by a Coalition government not least because we haven’t even been sworn in yet. So I can’t comment on it.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Well can I ask you is he someone you would like to see in that kind of role?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Virginia I’m not going to play sort of 20 questions, I don’t want to be rude but we’ve got to be quite clear about this. I cannot comment on board appointments to the NBN Co. The only observation I’ve made publically about the NBN Co. board is to say that while I have no criticism to make of any of the individuals it is remarkable that there is nobody on that board who has either run, or built, or been responsible for building or managing a large telecommunications network and given that is the core business of NBN Co. that is a singular deficiency.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Do you want to have a Royal Commission into the NBN?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Our policy says we will have a forensic audit into the NBN. The governance of it, the way in which the policy was developed without any cost-benefit analysis. Why was there no cost-benefit analysis? What advice was received? How accurate has the company been in publishing information about its progress? How responsible were the corporate plans that were published? Were they ever realistic?

All of those questions will be subject to a forensic audit. We have not ruled out having a judicial inquiry, that is certainly a possibility but what I would like to do is get that exercise which is very important, get that done as quickly as possible and I think that a good forensic audit team may be able to do that more efficiently, well more quickly.  Obviously a judicial inquiry would be very efficiently but they just tend to take a bit longer.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

If Sophie Mirabella loses in the seat of the Indi and at the moment she’s behind that doesn’t leave you with very many women at all on the front bench does it? In view do you have enough?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well you know in the Liberal Party our deputy is a woman, Julie Bishop. We’ve never allocated pre-selections or ministerial positions on the basis of gender, they’re allocated on the basis of talent and ability, so…

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Yes but do you think you have enough?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

That’s really a question for the leader Tony Abbott. I welcome more women in public life and a number of women have been elected to parliament on our side in this election. I mean, Sarah Henderson in Corangamite, Karen McNamara and Lucy Wicks on the Central Coast in New South Wales to name just three, so it’s been a, there’s certainly, you’re seeing more women in parliament on our side as a result of this election.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Now the changed language of the Opposition since winning government is interesting. Arthur Sinodinos on election night talked of Tony Abbott inheriting a pretty good economy that had momentum. Andrew Robb said the carbon tax not as the end of the world as we know it but as a symbol of an unpopular government, despite the rhetoric Tony Abbott saying he’ll take things slowly. So there clearly is no fiscal emergency here in Australia is there?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well the government has run up record debt. It’s run the biggest deficits in my history. It was on a trajectory to keep running up more and more debt and more deficits. So, you know, I guess it’s a question of opinion but I think most Australians have been deeply shocked and apprehensive about the level of debt so I think you can describe that as a fiscal emergency. But is Australia a financial basket case? Plainly not. We’ve always had a strong economy. We’ve always said we do. But it will be a lot stronger with a better government.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Now just finally we wanted to ask you as incoming Communications Minister whether you plan to do something about an issue that on the cover of the NT News today and that’s a national scourge of people talking on mobile phones when they enter a restaurant or enter a shop and then they demand service. A woman there has been rejected service because she was on the phone when she entered a chemist. What exactly do you plan to do about this Malcolm Turnbull?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well Virginia if I was a Labor politician I would say that I would immediately appoint you as the mobile phone courtesy tsar so that you could penalise people.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Thank god!

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

But  - I was watching you earlier as I was doing my exercise and I know you have very strong views on it.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

This one gets up my nose.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

But we don’t – look I’ve got to tell you – we believe in the limits of government and it’s not possible to legislate for courtesy.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Come on, you’re a big user of public transport just look me in the eye and tell me it doesn’t give you the irrits.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

No, no it can be. And I’ve used the same technique you’ve described. But I must say in a credit to Gladys Berejiklian in the New South Wales transport ministry – in New South Wales in the inter-city trains you know longer-haul ones – the first and last carriages are quiet zones where you are not allowed at peril of being scolded by the conductor to talk on your mobile phone or to listen or play music. But I agree, I think a little bit of social pressure. Perhaps people – if you’re not prepared to go as far as you did and whisper into the ear of the noisy talker – perhaps a few admonitory glares would be uses.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Good to talk to you this morning Malcolm Turnbull – we’ll talk again.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Good to talk to you Virginia and Michael good to see you.

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