The Victorian Electoral Commissioner Steven Tully – paid $250,000 per annum plus perks – will be placed in the embarrassing position of having to personally defend legal proceedings after publicly attacking a campaigner during the City of Melbourne election.
VEXNEWS has learned that the proceedings will be shortly filed by a highly regarded ALP strategist Ray Collins.
WHY DID TULLY LIE?
Tully on Friday launched an unprecedented defamatory attack on a former Lord Mayoral candidate Ray Collins, accusing him of making “threats”, engaging in bullying and harassment against a Victorian Electoral Commission staffer. Oddly Tully had not even discussed the matter with Collins prior to making a public statement. Further it is alleged that a Ms Sue Lang – acting on the instructions of Tully – accused Collins of acting in an “untoward” manner.
It was not unreasonably assumed by media and the public that claims made by a supposedly independent public servant about “threats”, “bullying” and “harassment” were either physical or serious in some respect.
COLLINS QUESTIONS PROCESS // TULLY CALLS FOR GOONS
VEXNEWS understands that in fact what Tully and one of his staff Bill Lang deemed to be a threat was a statement by Collins that the Commission’s process of using dozens of people to unnecessarily key in every ballot paper before they were counted would require dozens of scrutineers to monitor the process.
The statement occurred at what was meant to be an open forum to discuss the counting process. It is probably the last time such VEC briefings will attract any attendance at all, given what later transpired.
Collins – who will be bringing legal proceedings against Tully – was making the point that if the nine candidates who attended have dozens of scrutineers that it would be a very crowded and that essentially the system the Commission had adopted made it impossible to scrutineer effectively.
It was very clearly not a threat.
What it was very clearly was a complaint. A complaint shared by all candidates’ representatives, not just in the City of Melbourne either. VEXNEWS has received many reports from scrutineers expressing their frustration that the VEC has engineered a count process that cannot be independently monitored or scrutinised in any meaningful way.
And the response of Steve Tully to an entirely reasonable criticism was to publicly announce that a Police presence and security goons would be at the count-room to counter this “threat”.
It was an extremely odd over-reaction that raises the question of whether the Commissioner is capable of carrying out his duties of office.
Certainly the guards thought so. They had been briefed that the slight Ray Collins was the “security risk”. Scrutineers tell VEXNEWS the guards were highly puzzled by the situation, but grateful for the weekend work. They laughed at their client, one of them saying “public servants are tossers” to which we suggested a swap of roles between bouncer and electoral commissioner might be in order.
Ironically it is Tully’s brazen thuggery by a bureaucrat attempting to silence a rising chorus criticism not just of how the Victorian Electoral Commission counted one council ballot but its overall attitude and lack of accountability for what it does.
NOT UP TO IT
Tully’s record is a dismal one.
The 2006 state election saw what amounted to a complete farce in the counting of the Western Metropolitan upper house seat. We will be reviewing exactly what happened in later articles but what it boils down to is this: the Victorian Electoral Commission is run by an incompetent, who is massively out of his depth and unfit for the office he currently occupies.
Tully’s hobby horse is “automating” vote counting. Without going into the issue of whether US style voting machines are a good idea, Tully’s personal enthusiasm for this is even reflected on his biography (complete with enormous photograph) on the Commission website.
What Tully fails to comprehend is that scrutineers who are used to being able to monitor the count process are never going to accept a system which uses uncertified software, impossible to scrutinise data entry that entirely relies on people assuming the Commission aren’t interested in rigging the count.
No one is accusing Tully or the Commission of wanting to corrupt the election process, but with the system he has established, there is really no way of checking it. To paraphrase the property millionaire and serial electoral loser Les Twentyman, a frequent complainer to the VEC himself, Tully’s tally system would do Robert Mugabe proud. Perhaps there’s an export opportunity for Victorian technology to fake democracies all around the world.
Back to Tully though.
The timing of his attack on one of the candidates in the count was also noteworthy and revealing of Tully’s lack of judgement and propriety.
One senior Melbourne council bureaucrat told VEXNEWS on Friday that he was “stunned” Tully had involved himself so blatantly in the political process.
“It’s not what we like to think we’re paying for. I have no doubt the scrutineers and hangers on can be annoying but to single out one person because he was disagreeing about a process doesn’t seem valid to me. I’ll be looking into what happened that’s for sure,” he said.
It’s also interesting to note that Tully made the very serious accusations of misconduct about a meeting he didn’t actually attend.
His source of information about the meeting was a Bill Lang, a meek and mild chap who – we understand – expressly apologised to Ray Collins for what Tully put in his statement and all the fuss that followed as neither represented what really happened at the meeting.
ABOLISH THE VEC?
Further criticism of Tully has emerged from their rival organisation, the Australian Electoral Commission.
“His reaction to criticism has been to call in the Police and four bouncers. Some might think it’s an embarrassing and foolish over-reaction, I couldn’t possibly comment.”
“The issue you might think about is why the Victorian Government persists with having a separate electoral commission, there’s no need for it all, they could save many millions a year by abolishing it and using us. There is a huge duplication of infrastructure.”