The Victorian Electoral Commissioner Steve Tully has been accused by political insiders of making a complete mess of the Legislative Council count at the last state election by cutting corners and then embarking on a cover-up. Some even think he presided over a stolen election in one upper house seat.
Tully was appointed in 2005 on a ten year appointment and quickly demonstrated an inability to deal with the serious responsibilities entrusted to him. He is paid around five thousand dollars a week and employs a permanent staff of over fifty.
At the highest levels of government, following the 2006 election counting debacle, many expressed concerns to Attorney-General Rob Hulls, who had championed Tully’s appointment, that he “might not be up to it.”
UPPER HOUSE COUNT MESS – BARLOW WAS ROBBED
The Legislative Council count involved eight Senate style elections, many of them expected to be very close outcomes with many different candidates. It was never going to be easy and insiders say was made all the more difficult by poorly trained VEC staff who operate with a Tully imposed culture of short-cuts, secrecy, abuse of power and intimidation of those questioning their decisions.
A substantial number of votes “went missing” during the count of the upper house Western Metropolitan seat between “Count A” and “Count B”. (There were also gravely serious procedural errors in the Northern Metropolitan count too with a failure to reconcile to the number of ballots issued with the number of ballots in the system but that’s a story for another day)
In Western Metro, on Count A, Labor moderate Henry Barlow clearly won, defeating the Greens party candidate, narrowly beating the Greens party comrade.
A recount was called, prompted by suspicions of errors in Tully’s process after the Northern Metro debacle, and the Greens party’s Colleen Hartland was elected. The total of that count, Count B, was hundreds of votes lower than Count A. It’s worth noting we’re not talking about votes being allocated incorrectly but about the total number of votes counted in the system. Self-evidently, that should never happen in a recount unless ballots were removed from the counting room. Hundreds of votes “went missing” and have never been accounted for.
Further casting suspicion on the integrity was the substantial discrepancy between the number of lower and corresponding upper house ballots.
To this day, Tully has refused to explain this strange situation. Some in Labor circles believe that respected Labor staffer Henry Barlow was “robbed” in a “stolen election” by either Greens party scrutineers/cheats or incompetent or maliciously motivated electoral officials. It has been repeatedly rumoured in inner-city political circles that Greens party activists have been planted in the VEC, encouraged to apply for work there by Greenist strategist Stephen Luntz.
Either way, what is beyond dispute is that Tully was desperate to cover his tracks.
The data records of the count had been destroyed – or in Tully’s words- “overwritten” for no good reason but had the effect of destroying a potential audit trail. Some believe the records still exist and that he simply refuses to hand them over because they reveal the level of incompetence or errors in the count. These errors are not necessarily the fault of all VEC staff but of the short-cuts and shoddy culture imposed by the Commission boss Tully.
Critics thought it very odd indeed that a government agency would spend a great deal of money – possibly in the hundreds of thousands of dollars – keying in data and then destroying earlier versions of it, without explanation. They expressed concern that this was purely calculated to cover up his many mistakes.
An IT expert who spoke with VEXNEWS said he found the decision to destroy data that could be later audited was “astounding and possibly suggesting some untoward conduct or cover-up. No professional system would have back-ups destroyed, it just wouldn’t happen. If it happened at a bank, the Fraud Squad would be called in straight away.”
“No professional IT person could tolerate the management of their system in this way, it stinks to high heaven. There are many unanswered questions.”
Indeed there are. And the biggest one is should Henry Barlow be a member of the Legislative Council of Victoria?
When asked at a Victorian Parliamentary committee to explain himself, Tully offered no explanation about why the data had been destroyed.
Both sides of politics are believed to be puzzled about this odd situation but both are reluctant to call Tully on his errors in public for fear of causing grave offence to a powerful man who is really ultimately accountable to no-one. Not even the supposedly all-powerful corruption busting Ombudsman is able to probe Tully, under Victorian law.