An extract from an Australian Electoral Commission report to the Parliament:
5.7 A federal election was held on 24 March 1990, and Mr Alasdair Webster was elected as the Member for the Division of Macquarie. On 8 August 1990, an enrolment form was received by the Macquarie Divisional office, for Curacao Fischer Catt of 47 Railway Parade, Hazelbrook NSW. The form was witnessed by Peter Borshac of Lismore, and, as the necessary details were complete, the form was processed onto the roll management system RMANS.
5.8 On 25 October 1990, Mr Webster sent out welcome letters to his constituents in the Division of Macquarie. On 30 October 1990, Mr Webster received the following response from Miss Justine Fischer:
Re your letter – 25th October – Dear Alasdair Thank you for your letter regarding my inclusion on the electoral role [sic] of Macquarie. Unfortunately my owner has just advised me that under the Australian Constitution cats are not allowed to vote (which is probably a shame for any politician). Would you please remove my name from the role, and I apologise for the inconvenience….
5.9 Mr Webster referred the letter to Divisional Returning Officer (DRO) for Macquarie for attention. After examining the enrolment form in question, on 4 December 1990, the then Australian Electoral Officer (AEO) for New South Wales, Mr Brian Nugent, wrote to Mr Webster in the following terms:
I refer to the letter dated 30 October 1990 from Miss Justine Fisher of 47 Railway Parade, Hazelbrook regarding the enrolment of her cat, which you passed on to the Divisional Returning Officer for Macquarie for advice. I must apologise for the delay in replying but the documents were inadvertently placed on the wrong file.
Attached for your information is a copy of the fully completed and witnessed enrolment form. Divisional Returning Officers are obliged under section 102(1) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act to process a claim for enrolment unless it is apparent that it is not in order. That is not so in this case and the claim was duly processed.
As you can see from the claim for enrolment form, electors are required to sign the form declaring that all information on it is true and correct. It is an offence under Section 339(1)(k) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act to make a statement in any claim that is false or misleading. The penalty is $1000 and/or imprisonment for 6 months. Witnesses are required to sign stating that they saw the elector sign the claim for enrolment form and that all statements in it are true. Section 342 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act sets out the duties of a witness, the penalty is $1000.
The Australian Electoral Commission refers cases of fraudulent enrolment to the Australian Federal Police for investigation. It would be appreciated if Miss Fisher would pass on to us any information she might come across that would assist the Australian Federal Police in their investigation of this matter.
Also, I note that our records indicate that Miss Fisher is not enrolled at the address shown on her stationery. If this is her residential address and she is eligible to enrol, she should fill out an enrolment form and forward it to the Divisional Returning Officer for Macquarie.
5.10 On 2 January 1991, a letter to the editor was published in the Blue Mountains Gazette newspaper, under the heading “Going Co Co for votes”, as follows:
Sir – I feel neglected by both our State Member Mr Barry Morris and our Federal Member Mr Alasdair Webster. As a Blue Mountains resident and voter, I have almost always taken my electoral duties most seriously, and I feel that I have suffered a terrible slight from both these gentlemen. Recently, in a moment of frivilousness at the post office I filled out an enrolment form on behalf of my cat Co Co who has not yet turned one year old, but is probably just as capable as any other member of the electorate in picking a box on voting day. I merely added 17 years to his birth date to make him eligible to vote, and in the box marked occupation I filled in Pest Exterminator, and then I waited.
Your readers might well imagine my amazement when the Electoral Commission actually sent a form to our address in the name of Curacao Fischer Catt. I wasn’t worried about this, as I felt the worst thing that could happen was Co Co would be hit with a $50 fine for not voting in the next election – and how were they going to get that from a cat? Cut him back to three tins of fish a week until he has paid it?
What really shocked me was the letter Alasdair Webster sent him addressed “Dear Mr Catt…” congratulating him on becoming enrolled in the Electorate of Macquarie. I immediately sent Mr Webster a letter from Co Co asking him to remove his name from the roll, as “under the Australian Constitution cats are not permitted to vote”. At this stage I felt that I’d had my fun at the taxpayer’s expense.
Still, worse was to come. Last week I received a letter from Barry Morris sent to Co Co addressed on the envelope “Cuacao F. Catt” in which he, like his Federal counterpart, welcomes my cat as a new constituent in his electorate. This has finally rubbed me the wrong way.
When I moved to the Mountains, and every time I have changed my address up here I have always let the Electoral Commission know of any change in my whereabouts straight away. But not once have I ever received a single letter from any politician thanking me for being a member of the electorate.
Evidently my cat is very special that he would merit two such letters, while his poor neglected owner has to put up with a couple of printed brochures shoved in the letter box every few years to mark a voting occasion.
If Messrs Webster and Morris would prefer my cat’s vote to mine I would be happy for him to front up at the polling booth and vote on my behalf. I could probably even go to the necessary expense of buying him a stamp pad so that he could put his paw print in whichever box he desired on polling day. –
Neglected Cat Owner, Hazelbrook.
5.11 On 5 December 1990, the matter was referred by the AEO NSW to the AFP for investigation, and two years later, on 24 March 1992, the AFP responded to the AEO NSW in the following terms:
On 5 December 1990 your office referred to the Australian Federal Police an enquiry relating to statements made in claims on Electoral Enrolment Cards which were known to be false. These statements were apparently made by Justine FISCHER and involved her enrolling her cat on the Electoral Role [sic].
As a result of enquiries conducted, Police interviewed Justine FISCHER.
During the course of the interview Miss FISCHER supplied Police with a statement in which she admitted that she had enrolled her cat, Cuacao, on the Electoral Role [sic] under the name Curacao Fischer CATT. Further to this she advised that Peter BORSHAC, who had witnessed the Enrolment card, knew that the information was false and that he in fact had done the same on an earlier occasion.
Miss FISCHER was warned by Police that she may receive a summons for court in relation to the matter. However, due to the statute of limitations expiring on 2/7/91 no further action was taken.
As Police involvement in this matter is now complete, please find enclosed one Electoral Enrolment Card in the name of Curacao Fischer CATT, supplied by your office to the Australian Federal Police for use in our investigation…
5.12 The questioning of AEC witnesses by Senator Ferris on this matter caught the attention of many reporters, and it became the lead story on that night’s television news and was widely reported in the newspapers. The following is an example:
How many dogs, cats, birds and ringtail possums are enrolled to vote at next year’s state and federal elections? This is not a silly question after last week’s case of Curacao Fischer Catt, the pussycat whose name some clever vegemite succeeded in placing on the federal electoral roll in NSW in 1990.
Last week, Queenslanders were absorbing new concerns about the parlous state of the electoral roll to be used at next year’s Queensland and Commonwealth elections.
The alleged inaccuracy of the roll, coupled with claims of attempts to rig past polls, in the Brisbane seat of Fisher in 1987, for example, suggests there will be lingering doubt, come polling nights next year, that the results flashed up on our TV screens might not reflect the will of Australians – at least homo sapien voters.
There remains that little dark thought, thanks to the Shepherdson inquiry and this paper’s revelations, that someone, somewhere, may have “parachuted in” some voters – or let it rain cats and dogs in a marginal seat – to engineer a few rorted votes.
For its part, the Australian Electoral Commission top brass seems not too concerned about the state of the roll. Speaking at a parliamentary committee hearing in Canberra last week, Australian Electoral Commissioner Andy Becker said the electoral system was in “good shape”.
He said the commission could find no evidence of organised fraud that had swung an election in the past 15 years, although there had been 71 cases of electoral fraud in the past decade. Becker blames the public’s supposedly shaky faith in the voting system and the state of the rolls on adverse publicity in the media.
“The AEC is concerned about the impact on public confidence in the electoral system of the canvassing of unsubstantiated and anonymous allegations of electoral fraud more than a decade after the event”, he said.
But the Electoral Commission’s most damning critic is not the media, political parties, or even disgruntled candidates, but its own long-serving officers who have tendered hard-hitting submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, the committee reviewing the roll’s integrity. They are especially critical of the commission’s decision to scrap the regular house to house doorknocks previously used to update the roll in favour of computerised cross-matching of government agency data…
The commission cannot be too dismissive of public concerns about the roll. Where there is inaccuracy there is the potential for scurrilous individuals to commit electoral fraud. The question is, what will the AEC do to guarantee that the electoral roll to be used at next year’s Queensland and federal elections is as accurate as possible and the potential for fraud all but eliminated? (Courier Mail, 20 November 2000, “Paws for thought”, Chris Griffith)
5.13 It is important to appreciate that the AEC is not directly empowered by the statute to personally interrogate, and perhaps reject, enrolment applicants whose names merely sound suspicious. The Electoral Act requires AEC staff to enter an enrolment application onto RMANS if all necessary details are complete and correct on the face of the enrolment application form. The AEC can and does interrogate its own RMANS database at the point of processing an enrolment and if any anomalies do appear, then they are followed up by contact with the applicant (see part 10 of submission No 26). AEC staff have no powers to demand verification of personal information provided at the doorstep during roll reviews. Were the AEC to be provided with powers of this kind, for the purposes of door-knocking, considerable public opposition might be expected.
5.14 In the case of the pet cat, the name Curacao Fischer Catt might sound, in retrospect, like an obvious invention. However, there are 438 electors on the Roll with the surname Catt (267 of them in NSW), and there are many given names on the Roll that are much stranger than Curacao Fischer (see for example, part 10 of submission No 88 of 12 March 1999).