Outrage in Central Queensland over harvesting of voter data
THERE are accusations that Central Queensland's voter information is being harvested by political parties in a questionable practice relating to postal vote applications.
Numerous political candidates from Katter's Australian Party, North Queensland First and Greens candidates claim the major parties were exploiting a loophole to dupe voters into handing over their personal details.
Katter's Australian Party candidate for Rockhampton Christian Shepherd explained the process.
"In several seats across Queensland including Rockhampton, the LNP has sent people postal vote application forms with a reply paid envelope enclosed for you to return the completed forms," Mr Shepherd said.
"Rockhampton residents may be misled in thinking the forms will be mailed straight to the Electoral Commission of Queensland for processing. This is not the case.
"If you send your completed postal vote application forms in this envelope, they will be sent straight to LNP headquarters in Archerfield, who will harvest (steal) your information before on-sending your forms to the Electoral Commission of Queensland."
He said the Labor Party was carrying out a similar process by text message.
North Queensland First leader Jason Costigan also accused the LNP and ALP of pilfering voters' personal information, posting examples of both the LNP and ALP's candidates in the Whitsundays providing reply paid envelopes addressed to their party headquarters.
He urged voters to apply for a postal vote via the Electoral Commission website or to mail their applications directly to ECQ.
Former Greens Senator Andrew Bartlett also posted up an image of the "ever-reliable sight of misleading postal vote application forms from your local Liberal MP".
"As usual, no mention that the reply paid envelope to send back your vote applications goes to the Liberal Party, not the Electoral Commission," Mr Bartlett said.
"In response to the many comments saying this should be illegal, electoral commissions at federal & state levels have been recommending for years that it be made unlawful, but (as far as he knew) no parliament has agreed to do so."
Major parties respond to the data harvesting accusations
A spokesperson for the LNP rejected the premise of the Morning Bulletin's line of questioning about candidate accusations of data harvesting.
"For decades, the LNP and other parties have sent to voters, at the Party's expense, postal voting application forms," the spokesperson said.
"The minor parties who have not provided this service, try to score a political point against the LNP for helping voters.
"This service to the community has been taken up by hundreds of thousands of voters over many elections, especially in regional Queensland."
They said all postal vote applications were lodged with the Electoral Commission, which then sent the postal ballot directly to the voter.
"We record who has returned the form via our offices so that we can provide those voters with our policy material and a how to vote card, via mail or digitally," they said.
"The ECQ at this election has relaxed the requirements for lodging postal vote applications."
They quoted an email from ECQ Assistant Electoral Commissioner Wade Lewis who discussed the acceptability of an another person completing an online application on behalf of an elector.
"It is the ECQ's position that an elector who provides another person (e.g. a candidate, a party agent/official, or another person such as a friend or family member) with the relevant details may receive assistance from that person to complete their postal vote application online," Mr Lewis said.
"If your party is assisting electors in this way, the ECQ would be grateful if you could keep and provide to us a list of any such applications submitted on behalf of electors (including names, addresses, contact details, and the date on which the online application was made) so that we can then use those lists to assist with confirming whether an application has been made if there is, at any stage, any doubt or any inquiry made directly to us by those electors."
Labor's Rockhampton MP Barry O'Rourke and Keppel MP Brittany Lauga's offices confirmed they were not engaging in the practice of sending out postal ballot applications with reply paid envelopes addressed back to their party headquarters.
Ms Lauga said the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted every facet of our lives, and the State election was no different with more people opting to apply for a postal vote, rather than voting in person.
"Thanks to laws recently passed by the Palaszczuk Government, postal vote applications were opened on 14 September, much earlier than has ever been the case previously," she said.
"Palaszczuk Government MPs are providing a vital service to their constituents by assisting them completing and returning a postal vote application to the ECQ.
"The practice of MPs, or candidates, sending out postal vote applications to constituents, has been commonplace for quite some time, across all parties.
"Of course, the postal vote ballots themselves will be posted directly to the constituent, and will be returned directly to the ECQ."
Electoral Commission of Queensland provides clarity on the issue
An ECQ spokesperson said they didn't have a position on the practice of parties harvesting voter data before on-forwarding postal ballot applications.
"Political parties are able to contact electors about applying for a postal vote," the ECQ spokesperson said.
"If an elector chooses to use this service and returns the completed form to the party, the party will apply for the postal vote on the elector's behalf.
"Electors have the choice whether to not to be involved in this process and their details would only be provided to parties with their consent."
They said the Electoral Commission of Queensland's responsibilities regarding the delivery of a State general election were detailed in the Electoral Act 1992 and any changes to this Act must be passed by the parliament of Queensland.
• Electors who prefer to apply to the ECQ directly can do so at ecq.qld.gov.au/postal or by phoning the ECQ call centre on 1300 881 665.
• If you have a have postal vote application that you wish to mail directly to the ECQ, send it to the following address:
Electoral Commission of Queensland
GPO Box 1393, Brisbane QLD 4001
• Postal vote applications close on Friday, October 16.
• Postal vote ballot papers are sent from the ECQ after the close of candidate nominations, ballot paper order draw, and printing of ballot papers - around mid-October.