Australian Government Considers Appeal to Extend Majority

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) —
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addresses party supporters during a rally in Sydney, Sunday, July 3, 2016, following a general election. The elections, which pit the conservative coalition government against the center-left Labor Party, cap an extraordinarily volatile period in the nation's politics. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addresses party supporters during a rally in Sydney, July 3, following the general election. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Australia’s razor-close election could end up in court, with the re-elected government on Monday holding out hope of extending its single-seat majority.

The candidate whom Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s conservative government hoped would deliver it a 77th seat in the 150-seat House of Representatives, Ewen Jones, conceded defeat Monday in his Queensland state electoral district of Herbert, a month after the July 2 election.

But Jones said his Liberal National Party, which is part of Turnbull’s coalition, should appeal the result, which was the closest of the election. The Court of Disputed Returns could give the seat to Jones or order a new election in Herbert.

The party has until Sept. 17 to make its case. Jones lost his seat to center-left opposition Labor Party candidate Cathy O’Toole by 37 votes after 88,337 votes were counted, then recounted.

“The decision on whether we mount a court challenge in the Court of Disputed Returns is a decision of the party, but I would be agreeing with it if we did take it to the Court of Disputed Returns,” Jones told reporters.

Turnbull on Monday confirmed that his government was considering appealing the result, but has declined to detail on what grounds.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said potential grounds included complaints that soldiers based in Herbert were unable to vote because they were away on a military exercise. There were also complaints that some hospital patients were denied opportunities to cast ballots, he said.

The court could give the seat to Jones if it found sufficient votes had been incorrectly tallied for O’Toole or wrongly disregarded as invalid because of mistakes on ballot papers. It could also order a new election in Herbert if enough eligible voters had been denied a ballot through some error by election officials.

Turnbull’s majority is made more precarious because the government is likely to appoint a speaker from its 76 lawmakers when Parliament sits on Aug. 30. The speaker can only vote to break a tie, which means the government can usually only rely on 75 votes in the House of Representatives.

Successful appeals are rare in federal elections. But the Senate election in Western Australia state in 2013 had to be repeated after 1,370 ballot papers were mislaid.

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