2 October 2023

We didn’t know: Aurukun voters caught out by AEC

| Matt Nicholls
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Aurukun mayor Keri Tamwoy and her son, Cr Kempo Tamwoy with last week’s edition of Cape York Weekly, which highlighted some of the Australian Electoral Commission’s shortcomings with remote polling booths in the Cape.

AURUKUN mayor Keri Tamwoy says the Australian Electoral Commission must do more to inform the communities of their voting options after many missed out on having their say in this year’s referendum.

A polling booth was set up in Aurukun last week for two days and the mayor said that a lot of locals did not understand that it was their only chance to cast a vote in person.

“We were told October 14 and a lot of people thought we could vote in Aurukun on that date,” she said.

“This week there has been a lot going on and a lot of people are away with school holidays.”

A bus was used on Tuesday to transport some community members to the polling booths, but numbers were well down on Wednesday when the town was virtually put on lockdown as an allegedly drunk driver hooned around the streets in a stolen vehicle.

“These are the things that can happen in communities and the AEC needs to understand that,” Cr Tamwoy said.

“There is no consistency from year to year on these remote booths. In other years we have been able to vote on the actual day, as well as early voting.”

Cape York Weekly was told by an AEC insider that many remote booths in the Cape and Torres Strait had poor attendance numbers last week.

Turnout at Lakeland and Laura was below par, they said.

Poorly-worded posters were placed in communities on notice boards that are rarely updated or often overcrowded.

In Aurukun, finding the AEC’s poster was like a game of Where’s Wally?.

The AEC is hoping that more people turn out for this week’s remote booths, with polling to take place in Napranum and Weipa, although Weipa will also have a polling booth on October 14 at the storm surge shelter in Rocky Point.

Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch said he was disappointed that many people did not know about the visits of the remote polling booths.

READ ALSO Remote voices to miss out on referendum

The MP wrote to Senator Don Farrell, the Special Minister of State, outlining his concerns.

“I write to bring to your attention a deeply troubling issue,” Mr Entsch said.

“The concerns focus on the lack of effective advertising and communication by the AEC in the lead-up to the upcoming referendum, particularly in Cape York and similar communities.

“Despite these communities’ limited internet connectivity, the AEC appears to rely heavily on digital and social media channels, with only one generic ad scheduled for print in Cape York Weekly.

“Moreover, the AEC has outsourced its advertising strategy to a Sydney-based firm, which is likely not attuned to the specific needs and circumstances of remote communities.

“The issue of communication extends to the very heart of democratic participation. Mr Nicholls has pointed out that the AEC has not actively advertised the dates and locations of its remote polling booths, which are crucial for enabling the residents of these communities to participate in the democratic process.

“In some cases, these booths are operational for only a few hours on a single day.

“If people are unaware of this, how are they expected to vote?

“I urge you to address these issues with the highest priority.

“I request that the AEC, under your purview, make immediate adjustments to its advertising strategy to better serve the needs of remote communities in Cape York and similar regions.”

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