26 July 2016
by AAP

Herbert recount: Labor ahead of Coalition after counting error discovered

Bill Shorten and Cathy O’Toole in Townsville during the election campaign.

One Nation preferences mistakenly put in the Liberal National party candidate’s column rather than Labor’s.

Labor has slipped ahead of the Coalition in the final outstanding federal seat of Herbert after a preference counting error was found.

At 4pm, eastern time, on Monday, Labor’s Cathy O’Toole was 31 votes ahead of the sitting Liberal National party MP, Ewen Jones.

The Australian Electoral Commission had Jones 12 votes ahead of O’Toole earlier in the day but it is understood One Nation preferences from the Vincent State School booth were mistakenly put in the LNP candidate’s column rather than Labor’s. The recount is expected to be finalised on Tuesday.

LNP scrutineers have asked to see declaration vote envelopes but the AEC has objected. They have also sought to view the way in which votes are being keyed into the AEC computer but this has also been rejected.

On Monday afternoon a number of “challenge” votes were being reintegrated into the vote piles.

If the final recount ends with Labor ahead, it is likely the LNP will launch action in the Court of Disputed Returns. But a decision on this won’t be made until the result is formally declared.

The LNP senator Ian Macdonald said there were two issues that needed investigating.

One was the possibility that soldiers based in Townsville were among 628 Australian Defence Force personnel who were on Exercise Hamel in South Australia during the election campaign and did not cast their votes.

The other is whether 39 patients at the Townsville hospital were denied a vote in the late afternoon of election day.

Macdonald said he understood complaints were made to Townsville hospital staff that patients could not cast their ballots between 5pm and 6pm.

If the Coalition can retain Herbert, the Turnbull government will have 77 seats in the 150-seat parliament.

The shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, has written to the prime minister to query the involvement of attorney general, George Brandis, in the recount.

Brandis has declined to comment.

It is not uncommon for senior party members to be involved in election scrutineering, as their experience can pick up anomalies.