Serpentine-Jarrahdale residents will be sent back to the polling booth after the council election was declared invalid, ending a nine-month lawsuit over a result shrouded in controversy.
Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale residents will be sent back to the polling booth after the council election was declared invalid, ending a nine-month lawsuit over a result shrouded in controversy.
Doubt was cast over the validity of the October election after two people connected to northern ward candidate Gurdeep Singh were arrested and later convicted of stealing at least 50 ballot papers.
Shortly after Mr Singh was deemed successful and sworn in, fellow candidate Shaye Mack took to the Western Australian Electoral Commission requesting that they invalidate his nomination.
But when those talks failed, Mr Mack escalated the matter to the Court of Disputed Returns, requesting the result be declared void, Mr Singh vacate the position and that a fresh election be called.
Less than a fortnight later, the shire council also asked the court to consider the evidence and support that request, if deemed appropriate.
During the hearings, the WAEC warned of "electoral fatigue" within the shire if the process was to be repeated.
Mr Singh also cited concerns about the impact of another election, telling the court the ongoing media coverage linking him to the theft would work to disadvantage him.
But that wasn't enough to sway Magistrate Trevor Darge, who granted Mr Mack’s request in part in court this morning by deeming the election invalid.
In delivering his determination, magistrate Darge said he was convinced that there was still significant uncertainty surrounding the extent of the interference and the degree to which it affected the election.
Magistrate Darge was quick to stress, however, that he was not in any way suggesting that Mr Singh was the mastermind behind the fraud.
The parties will now be given three weeks to decide when the new election should take place.
Outside court, Mr Mack expressed his relief that the matter had finally drawn to a close, conceding that the process had been taxing on both him and his family.
“It is relieving to actually have a ruling which shows that there is still some integrity in our democratic process,” he said.
“Ultimately, I've had to spend nine months of my time fighting this, risking thousands of dollars in court costs that I could have potentially been left with, just to argue that fraud shouldn't be considered acceptable in an Australian democracy.
“It's been a taxing nine months.”
Shire president Michelle Rich said the council was pleased the matter had been decided and confirmed the shire would now call a special meeting of council to consider the timing and format for the fresh election.
“We will work with the Western Australian Electoral Commission to ensure the fresh election is held in a timely way so that ratepayers in the North Ward have all three of their democratically elected representatives sitting within the council as soon as possible," she said.
Mr Mack intends to run again in the next election.
Business News understands the election cost more than $30,000 to run.