West Australians will go back to the polls after a High Court judge formally voided last year’s disputed Senate election.
Justice Kenneth Hayne’s decision to overturn the election results means a fresh poll will be held but it is understood the decision on the date will be left up to Tony Abbott.
Justice Hayne, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, had signalled on Tuesday that a new election was on the cards after agreeing with the Australian Electoral Commission that the loss of 1370 ballot papers changed the close result.
This was because the number of lost votes exceeded the margin at a key point in the count.
He ruled the Australian Sports Party’s Wayne Dropulich and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam were not duly elected to the State’s fifth and sixth seats, which voided the whole election for all six senators.
Justice Hayne also ruled the taxpayers would pay for the legal costs of the political parties involved because of the AEC’s bungle.
A Senate only election in just one State has never been held.
The new poll is expected to cost taxpayers at least $13 million and attract a record number of candidates.
It has the potential to cost the Liberals one of the three seats it won in September, making Mr Abbott more reliant on crossbenchers to pass key legislation.
The AEC has been deeply embarrassed by the lost votes bungle.
The initial count gave Palmer United Party’s Dio Wang and Labor Senator Louise Pratt the last two seats but a re-count awarded the seats to the Sports Party’s Wayne Dropulich and the Greens’ Scott Ludlam.
The result hinged on whether the Australian Christian Party or the Shooters and Fishers Party were eliminated first.
PUP and Labor benefited with the Shooters 14 votes ahead but the re-count gave the Christians a 12-vote gap, changing preference flows.
Analysis of the original tallies show that if the ballot papers had not been lost, the Shooters would have been one vote ahead, delivering the seats to PUP and Labor.
Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson said it would be inappropriate for him to reflect on the reasons for the court's decision but blasted the AEC for its bungle.
"The people of Western Australia, having cast their vote at the last federal election, will rightly be aggrieved that the actions of the Australian Electoral Commission will force them to vote again in a fresh election," he said.
"It is incumbent upon the Australian Electoral Commission to ensure that never again will such a failure of process occur, as it did with the 1370 lost votes."