An ex-Noreen Hay staffer has been sentenced to 450 hours of community service and fined $2000 for engaging in electoral fraud just months before the 2015 state election.
Susan Greenhalgh, who worked in the former Wollongong MP’s electoral office for nine years, learned of the sentence at Albion Park Local Court on Thursday.
She immediately lodged an appeal, which will be heard in Wollongong District Court on September 21.
Greenhalgh was found guilty of knowingly using forged electoral enrollment application forms on five occasions in the lead-up to a pre-selection vote which saw Ms Hay beat Paul Scully and Ann Martin to be returned as the party’s Wollongong candidate ahead of the election.
In May, the court heard Greenhalgh signed and electronically lodged four change of address applications and one fresh enrollment application with the Australian Electoral Commission on November 6, 2014, which moved four people from living outside the Wollongong electoral district to living inside it.
Three were listed as living with the party’s branch secretary in Hillcrest St, Wollongong. Another man had his address changed from Fernhill, in the Keira electorate, to Coniston, where he had not lived for five years.
A fifth person - a British citizen with longstanding ties to Ms Hay’s partner - was enrolled to vote, despite not being eligible under the law.
On each occasion, Greenhalgh signed the forms using “a squiggle” before submitting them to the AEC.
Four out of the five people told the court they had no idea the forms had been submitted on their behalf and they'd never given permission for it to be done. They also denied living at the addresses on the forms.
The British citizen said she had given Greenhalgh permission to enroll her, however the court heard Greenhalgh was aware the woman was legally not allowed to vote.
In handing down the sentence in Albion Park Local Court on Thursday, Magistrate Susan McGowan told Greenhalgh she was “within a whisker of going to jail”.
Magistrate McGowan described the offences as “serious” and said they had a direct affect on the reliability and integrity of the electoral system.
“It does strike at the heart of our democratic system,” she said.
“You cannot go around tampering with the electoral roll and hoping for the best. It will not do.”
Greenhalgh’s lawyer, Cate Doosey, earlier argued the offences fell at the lower end of the severity scale.
Ms Doosey told the court the 37-year-old mother-of-three had been “buffeted” by a life of adversity and had played a “rescuing role and a caring role” for her mother and family.
Magistrate McGowan said while the offences did fall towards the lower end of criminality and Greenhalgh did not benefit personally, the democratic system was put “at risk”.