In 2008–09, the AEC continued to provide support services to the Parliament and the Special Minister of State in relation to the administration of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Electoral Act).
During the year, the Minister referred 98 letters on electoral matters to the AEC for input or preparation of draft responses. The major themes of the correspondence related to voting procedures, funding and disclosure matters and electoral reform. Briefings consistently met the Minister's requirements for timeliness and quality.
Representatives from the AEC and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) met to discuss matters of interest arising out of the AEC's 2007–08 annual report, and key issues the JSCEM wished to address in its Report on the conduct of the 2007 federal election and matter related thereto. This report was tabled in parliament on 22 June 2009.
The Legal Services section is part of the Chief Legal Officer unit and provides the full range of legal services to the AEC. The Chief Legal Officer has managerial responsibility for the Legal Services Section, which includes five lawyers and one paralegal support staff member.
The section's activities in 2008–09 focused on:
As noted in the 2007–08 annual report, the Legal Services Section has been involved with a range of litigation related to the November 2007 general election. With the exception of one matter, all of those proceedings have been concluded. Action is now focused on the enforcement of the various costs orders that were made in favour of the AEC.
The urgent measures contained in the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2008 did not pass the Senate in early 2009. This Bill was introduced into the Senate on 15 May 2008 and proposed amendments to the funding and disclosure provisions in the Electoral Act. A revised Bill, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2009, passed the House of Representatives on 16 March 2009 and was introduced into the Senate on the following day. The measures in this Bill are yet to be debated in the Senate.
The Legal Services Section has also been involved with the preparation of proposed measures to meet various recommendations by the JSCEM and to facilitate the modernisation of enrolment and other measures in the Electoral Act.
The AEC expended $589 367 on external legal services in 2008–09. This included fees to firms on the panel of legal service providers, counsels' fees, court costs and miscellaneous charges. This was a decrease from the $1 092 304 expended in 2007–08. This was mainly due to a decrease in the litigation involving the AEC, which is usual in non-election years, and the increasing use of standard procurement and contract templates prepared by external legal service providers.
The AEC provides an in-house library service to all AEC staff, from a small library based in national office. The aim of the AEC library is to satisfy the information needs of AEC staff by sustaining a continuing collection of research material within the AEC's subject interests.
The library service is reducing its holdings of hardcopy materials and increasing its focus on the timely provision of information in electronic formats and through online services, across the AEC network. The library provides regular bulletins to staff by email and through the staff newsletter, Scrutiny, to advise of new publications or articles available on electoral issues.
A review of the library's collection policy commenced in 2009. The revised policy will ensure consistency and continuity is applied to acquisitions.
The AEC continued to produce sets of high-level, organisation-wide quarterly reports to assist senior executives and state managers to monitor key business activities and manage performance and workloads. The reports outline key data at various levels to identify gaps and trends in performance over time, against agreed benchmarks. The aim is to complement other business area reports designed to assess the overall health of the organisation.
In 2008–09, the AEC reviewed its internal reporting arrangements. As a result of the review, a decision was made to introduce 'balanced scorecard' reporting into the AEC from 1 July 2009. The balanced scorecard is designed to meet an overarching need for high-level performance information across a range of agency effectiveness indicators. It is also intended that the balanced scorecard will report high-level information about electoral service delivery in line with the key performance indicators contained in the annual Portfolio Budget Statements. Regular reporting will facilitate the monitoring of agency risks and provide for timely remedial actions to be determined across key service delivery areas.
The AEC has a hybrid sourcing model for the delivery of information and communication technology services, harnessing both in-house and external resources. During 2008–09, the IT Branch focused on modernising its infrastructure and maintaining capability. Projects included:
In addition, there has been a forensic scrutiny of the information and communication technology spend within the AEC in response to the Review of the Australian Government's Use of Information and Communication Technology conducted by Sir Peter Gershon.
In the year ahead, the focus will be on completing the infrastructure upgrade, preparing a robust environment for the next federal election, and working collaboratively with other electoral jurisdictions to deliver systems that are more elector-centric. In particular, the AEC will:
In 2008–09, the AEC placed a renewed emphasis on internal communication, with the introduction of initiatives to address employee engagement and increase the effectiveness of internal communication tools and channels.
The AEC's key challenges requiring internal communication support included the appointment of the new Electoral Commissioner, the development of the AEC's response to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquiry, the inquiry into the ballot paper formality at the 2007 federal election, the 25th anniversary celebrations and the AEC's performance in the annual Australian Public Service State of the Service Employee Survey.
The major internal communication initiatives included:
Following the development of a technical infrastructure roadmap early in the financial year, the AEC undertook several software modernisation projects, including an upgrade of the desktop productivity suites of software.
The AEC introduced Lotus Domino/Notes mail facilities in the late 1990s; by 2007, they were in need of at least two version upgrades. They were also provided by a different vendor to the supplier of other office productivity software, Microsoft. The AEC chose a technology path that would minimise the number of strategic partnerships with vendors, and ensure that the right components and products were delivered at the operational level. This led to a decision to move the corporate email platform away from Notes to a Microsoft Office 2007 product.
A small team was responsible for delivering the mail system upgrade, a challenging project that involved collaboration with different vendors. As the first phase, Microsoft's Office 2007 products were introduced in September 2008. The second phase introduced mail and mail archive facilities based on Microsoft's Exchange and Outlook products in late 2008.
Prior to any software changes being made, a separate project was undertaken to provide a mechanism to roll software out across the AEC's wide area network. Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager tools were deployed to provide a foundation for the technical phases of the software rollouts. This in itself was a significant achievement.
Most of the mail project's preparation work was undertaken between August and early December 2008, using only internal technical resources, supported by Microsoft where necessary. A need for a change in email archiving practices emerged, and AXS/One archive was selected to provide an archive solution endorsed by Microsoft.
Particular attention was paid during the preparation phases of the software modernisation projects to keeping staff informed about developments and timings, and to providing high-quality training materials and user aids.
The mail system was cut over without any problems, and the new mail software was ready for business use throughout the AEC on 15 December 2008. The new mail archive is still being populated; it will provide seven years worth of forensic-standard email holdings when the process is finished, later in 2009.
The success of the series of software projects undertaken and the high level of acceptance of the training materials developed by the AEC has led to these resources being taken up by several other Australian Government agencies that are considering undertaking such complex projects.
The AEC now has a modern office productivity platform in place to leverage for current and future needs.