Updated: 25 November 2010
Parliamentary and ministerial support
In 2009–10, the AEC continued to provide support services to the parliament and the Special Minister of State in relation to the administration of the Electoral Act and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984.
During the year, the minister referred 97 letters on electoral matters to the AEC for input or preparation of draft responses. The major themes of the correspondence related to proposed electoral reforms to the election funding and financial disclosure regimes and voting by electors who are blind or have low vision. There were significant briefings on matters relating to allegations of breaching the electoral advertising requirements, and how-to-vote cards. The feedback provided to the AEC indicated that these briefings and proposed correspondence consistently met the minister's requirements for timeliness and quality.
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The Legal Services Section is part of the Legal and Compliance Branch and provides the full range of legal services to the AEC.
The section's activities in 2009–10 focused on:
- providing advice in relation to procurement exercises and contracts, particularly in relation to procurements relating to the next federal election
- providing advice and updating training material and publications in readiness for the 2010 federal election
- responding to requests for input to Cabinet submissions, particularly those that impact on electoral matters
- assisting in the taskforce reviewing responses to the two green papers on electoral reform issued by the government
- responding to requests from and preparing submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
- providing advice in relation to the AEC's administrative and other responsibilities under the Electoral Act, the Public Service Act, the FMA Act, the Fair Work Act 2009 and the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009
- instructing external solicitors and counsel in relation to a wide range of matters involving electoral laws and the conduct of industrial elections
- responding to subpoenas, notices to produce and other requirements for the release of information and documents
- instructing the Office of Parliamentary Counsel and preparing a wide range of supporting material for the various pieces of electoral and referendum legislation placed before the parliament in 2009–10
- instructing the Office of Legislative Drafting and Publication in the preparation of regulations to amend the Electoral and Referendum Regulations 1940
- investigating alleged breaches of electoral laws and where appropriate referring matters to the Australian Federal Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions
- dealing with requests for access to the Commonwealth electoral roll from a wide range of persons and organisations, including the police, medical researchers and the courts
- providing advice and training to assist the AEC to meet its obligations under the Privacy Act 1988, the Freedom of Information Act 1982, the Ombudsman Act 1986 and the Archives Act 1983
- providing advice on a wide range of other legal matters that impact on the operations of the AEC.
The AEC was involved in a large legislation program in 2009–10, both to respond to matters raised by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and to address government initiatives arising from two green papers on electoral reform.
The Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2009, introduced in 2008–09, did not advance in the Senate during 2009–10.
The AEC worked on five Bills that were introduced into the parliament during the reporting period, namely:
- the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill 2010
- the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2010
- the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Pre-poll Voting and Other Measures) Bill 2010
- the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2010
- the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (How-to-Vote Cards and Other Measures) Bill 2010.
The last three of these Bills passed through the parliament in late June 2010.
The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and other Measures) Bill 2010 did not proceed and was split into two new Bills: the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2010 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Pre-poll Voting and Other Measures) Bill 2010.
The following is a summary of the main measures contained in the four Bills that proceeded to the Senate in late June 2010:
- The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2010 contains measures to implement two government 2007 election commitments: to restore the close of rolls period to seven days after the issue of the writ for an election and to repeal the requirement for provisional voters to provide evidence of identity before their votes are admitted to scrutiny.
- The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Pre-poll Voting and Other Measures) Bill 2010 contains measures that will enable pre-poll votes cast in an elector's 'home' division to be cast and counted as ordinary votes rather than declaration votes; allow the AEC to process enrolment transactions outside the division for which the person is enrolling; enable electors to update their address details electronically; limit to one candidate the number of candidates that can be endorsed by a political party for each division; and provide a framework for voters who are blind or have low vision to cast a secret vote by electronically assisted means.
- The Electoral and Referendum Legislation Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2010 contains measures that will remove the requirement to publish enrolment and election-related forms and information in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette and substitute the requirement for the Electoral Commissioner to publish the information, at a minimum, on the AEC's website; provide that people seeking to enrol need to include with their application either their driver's licence number, passport number or an attestation of identity signed by an elector; reduce the age at which people may provisionally enrol from 17 years old to 16 years old; allow for electronic roll information to be provided to parliamentarians and allow for electronic certified lists; introduce flexibility to print ballot papers at the local level by removing the technical requirement for ballot papers to be 'overprinted'; introduce one form of mobile polling which may visit anywhere that the Electoral Commissioner determines, to remove inconsistencies that currently exist in the arrangements for visits to various places or institutions; enable a person to apply for a postal vote electronically by removing the requirement for an application for a postal vote to be signed and witnessed; clarify that inspection of the roll does not include electronically copying or recording the roll; provide flexibility in enrolment provisions to seek a greater enrolment participation rate by people experiencing homelessness; expand the grounds upon which a person may cast a pre-poll or postal vote; and make a number of minor technical amendments.
- The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (How-to-Vote Cards and Other Measures) Bill 2010 contains measures that will provide for a definition of 'how-to-vote card'; expand the authorisation requirements on how-to-vote cards so that it is clearer who will benefit from the preference flow suggested on the card; and insert two new offences of distributing an unauthorised how-to-vote card and distributing a how-to-vote card with a false authorisation.
Amendments contained in each of these Bills also amended the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 to ensure consistency between the conduct of elections and the conduct of referendums.
The AEC expended $205 266 on external legal services in 2009–10. 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 $589 367 expended in 2008–09. This was mainly due to the finalisation of legal proceedings relating to election activities under the Electoral Act.
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The AEC's national office–based library service provides a range of client-focused information services to all AEC staff.
Its primary aim is to be a proactive library service that supports the operational, informational and research needs and activities of all staff within the AEC, and maximises access to information resources for its decentralised client base.
The service continues to provide a limited range of hard-copy reference materials, including books, historical publications, reports and a wide range of journals, and circulates links to services which provide relevant and reliable information. In order to make information more readily accessible, a major focus in 2009–10 was to increase access to a greater range of electronic resources and research services, including subscriptions to journals, data bases and email alerts. As printed journals become available online, subscriptions are being converted to electronic access.
To improve access to information, hard-copy resources located in the library were reviewed, updated and re-catalogued over the last 12 months. Special attention was paid to the serials collection and historical records. The review has ensured that materials available to staff are relevant and current and provide easier access to our own collection.
There has been a significant increase in demand for research support by AEC staff. In the last 12 months, more than 150 items were retrieved through inter-library loan lending and document delivery services. This reflects a steady demand for reference services and demand for information.
The AEC's records management and library staff collaborate to ensure appropriate resources are preserved.
Intranet functionality has been expanded and improved through an enhanced intranet page to further facilitate access to the Library's services and resources.
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The AEC introduced the Balanced Scorecard method of monthly reporting from 1 July 2009. The development of the Balanced Scorecard is evolving as senior managers refine the reporting requirements. The monthly reports contain performance information, across a range of business activities, which assists the Executive Management Group in identifying trends in data and highlights areas of concern. The monthly reports also facilitate the monitoring of agency risks and allow timely remedial actions to be implemented across key service delivery areas.
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Information and communications technology
The AEC has a hybrid sourcing model for the delivery of information and communication technology services, harnessing both in-house and external resources. During 2009–10, the AEC focused on modernising its IT infrastructure. Projects included:
- implementing new voice, data and mobile phone services and the virtual server fleet
- relocating the data centre from the national office by moving to contract data centre arrangements
- replacing the desktop personal computer fleet and updating the desktop operating system
- expanding remote access services to accommodate a more mobile workforce
- preparing for the conduct of the 2010 federal election, including testing the market for IT arrangements for the national tally room
- transferring to a new web hosting and secure internet gateway provider.
In the year ahead, the focus will be on conducting the federal election and modernising the AEC's interaction with clients. In particular, the AEC will:
- support the conduct of the 2010 federal election
- create a three-year rolling IT strategic plan
- look at enabling technologies, to identify opportunities to improve communication
- continue the program of infrastructure modernisation.
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In 2009–10, the AEC increased its internal communication focus and capability. In September 2009, a new internal communication team was established to improve and better utilise communication tools and channels, and to increase the effectiveness of internal communication. The team also provided an internal communication consultancy service to the Executive and to business areas.
The AEC's key activities requiring internal communication support included the introduction of the new strategic plan; the implementation of changes to electoral legislation and other electoral reform initiatives; the introduction of the Investing In Our People employee engagement program; and initiatives to grow the electoral roll.
The major internal communication initiatives included:
- An upgraded intranet was launched in February as the primary internal communication channel. The new intranet is automatically uploaded to staff members' desktop computers when they log on each day, and provides a daily news service with information and updates on AEC activities and achievements. Content is easier to find through improved navigation and search functions. Usage data is captured to inform improvements and measure use and effectiveness.
- In 2009–10 the AEC introduced vodcasting (video communication) to enable the Electoral Commissioner to communicate on significant issues with the AEC's dispersed workforce. A monthly Electoral Commissioner's seminar series involving presentations by senior APS leaders is also made available to all staff through vodcasting. Trials of videoconferencing between state and territory offices and the divisional office network also commenced.
- An internal communication survey was conducted in March 2010 to assess the use and effectiveness of some internal communication channels and measure awareness of significant AEC activities and initiatives. The results have been used to develop an internal communication strategy for the AEC executive and to improve the effectiveness of employee communication tools. The results also provide benchmarks for future research and analysis.
Other internal communication initiatives included:
- internal promotions to celebrate the AEC's twenty-fifth anniversary, including an employee competition to win attendance at the AEC Colloquium 2009
- greater use of the intranet by the Electoral Commissioner and national program managers to communicate with employees, including the introduction of Roll Play, an employee e-newsletter focusing on all issues relating to management and growth of the electoral roll
- visits by the Electoral Commissioner to every state and territory at the commencement of 2010 to present the strategy and directions for the year
- a campaign to provide employees with information about the 2010–11 enterprise agreement bargaining process and encourage participation in the ballot
- an internal communication strategy to support election preparation and development of internal communication tools for the next federal election.