Year in review

AEC overview

Report on performance: Outcome 1

Report on performance: Outcome 2

Report on performance: Outcome 3

Management and accountability



Financial statements

Program 2.1 – Federal elections, by-elections and referendums

Updated: 25 November 2010

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Following the completion of the AEC review of the 2007 election during 2008–09, continue with the implementation of associated enhancements to AEC systems, practices, procedures and materials in advance of the next federal election.

Timely, and as appropriate, AEC implementation of the Government's response to the 2007 election.

Successful conduct of any by-elections in the financial year as required.


The AEC's responsibility for conducting federal elections, by-elections and referendums includes:

  • maintaining a high level of readiness, to ensure that events can be conducted within statutory timeframes
  • delivering products for electors, from polling place equipment to public information campaigns
  • delivering products for AEC staff, such as procedural and training materials and computerised systems
  • monitoring, evaluating and reporting on the way events are conducted.

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Table 18 summarises the AEC's results against the performance information set out for Program 2.1 in the 2009–10 Portfolio Budget Statements.

Table 18 Program 2.1 – Federal elections, by-elections and referendums: performance results
Key performance indicators Targets Results
Federal electoral events (including by-elections) are successfully delivered as required within the reporting period AEC election practices and management are in accordance with relevant legislation Operational systems, equipment and procedures were in place and contributed to the successful conduct of the 2009 by-elections in the divisions of Bradfield and Higgins.
All election tasks are carried out in accordance with legislated timeframes All legislative requirements were met in relation to the conduct of the 2009 by-elections in the divisions of Bradfield and Higgins.
Election preparedness and key milestones High level of election preparedness maintained and key milestones met Systems, equipment and procedures necessary to conduct an electoral event were in place.

Federal election preparations

The AEC continued with the Election Preparation Program (EPP) in 2009–10. The EPP provides a whole-of-AEC view of preparations for the next federal election, and the level of completion of individual projects. It is used as a framework for monitoring and reporting against preparation goals.

A key component of the EPP was to have the AEC 'election ready' at 30 June 2010. To provide assurance that the AEC was in a position to conduct an election at the date, and as a due diligence measure, during the month of June an assurance team was established and tasked with reviewing key elements of the EPP and identifying any areas of risk requiring attention. The team was led by the State Manager for Queensland and reported to the Electoral Commissioner and the Executive Management Group. Members of the team included state and national office staff with relevant experience in the planning for and conduct of electoral events across all levels of the organisation.

In working towards election readiness, the AEC focused on having the people, premises, products, policies, processes and systems in place for the effective conduct of an election, and making sure that those resources will be ready where and when they are required.

To test the AEC's election delivery capacity and give staff an opportunity to practise their election roles, a simulated election exercise was conducted from September 2009 to April 2010. The exercise was supported by the election delivery training program and closely followed the activities and processes undertaken by AEC staff in a federal election. A full review of the delivery mechanism and approach for the simulated election will be conducted following the 2010 federal event. The review will be based on analysis of feedback received both during the exercise and through a formal survey conducted at the conclusion of the event.

Table 19 sets out some key achievements for 2009–10.

Table 19 Key elements of federal election preparations in 2009–10

Call centre services

Centrelink was contracted to provide call centre and product fulfilment services, including:

  • up to 500 operators to respond to telephone and email inquiries and product requests
  • a map-based polling place locator facility
  • a facility for call centre staff to capture enquiry type and postcode, to allow analysis of developing trends.

Centrelink and the AEC worked together to establish capability in operational aspects such as sites, training and IT.


Production of cardboard polling equipment and declaration vote envelopes was completed. The AEC also reviewed election forms and other equipment and completed the purchase of major election equipment items. Forms and equipment were purchased across all offices.

Polling place locator service

A contract was established for the provision of a map-based polling place and AEC site locator service to be used via an iPhone application and on the AEC website to support the election call centre services.

Scanning services

A new contract for the provision of scanning services was arranged and a range of changes to the processes involved in scanning were implemented to improve tracking of progress.


Enhancement of the major election management systems continued, including enhancements to implement anticipated legislative changes.

The automated Central Senate Scrutiny system was rewritten to accommodate a platform migration. A National Association of Testing Authorities accreditation was subsequently obtained for the system.


Election delivery training, for both permanent AEC staff and temporary polling officials, was restructured to reflect adult learning principles and take advantage of the online delivery options now available through the AEC's learning management system.

Voting methods

The postal vote issuing system was improved. For example, refinements were made to more closely target initial delivery areas for Australian Defence Force members serving overseas, and arrangements were made with Australia Post and the Department of Defence to ensure early uplift to those areas. Test runs of the system were conducted, including a full dress rehearsal using 150 000 records.

Informed by the work of a reference group of service providers and representatives, a mechanism was developed to allow blind and low vision voters to vote in secret by telephoning a call centre from an AEC divisional office or certain early voting centres.

Conduct of by-elections

The AEC successfully conducted by-elections for the Division of Bradfield in New South Wales and the Division of Higgins in Victoria, within the legislated timeframes.

The AEC developed and implemented a comprehensive communication strategy for the by-elections, including state-wide and local advertising, public relations activities, publications and an election website.

The virtual tally room, accessible through the AEC website, was used to communicate the results of the by-elections. The virtual tally room provided reliable, rapid access to results, and was used extensively by members of the public, the media and political parties.

The number of people who voted in the Bradfield by-election totalled 95 083, which equates to an 81.5 percent turnout rate. The number of people who voted in the Higgins by-election totalled 88 130, which equates to a 79.0 percent turnout rate.

Table 20 sets out the details of the events.

Table 20 Details of by-elections conducted in 2009–10
  Division of Bradfield Division of Higgins
Key dates
– issue of writs 30 October 2009 30 October 2009
– close of rolls 9 November 2009 9 November 2009
– declaration of nominations 13 November 2009 13 November 2009
– polling day 5 December 2009 5 December 2009
– declaration of the poll 15 December 2009 14 December 2009
– return of writs 16 December 2009 16 December 2009
No. of nominated candidates 22 10
No. of declaration votes issued by close of business on 4 December 2009 pre-poll 5 672
postal 5 017
pre-poll 8 287
postal 6 858
No. of provisional votes 89 99
No. of ordinary votes counted on polling night 66 746 54 393
Proportion of    
– ordinary votes 86.1% 78.1%
– provisional votes 0.1% 0.1%
– pre-poll votes 7.3% 11.9%
– postal votes 6.5% 9.9%
Successful candidate received more than 50% of votes on polling night Yes Yes
Proportion of the total votes that were informal 9.0% 4.2%

The high proportion of informal votes cast at the Bradfield by-election was attributed to a large proportion of voters (40.5 percent) placing non-sequential numbering on the ballot paper, and to the high number of candidates (22).

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Divisional history: Mallee, Victoria

The Division of Mallee, in the north-western corner of Victoria, celebrated its sixtieth birthday in 2009. Mallee was one of 48 new electoral divisions instituted by the Representation Act 1948.

In 1949, when it was created, the division took in 51 800 square kilometres and included the major regional centres of Mildura, Swan Hill and Kerang.

Today, the Division of Mallee covers more than 70 000 square kilometres, bordered by the Murray River to the north and the South Australian border to the west. The number of registered electors has also increased over time, from 37 387 in 1949 to almost 90 000 in 2010.

The borders of the electorate have been redistributed several times to take account of fluctuations in population. The biggest change occurred in 1977, when the neighbouring Division of Wimmera was abolished as the result of a general decline in the population of Victoria. With the abolition of Wimmera, Mallee gained a large slice of territory to the south, but lost some of its eastern sub-divisions to the Division of Murray. The number of enrolled electors in Mallee jumped from 51 260 in May 1977 to 64 972 by the end of that year.

The first election for the seat of Mallee was held in 1949. Polling was conducted by electoral officers in a wide range of venues, from schools and post offices to private residences. The large geographic size of the division, combined with poor roads and patchy distribution of telephone and electricity services made the administration of early elections in Mallee a challenging task for electoral staff. The size of the electorate and distribution of the population still combine to make conducting an election a considerable feat: for the 2010 election, the division will support 101 polling places.

The electors of Mallee have known extraordinary stability in their parliamentary representation. Since 1949, Mallee has been served by just three members of parliament: Sir Winton Turnbull CBE (1949–72), Mr Peter Fisher (1972–93) and Mr John Forrest (since 1993).

The divisional office for Mallee was opened in Mildura in 1949 and has remained in the city ever since – indeed, it has been in the same premises, on Ninth St, since around 1968. In 2010, the office employs three staff.

The Mallee divisional office has launched some distinguished careers in Australian electoral administration. Mr Bobbie Nicholls served as the Divisional Office Manager for Mallee for most of the 1950s, before being appointed the Australian Electoral Officer for Western Australia in 1973. His successor, Mr Harry Harmer, ran the division from 1963 to 1975, when he took up the post of Deputy Australian Electoral Officer for South Australia.

The longest serving Divisional Office Manager for Mallee was Mr Laurence Jaensch, who served in the role from 1982 until his retirement in 2005, a very laudable 23 years. Laurie had begun working in the Mildura office as a clerk in 1973. The current Divisional Office Manager is Mr Paul Eklom.