We continued to provide a full range of legal services in 2011–12. This was the responsibility of our Legal Services section, within the Legal and Compliance Branch.

Electoral-related services

We investigated alleged breaches of electoral laws and, where appropriate, referred matters to the Australian Federal Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

We handled 38 allegations of breaches of Part XXI of the Electoral Act. Most of these complaints related to an alleged failure to include the authorisation details on electoral advertisements that appeared in newspapers or on the Internet. Of the complaints, 10 were found to be non-compliant with undertakings sought to correct the mistake and to ensure that systems were in place to prevent any recurrence of the unlawful action. One matter was referred to the Australian Federal Police for investigation.

The Legal Services section advised our staff on their procurement exercises and contracts, particularly for procurements relating to federal elections. They also updated staff training material and publications in readiness for the next federal election.

Administrative services

We provided a range of administrative-related services, including:

  • advising of the AEC’s administrative and other responsibilities under the Electoral Act, the Public Service Act 1999, the FMA ACT, the Fair Work Act 2009 and the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009,
  • advising on a wide range of other legal matters that impacted on the operations of the AEC, and
  • advising and providing training to help staff meet AEC obligations under the Privacy Act 1988, the Freedom of Information Act 1982, the Ombudsman Act 1986 and the Archives Act 1983.

Services to external organisations

We worked with other government agencies and provided legal services, including:

  • instructing the Office of Parliamentary Counsel and preparing a wide range of supporting material for various pieces of electoral and referendum legislation that were placed before parliament in 2011–12, and
  • instructing the Office of Legislation Drafting and Publication in the preparation of regulations to amend the Electoral and Referendum Regulations 1940.

We also dealt with external requests, including:

  • access to the Commonwealth electoral roll from a wide range of persons and organisations,
  • responding to subpoenas, notices to produce, and other requirements for the release of information and documents, and
  • instructing external solicitors and counsel in relation to a wide range of matters involving electoral laws.

Parliamentary-related services

We responded to requests for input to Cabinet submissions, particularly those that impacted on electoral matters.

We responded to requests and prepared submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM), and assisted in the Electoral Reform Task Force, which reviewed responses to various committee reports.

In 2011–12, we also continued to be involved with a large legislation program that responds to matters raised by JSCEM and aims to address other government initiatives. We used these opportunities to seek support for the Commission’s modernisation theme.

Legislation program

On 20 October 2010, the government introduced the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill, as the 2009 Bill had lapsed at the dissolution of the previous parliament prior to the 21 August 2010 Federal Election. The government made some minor amendments relating to the commencement date.

The Bill passed the House of Representatives on 17 November 2010 and was introduced into the Senate on the same date. The Bill remains on the Senate notice paper. The measures contained in this Bill were also the subject of scrutiny and recommendations in the November 2011 JSCEM report on the funding of political parties and election campaigns.

We also worked on two other Bills that have been introduced into the parliament during 2011–12:

The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 implements the government’s response to recommendation 10 of JSCEM’s report on the conduct of the 2007 Federal Election and related matters. This report was released on 22 June 2009, following the committee’s inquiry into the conduct of the 2007 federal election. The Bill amends the Electoral Act and the Referendum Act.

The Bill contains provisions that will:

  • allow the Electoral Commissioner to directly update an elector’s enrolled address following the receipt and analysis of reliable and current data sources from outside the AEC that indicate a voter has moved residential address,
  • require the Electoral Commissioner to inform a voter that the Electoral Commissioner is proposing to update the elector’s address on the electoral roll,
  • require the Electoral Commissioner to inform a voter that the Electoral Commissioner has updated the elector’s enrolled address,
  • enable objection action under Part IX of the Electoral Act to be discontinued and the elector’s enrolled address updated so that the voter is not removed from the electoral roll,
  • make a number of consequential amendments to the Electoral Act and Referendum Act,
  • standardise references to the Electoral Commissioner, and
  • provide for the Electoral Commissioner to delegate the power to seek information.

The Bill will not provide the capacity to directly enrol new electors.

The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012 implements the government’s response to JSCEM recommendations 1 and 24. It also amends the Electoral Act and the Referendum Act.

The Bill contains provisions that will:

  • allow the Electoral Commissioner to directly enrol a person if satisfied that the person is entitled to enrolment, has lived at an address for at least one month and is not enrolled,
  • require the Electoral Commissioner to inform the person that the Electoral Commissioner is proposing to enrol the person at a particular address,
  • require the Electoral Commissioner to inform the person that the Electoral Commissioner has enrolled the person at a particular address,
  • allow the Electoral Commissioner to admit certain declaration votes to the scrutiny,
  • allow the Electoral Commissioner to enrol certain persons who have cast declaration votes and who had been removed from the roll, and
  • make a number of minor and technical amendments.

Both Bills passed the House of Representatives on 21 March 2012, and passed the Senate on 21 June 2012. The Bills are designed to protect the participation of eligible Australians in the electoral process by establishing a safety net for enrolment and voting.

External legal services

We spent $362 825 on external legal services in 2011–12. This included fees to firms on the panel of legal service providers, counsels’ fees, court costs and miscellaneous charges. This was a decrease of more than 27 per cent from the $497 823 expended in 2010–11. The decrease was mainly due to the finalisation of matters still active from the 2010 Federal Election.

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