Parliamentary scrutiny

During 2011–12, we remained accountable to the federal parliament, primarily in relation to our statutory responsibilities under the Electoral Act, the Referendum Act, and related legislation. We contributed to governance and oversight through providing evidence to various parliamentary committees. These committees examine and report on specific subject areas.

JSCEM continues to be the primary forum for consideration of and public debate on matters relating to electoral laws and practices, and their administration. We supported this committee in its role of inquiring into and reporting on the conduct of federal electoral events, and other electoral matters deemed relevant to the parliament.

Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters

JSCEM conducted six inquiries into electoral matters, and released reports throughout 2011–12.

Inquiry into the conduct of the 2010 federal election and matters related thereto

On 7 July 2011, JSCEM tabled its report on the conduct of the 2010 federal election. This is the result of its inquiry into all aspects of the 2010 federal election and related matters, which began in November 2010. We lodged 10 submissions to the inquiry, and provided evidence at the committee’s public hearings held in Canberra and Adelaide.

Three pieces of legislation were introduced to implement some of the committee’s recommendations. The legislation relates to direct update of enrolment and direct enrolment as well as postal voting and nomination provisions:

Shortly following the introduction of these Bills into parliament, each Bill was separately referred to the committee for inquiry.

Inquiries into the Bills

In November 2011, JSCEM commenced its inquiry into the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011. We lodged two submissions and provided evidence at a public hearing in Canberra. The committee tabled its Advisory Report on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 on 13 March 2012, recommending that the legislation be passed as proposed.

In February 2012, JSCEM commenced its inquiry into the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012. We lodged three submissions and provided evidence at the committee’s public hearing in Canberra. JSCEM tabled its Advisory Report on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012 on 19 March 2012, again recommending that the legislation be passed as proposed.

Both bills were passed by the House of Representatives on 21 March and in the Senate on 21 June.

In June 2012, JSCEM commenced its inquiry into the Electoral and Referendum (Improving Electoral Procedure) Bill 2012. We lodged a submission and provided evidence at a public hearing in Canberra on 16 July 2012. The inquiry is still in progress.

Inquiry into the funding of political parties and election campaigns

On 9 December 2011, JSCEM tabled its Report on the funding of political parties and election campaigns. The report makes 30 recommendations aimed at improving the transparency and accountability of the political financing arrangements at the federal level. The report is a result of the committee’s inquiry, which started in May 2011. The committee was expanded to conduct this inquiry. It added two members and an additional 42 participating members.

We lodged five submissions and also provided evidence at three public hearings in Canberra.

Inquiry into the AEC analysis of the Fair Work Australia report on the Health Services Union

In May 2012, JSCEM commenced its inquiry into our analysis of the Fair Work Australia report on the Health Services Union. Our analysis identified 17 possible measures to address the limitations in the Electoral Act highlighted by circumstances covered in the Fair Work Australia report. We provided evidence at two hearings, on 6 July 2012 and 16 July 2012.

JSCEM is continuing to examine our analysis as well as possible measures for reforming the Electoral Act.

House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia

In August 2011, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia commenced an inquiry into the use of fly-in fly-out workforce practices in regional Australia.

On 21 October 2011, we entered a submission to inform the committee of the electoral services available to eligible ‘fly-in fly-out’ and ‘drive-in, drive-out’ workers in the resources sector, aimed at where they work in regional and remote areas of mainland Australia. We included information on the electoral services provided to such workers at the 2010 Federal Election.

We then provided evidence at the public hearing in Canberra. To date, the committee has not handed down its report.

Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade

In September 2011, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade commenced an inquiry into Australia’s overseas representation. The inquiry is focused on activities that diplomatic posts must undertake; their geographic location and spread; the appropriate level of staffing, including locally engaged staff; and the effect of e-diplomacy and information and communications technology on the activities of diplomatic posts.

Our submission, which was provided on 20 December 2011, informed the committee of electoral services that diplomatic posts provide to eligible Australians overseas.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Austrade staff at diplomatic posts provide a valuable service to Australians travelling and living abroad during federal electoral events. The service enables Australians to vote while overseas.

We also informed the committee of the important and longstanding relationships between the AEC, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Austrade, to provide this service.

Furthermore, we provided evidence to the committee’s inquiry at a public hearing in Canberra on 17 February 2012. To date, the committee has not handed down its report.

Joint Standing Committee on Migration

In February 2011, the Joint Standing Committee on Migration conducted an inquiry into multiculturalism in Australia. The committee was examining the economic, social and cultural impacts of migration.

We lodged a submission on 8 March 2012 focusing on one key theme of the inquiry’s terms of reference: settlement and participation. Our submission provided details of our activities to increase the electoral knowledge and participation of current and future voters, particularly in relation to migrants and those from CALD backgrounds.

To date, the committee has not handed down its report.

Administrative scrutiny

There is a range of avenues in which our administration can be scrutinised by external people or organisations.

Certain administrative decisions that we make under the Electoral Act are subject to merits review by the Administrative Appeal Tribunal, under the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman, under the Ombudsman Act 1976, manages complaints about matters of administration relating to our functions.

Complaints about breaches of privacy rights can be lodged with the Privacy Commissioner, at the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, under the Privacy Act 1988.

The Australian Human Rights Commission, under the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986, manages complaints that claim we may have unlawfully discriminated against a person.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal

Our 2010–11 annual report referred to two matters that were before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal that were unresolved at the time of reporting. The matters have now been resolved.

The first matter involved the review of the decision by the Commission to register the Communist Alliance as a registered political party under Part XI of the Electoral Act. The registration of a political party enables the party’s registered name to be printed on the ballot papers and the party to receive election funding. Several objections were received including one by the Community Alliance Party (ACT), which is not registered under the Electoral Act. This matter was resolved prior to the hearing before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, with the Communist Alliance agreeing to make an application to change its name on the Register of Political Parties to ‘The Communists’. This revised name was approved on 24 August 2011. Since that time, ‘The Communists’ have been deregistered as they failed to establish that they had retained a membership of 500 as required by Part XI of the Electoral Act.

The second matter related to the long-running dispute over the control of the Democratic Labor Party of Australia and who is the registered officer. This application involves the review of the decision by the Commission to accept the application to replace Mr John Mulholland with Mr Anthony Zegenhagen as the registered officer of the Democratic Labor Party under the Electoral Act. The registered officer of a registered political party is the main point of contact for a range of matters under the Electoral Act which involve the regulation of these parties. One of the significant rights that are given to the registered officer of a registered political party is the right to endorse candidates to appear on ballot papers for federal elections under sections 166, 169 and 210A of the Electoral Act. A Full Bench of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal heard this application on 21 October 2011 and handed down a decision on 12 December 2011.

The Full Bench affirmed our decision, finding that on 28 November 2009, a valid meeting of the Federal Conference of the Democratic Labor Party appointed Mr Anthony Zegenhagen as the registered officer of the party for the purposes of the Electoral Act. The tribunal also found that on 3 December 2009, an application was properly made to the Commission to change the Register of Political Parties by substituting the name of Anthony Zegenhagen for that of John Mulholland as the registered officer of the party. It was also noted that Mr Mulholland did not dispute that the application was made in accordance with correct procedures. Since the decision, Mr Mulholland has lodged an appeal to the Full Bench of the Federal Court of Australia.

Commonwealth Ombudsman

During 2011–12, the Commonwealth Ombudsman approached us in relation to two matters. Both matters were finalised during the year and no findings of administrative deficiency were recorded against us.

Privacy Commissioner

We did not receive any privacy complaints in 2011–12 through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. This means that no determinations were made by the Office of the Federal Privacy Commission under section 52 of the Privacy Act 1988.

Australian Human Rights Commission

In 2011–12, we resolved three complaints that had been lodged with the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Our 2010–11 annual report referred to a notification of a complaint about the choice of a polling place in Queensland. The complaint centres on the choice of a building where the front entrance contained 17 stairs and disabled access could only be made via the rear of the building. This matter was resolved at mediation in July 2011.

Following the Queensland state election, we received notification of a similar complaint about the choice of a polling place in Queensland, at both the state and federal elections. The complaint again centred on the issue of disabled access. This matter was resolved by mediation in June 2012.

We received notification of a complaint involving allegations being made by one AEC staff member against another staff member. The allegations arose from a Code of Conduct complaint under the Public Service Act 1999, with a staff member being concerned with the outcome of that process. This matter was resolved at mediation in May 2012.

Judicial scrutiny

A number of previously reported matters involving the judicial review of AEC decisions under the Electoral Act are continuing in relation to the recovery of legal costs being pursued in the relevant jurisdiction. This includes the recovery of costs in three of the four Court of Disputed Returns matters that arose following the August 2010 Federal Election. We are pursuing costs orders granted against Ms Peebles, Mr Freemantle and Mr Green following their unsuccessful challenges to the results of the 2010 Federal Election.

Only the petitions lodged on behalf of Mr Green and Mr Freemantle proceeded to a hearing, with the petitions lodged on behalf of Ms Peebles and Mr Briscoe-Hough, the applicant in the fourth Court of Disputed Return matter, being withdrawn. The decisions on the two petitions of Green and Freemantle can be found at Green v Bradbury [2011] FCA 71 and Fremantle v O’Neill [2011] FCA 72. The orders as to the payment of the legal costs in the petitions involving Green, Freemantle and Peebles was resolved in favour of the AEC in Green v Bradbury (No 2) [2011] FCA 469.

We also conduct elections in various industrial matters, as the AEC is the ballot agent for protected action ballots conducted under the Fair Work Act 2009 and other industrial elections conducted under the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009. In 2011–12, we were not involved in any matters before the Federal Court that related to the conduct of industrial elections.

Mr John Mulholland, who is involved in the long-running dispute over who is the registered officer of the Democratic Labor Party of Australia, has lodged an appeal to the Full Bench of the Federal Court of Australia, following the decision of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The tribunal found that Mr Anthony Zegenhagen had been validly substituted as the registered officer for the Democratic Labor Party. Mr Mulholland’s appeal was heard by the Full Bench of the Federal Court of Australia on 23 May 2012, and the court has reserved its decision. At the time of reporting, the decision had not been published.

Freedom of information

Agencies subject to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) are required to publish information for the public as part of the Information Publication Scheme (IPS). This requirement is in Part II of the FOI Act and has replaced the former requirement to publish a section 8 statement in an annual report. Each agency must display on its website a plan showing what information it publishes in accordance with the IPS requirements.

We are subject to the FOI Act, so we publish this information on our website and update it regularly.

Performance audits

We were one of the participants in the Australian National Audit Office’s cross-agency audit on the administration of government advertising arrangements, the results of which were tabled in February 2012. The audit examined the effectiveness of the Department of Finance and Deregulation’s administration of the Australian Government campaign advertising framework. It also examined agencies’ compliance with the guidelines on information and advertising campaigns and the processes associated with exempting campaigns.

We were also selected as one of four agencies to be audited as part of the performance audit of the Senate Order on Departmental and Agency Contracts. This report is scheduled to be tabled in September 2012.

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