In 2011–12, we continued to endeavour to provide every Australian with an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process. This supports the principles of the Australian Government’s Social Inclusion Agenda.
We know that some Australians with a disability have unique information and support needs if they are to effectively participate in the electoral process. In 2011–12, we provided a range of products and information services for people with disability:
During 2011–12 we commenced the program to inspect polling places for the next electoral event to ensure they meet Australian accessibility standards where possible – that they are compliant with Building Code of Australia AS 1428. The inspection program is to be finalised by December.
We continued to consult members of our Disability Advisory Committee and Blind and Low Vision Reference Group. We formed both groups to help us improve electoral services for people with disabilities.
This year’s annual meeting of the Disability Advisory Committee was held in May 2012 at the offices of the Australian Human Rights Commission in Sydney. It is an important meeting, as the committee is our primary avenue for consulting with the disability sector. The committee consists of representatives from the Electoral Council of Australia, peak disability organisations, and the Human Rights Commission.
At the meeting in May, we presented the ‘Implementation of our Disability Action Plan 2008–2011’ report. We presented our draft ‘Disability Inclusion Strategy 2012–2020’. We asked members to review the strategy and provide feedback. The strategy is expected to be finalised in 2012.
Since 1994, federal departments and agencies have reported on their performance as policy adviser, purchaser, employer, regulator and provider under the Commonwealth Disability Strategy. In 2007–08, reporting on the employer role was transferred to the Australian Public Service Commission’s State of the Service Report and the Australian Public Service Statistical Bulletin. These reports are available at www.apsc.gov.au. From 2010–11, departments and agencies have no longer been required to report on these functions.
The Commonwealth Disability Strategy has been overtaken by a new National Disability Strategy, which sets out a 10-year national policy framework for improving life for Australians with disability, their families and their carers. A high-level report to track progress for people with disability at a national level will be produced by the Standing Council on Community, Housing and Disability Services to the Council of Australian Governments and will be available at www.fahcsia.gov.au. The Social Inclusion Measurement and Reporting Strategy agreed by the government in December 2009 will also include some reporting on disability matters in its regular How Australia is Faring report and, if appropriate, in strategic change indicators in agency annual reports. More detail on social inclusion matters can be found at www.socialinclusion.gov.au.
In 2011–12, we made considerable progress in developing a more independent voting solution for blind and low vision Australians. The challenges faced by this group when using traditional, paper-based methods of voting means they have not been able to cast a completely independent and secret vote. There has been a need for a new blind and low vision friendly solution to provide blind and low vision Australians with the same access to a secret vote as the rest of the community.
We are implementing a voting solution that will enable blind and low vision people to vote from home by telephone at the next electoral event. Registration and voting processes will ensure that blind and low vision Australians can vote from the privacy of their home in a secure manner, without having to disclose their name at the time of voting, thus ensuring a secret vote.
In developing this solution, we consulted our blind and low vision reference group, consisting of bodies such as:
The consultation process ensured that the feedback of the blind and low vision community was incorporated in the development of the telephone voting solution.
Moreover, the collaboration with the reference group helped us to develop a future road map to further improve voting options for people who are blind or have low vision. This road map recognises that the telephone voting solution is a stepping stone to ensuring that blind and low vision Australians can cast a vote with a greater level of independence in future.
We also collaborated with state electoral commissions in 2011–12 to identify common voting solutions. For example, we worked closely with the New South Wales Electoral Commission to develop a common registration system to support the telephone voting solution.
We will continue to work with both the blind and low vision reference group and state electoral commissions to develop more sustainable voting solutions that meet the needs of the blind and low vision community.
On any given night, there are 13 000 homeless people in Western Australia. This includes rough sleepers, people in temporary accommodation and people living in accommodation below community standards. Of the 13 000, more than 2 300 sleep in rough conditions. Our research shows that people experiencing homelessness are unlikely to be on the electoral roll and are disengaged with the electoral process. To ensure their voices can be heard, we developed the Homelessness Enrolment and Voting Strategy pilot project to complement our existing activities in Western Australia.
The project began in November 2011. We decided that an effective way to reach the homeless in Western Australia was to establish information kiosks in homeless centres in metropolitan locations. We consulted with the Australian Bureau of Statistics, using 2011 Census data, to pick the locations for the kiosks; Perth and Fremantle were found to have the greatest number of homeless people in Western Australia.
We expected this project would help us to:
We placed a poster on noticeboards in homeless centres to promote the message that people without a permanent home have the same right to enrol and vote as every other Australian citizen.
We visited prospective sites to gain support from service providers and gauge the feasibility of setting up information kiosks inside homeless centres. The idea was received with great enthusiasm and service providers were very keen to assist us. The project commenced in December 2011 at the following sites:
AEC WA staff undertook training to work effectively with the homeless. (left to right): Brendon Barlow, Public Awareness Manager (AEC), Simon Murrish (Department of Human Services), Brett Hill, IEPP Coordinator (AEC), Chris Gerginis, Division of Perth (AEC), Jacob Berson, IEPP Field Officer (AEC), and Murray Johnston, IEPP Field Officer.
Chris Gerginis, Divisional Office Manager, Division of Perth, helps Mohammad Jamin complete an enrolment application at the Ruah Community Services Centre.
Our staff in Western Australia undertook training to ensure that they were equipped to engage with the homeless and deliver electoral services. One staff member, who had previously worked in the sector, provided key insights in dealing with people experiencing homelessness. Department of Human Services (DHS) staff provided valuable tips on dealing with potential voters and advice on complaint resolution procedures.
We set up information kiosks in homeless centres on a monthly basis. All visits were subject to approval by the service provider.
We took a soft approach when engaging with the homeless, as this allowed them to become familiar with our presence in their space. The ‘hard sell’ tactic does not work in this environment. There is often distrust about government authorities, which we are aware of through our work with Homeless Connect Australia and through consultation with Australian public sector agencies such as DHS.
The soft-sell approach to dealing with the homeless has been effective. We have seen a steady increase of enquiries at the kiosks over the past six months. The people we have spoken to have been engaging, humorous and knowledgeable about current political events.
It can only be hoped that increasing familiarisation with the circumstances of the homeless will assist us in delivering our enrolment message and engage this disadvantaged sector in having their voice heard – Peter Kramer, State Manager, WA, AEC
We held an evaluation meeting with the service providers on 30 June 2012. Our efforts in engaging the homeless in the electoral process has been very well received by all providers, and we expect the homeless people we met to be more engaged in voting when the election is called.
Discussions have been held with service providers around a range of voting options for the homeless at the next federal election. The options under consideration include mobile polling at service provider locations, postal voting and targeted information on polling place locations. We will conduct another review at the end of December 2012, with an aim of completing a final evaluation and review of the pilot by December 2013.