Ed Killesteyn, Electoral Commissioner.
Electoral administrators are often asked 'what do you do between elections?' The answer, 'you get ready for the next one', has typified the AEC's activities over the past 12 months. Indeed, in 2011–12 the implications of a hung parliament meant we needed to be ready to deliver an election at any time.
For this reason, we brought forward a range of election-critical activities in parallel with an ambitious program of reform to the way we deliver electoral services, structure our divisional office network, and manage the electoral roll.
Traditionally, maintenance and growth of the electoral roll comes into greater focus between elections. All at the AEC are driven by a sense of responsibility for ensuring Australians have the chance to exercise their key democratic right to vote. The first step in securing that right is enrolment. Declining participation in the electoral process starts with enrolment and this presents one of our biggest challenges. We estimate that the number of people not on the roll is approximately 1.5 million, up from about 1.4 million at this time last year.
To help us grapple with this challenge, and try new ways to drive our enrolment message, we designated 2012 the Year of Enrolment.The year marks two significant federal electoral events: the centenary of compulsory enrolment and the 50th anniversary of the right of Indigenous Australians to vote in federal elections.
The Year of Enrolment, which continues to the end of 2012, involves a comprehensive program of new initiatives to prompt people to enrol or update their enrolment. It has a clear aim – increase enrolment.
The program was launched at Parliament House in March to coincide with the actual anniversaries. The aim was to enlist the support of members of parliament to spread the enrolment message. A stamp to commemorate 100 years of compulsory enrolment was launched by Australia Post at the event.
The Count Me In campaign commenced in May 2012 with a postcard mailed to more than nine million households throughout Australia. The purpose of the mail-out was to reach all Australians and encourage them to enrol or update their enrolment details. The mail-out was supported by an online advertising campaign specifically targeted at people aged 18–24, where enrolment levels remain persistently low.
Early evaluation of the campaign indicates our efforts have achieved some success. In the first two weeks of the campaign, enrolment transactions doubled compared with the same time last year. Enrolment for the month of June grew by almost 30 per cent to about 18 000, compared with 14 000 for each of the previous two months.
At the same time, we launched AEC Twitter and Facebook accounts to better engage young Australians, who make up a large portion of those missing from the roll. We believe social media will increase the speed and frequency of our public engagement and offers great potential for us to listen, answer customer questions, improve service delivery and build participation through dialogue.
It is 50 years since Indigenous Australians won the right to vote in federal elections; however, Indigenous Australians are still less likely to enrol, less likely to vote and more likely to vote informally than non-Indigenous Australians.
For the Year of Enrolment, our Indigenous Electoral Participation Program developed a program of events, and the flagship was the National Indigenous Youth Parliament held in Canberra from 23–29 May 2012. Fifty young Indigenous Australians spent six days in Canberra learning about the workings of government and debating issues of importance to them and their communities. It was a chance to meet and learn from government officials, prominent Australians, and politicians, including the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and members of parliament from all political parties.
The program gave participants the opportunity to develop their leadership skills and build professional networks. It is our hope these young Australians, who participated with such enthusiasm, will become local ambassadors who promote electoral participation in their communities.
We redeveloped our Schools and Community Visits Program based on research that shows early authentic electoral experiences help to form a life-long habit of electoral participation. School elections, such as those held to elect student representative bodies, are many young people’s first experience of voting and influence how they perceive and participate in elections as adults.
The new program, Get Voting, will launch in October 2012 and provide online materials to help schools conduct free and fair elections. Schools will receive an election equipment pack including ballot box, seals and posters. Get Voting will link schools to their local AEC office, who can visit the school to assist with the election.
Much of our modernisation agenda is driven by the legislative reform recommended by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM). The reforms aim to make it easier for Australians to participate in the electoral system.
Recent amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 will provide the AEC with additional tools to assist voters to maintain their enrolment. The change will support whole-of-government service delivery and information management that over time will lead to a more complete and accurate electoral roll.
The amendments to the Act will enable us to directly enrol a person for the first time, or update the address of a person already enrolled, based on data received from other government agencies. This action will only be taken where we are satisfied about the person’s identity and eligibility to be enrolled, and only after the person has been given an opportunity to object to the proposed action. Under the Act, people will still be responsible for maintaining their enrolment details, but many will not need to take any further action once they receive a letter from us.
We continue to seek collaborative partnerships to deliver better, ‘smarter’ services.
Since October 2011, people moving house have been able to use Australia Post's online 'change of address notification' service to forward new address details to the AEC for update on the roll. Between July and October 2011, our ongoing partnership with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) delivered more than 14 000 referrals to the AEC website from a link on the ATO’s e-tax website.
We improved the way we manage electronic transactions, to deal with an ever-increasing volume. This included an improved online enrolment service which makes it easier for people to update their enrolment details via the AEC website.
We completed work to implement online postal vote applications (PVA) at the next election. Online PVAs will substantially reduce processing workloads and improve turnaround of voting materials to voters, who will be able to track their postal vote application.
The imperative to be election-ready remained in focus throughout the year. We purchased materials, finalised contractual arrangements, undertook polling place inspections, renewed contact with potential polling place staff and refreshed training programs.
The Election-Ready Assurance Review in March 2012 was a comprehensive internal review of election preparations. The review found preparations well advanced, but revealed ongoing concern with the capacity of our IT systems to handle peak election workloads without any loss of performance or response times.
In the second half of 2012, we will undertake extensive systems capacity testing to identify IT and business process issues that may impact on systems performance. The work will continue until we are confident our systems can perform at capacity and under the pressure of multiple and concurrent demands during the next election.
A key finding from the evaluation of the 2010 Federal Election was that election preparation should include special attention to preparing staff for the unique demands of an election. In response, we undertook a simulated election exercise in June 2012 to further test election readiness and provide authentic election training for our staff. The simulation tested systems and processes more extensively than ever before, in a federal election timeframe. Evaluation of the simulation will determine the next phase of our election preparation.
We sought supplementary funding in 2011–12. The funding was granted subject to an independent review by the Department of Finance and Deregulation and PricewaterhouseCoopers to determine an appropriate level of baseline funding for the AEC.
Based on the review recommendations, in the 2012–13 Budget we received further supplementation of $10 million to our base budget for the 2012–13 financial year and increased supplementation in subsequent years. The supplementation means we can maintain our focus on our core programs of roll stimulation, education and election preparation.
The introduction of larger work units in a number of states represents significant structural change and modernisation of the AEC network. Larger work units bring together a number of divisional offices into one location. Staff will work in specialist teams to provide roll management, election and community engagement services. The new structure places our core outcomes at the centre of how we work, how we provide services to the public and will provide better career and development opportunities for staff.
We introduced Rising to Management, a new leadership program for APS 1–5 staff interested in furthering their careers into AEC management. The program aims to challenge, engage and motivate staff and provide them with the knowledge and skills to help them develop as managers and leaders. We believe this investment will deliver benefits for both staff and the AEC over the long-term.
I appreciate the dedication and professionalism of my AEC colleagues and thank them for their commitment over the past year to an ambitious program of reform, community engagement and election preparation. They are a team motivated by a worthy ideal – maintaining a healthy democracy for the benefit of all Australians.