A taskforce for change
On 16 December 2013, a cross-section of experienced AEC divisional, state and national office staff gathered at the AEC’s Victorian state office. It was the first meeting of the newly appointed Keelty Implementation Taskforce (KIT), and their task was to implement the recommendations made by Mr Mick Keelty AO in his report Inquiry into the 2013 WA Senate election.
Ten days earlier, on 6 December, the three-person Australian Electoral Commission had accepted all 32 of Mr Keelty’s recommendations. Now, in the context of a looming by-election in the Queensland Division of Griffith and a possible fresh Senate election in Western Australia, a practical step-by-step plan was required to prioritise reforms and ensure the quality and effectiveness of any new measures introduced.
The team first developed a process map illustrating the life cycle of the ballot paper and identified points in the cycle that posed risks to ballot security. They then made a list of possible solutions in the form of products, policy ideas and tracking forms. In this way, the ‘folio of interim measures’ was born.
At their second meeting in the new year, KIT worked quickly to finalise a number of new measures. These included:
- dissemination of ballot paper principles for display in all AEC offices to visually reinforce the importance of ballot paper security
- updated ballot paper security and related information in revised election procedures manuals and training materials for polling officials
- preparation of secure ballot paper storage areas in the Brisbane office in time for the arrival of by-election ballot papers
- development of tamper-evident labels
- a ‘folio of interim measures’ for the Griffith by-election, comprising new forms, new packaging labels, new policy and guidance documents and a job profile for the new role of Divisional Materials Manager.
The Griffith by-election was announced in January 2014. Once the proposed new measures were approved, KIT members travelled to Brisbane and met with the Queensland state management team and Griffith divisional staff. This was an opportunity to discuss the new measures, gather views and feedback and make further changes and improvements.
Queensland staff fully embraced the proposals, suggested improvements and in some cases went above and beyond KIT requirements. The result was a more rigorous risk management approach to the handling and custody of ballot papers and a more transparent outcome for voters and stakeholders.
2014 Western Australian Senate election
On 20 February 2014, three days after the declaration of results in Griffith, the Court of Disputed Returns declared the 2013 Western Australian Senate election void. KIT members had already travelled to Western Australia a number of times to brief state colleagues and these discussions led to an updated ‘folio of interim measures’ for the WA Senate election.
This election posed a number of fresh challenges – not least being the logistical challenges of vast distances across Western Australia. To support local staff, KIT members and AEC officers from across Australia maintained an active presence – both in Perth and outlying divisions – throughout the election. Once again, local staff worked with KIT to implement the new measures, identify issues and suggest improvements.
The return of the Western Australian Senate writ on 1 May 2014 and the safe arrival of all ballot papers at the AEC’s Perth warehouse, marked the conclusion of an election which had seen vast improvements in ballot paper security and tracking, material segregation and control, and a greater level of accountability and transparency across all AEC procedures.
Following the Griffith and WA Senate elections, KIT embarked on a detailed evaluation of all new measures to ensure their scalability, practicality and affordability across all AEC offices in a federal election.
On 1 August 2014, KIT became the Reform Team and was given a new long-term home in the Elections Branch. The new team’s role is to work closely with key stakeholders and AEC staff throughout Australia to implement all 32 Keelty Report recommendations, as well as recommendations from other internal and external reviews. This ongoing reform programme seeks to ensure that the principles of quality, integrity and consistency are embedded and evident in all AEC operations.