Annual Report 2013–14

Managing resources and assets

Investing in our people

Investing in Our People is one of three strategic themes outlined in the AEC Strategic Plan 2009–2014. This theme guides a set of strategic workforce initiatives to drive staff engagement and build capability. Complemented by ongoing workforce management services and policies, the Investing in Our People programme helps the AEC to address a range of workforce challenges, including:

  • the need to transition knowledge from an ageing, highly experienced workforce
  • attracting and retaining engaged, resilient and committed staff who can adapt to change and drive and deliver reform
  • the AEC’s geographically dispersed office network
  • scaling AEC staffing effectively across the electoral cycle from a permanent, ongoing workforce of around 800 to the federal election workforce of around 70 000
  • ensuring all staff – permanent and casual – are appropriately trained and supported to deliver election programmes and services to the highest standards
  • ensuring a safe and healthy workplace across the changing demands and workloads of the electoral cycle.

The AEC workforce

To meet the fluctuating and cyclical demands of the federal election cycle, the AEC maintains a three-tiered workforce. This includes:

  • a regular workforce of around 800 ongoing and non-ongoing staff
  • a casual workforce of around 1 700 ‘intermittent and irregular’ staff
  • a temporary election workforce of polling officials – around 70 000 polling officials are employed during a federal election.

The regular AEC workforce

At 30 June 2014, the AEC’s regular workforce was made up of 813 ongoing and 32 non-ongoing staff. These employees work in a dispersed network across AEC national, state and divisional offices located in every state and territory in Australia. The majority – over 67 per cent – are female and work at the APS 6 classification. The APS 6 majority includes most divisional office managers who act as returning officers for each federal electoral division during elections.

More information on the AEC regular workforce profile is shown in Table 21. Percentages of male and female staff, 2006–2014, are shown in Figure 8.

Full breakdown of AEC staff numbers by classification, gender and location.

Perhaps the most significant factor for future workforce planning is age. More than 60 per cent of ongoing and non-ongoing employees are 45 years of age or older, with an average age of 47. As the AEC workforce continues to age and many experienced staff move toward retirement, a range of workforce strategies will be required to effectively transition knowledge and ensure that new staff are well trained and supported to deliver AEC programmes to high standards of quality and integrity. A critical step is the renewal and strengthening of AEC learning and development programmes, as described below. The age profile of the AEC workforce is shown in Figure 9.

Figure 8: Percentages of female and male staff, 2006–07 to 2013–14

Figure 8: Percentages of female and male staff, 2006–07 to 2013–14

Data excludes irregular or intermittent staff.

The casual AEC workforce

The AEC also employs around 1 700 ‘intermittent and irregular’ staff. These are experienced casual employees, mostly employed at the APS 1 level. They work primarily in divisional offices to help with fluctuating workloads across the electoral cycle, especially at election time. More information on intermittent and irregular AEC staff is provided in Table 22.

The election workforce

During elections, the AEC also employs thousands of temporary staff as polling officials. In 2013–14 the AEC employed:

  • 73 507 temporary staff to conduct the 2013 federal election
  • 354 staff temporary staff to conduct the 2014 Griffith by-election
  • 6 817 staff temporary staff to conduct the 2014 Western Australian Senate election.

To manage the exponential increase in the size of its federal election workforce, the AEC invests significant preparation in employment systems and communication. Before the 2013 federal election the AEC sought to establish and maintain semi-regular contact with potential polling officials using email, post and online registrations of interest. Significant work was also undertaken to improve employment systems and reporting so that they were capable of efficiently managing and processing the large numbers of employees to be recruited, trained and paid in accordance with the election timetable.

Figure 9: Staff by age group at 30 June 2014

Figure 9: Staff by age group at 30 June 2014

Data excludes irregular or intermittent staff.

Workforce strategies

A focus on integrity

All AEC regular, casual and temporary election staff must meet certain character requirements to qualify for employment. In particular, all must make a declaration of political neutrality to ensure that electoral services are provided in a fair, impartial manner.

To strengthen integrity protections in line with its broader reform programme, in 2014 the AEC revised its character clearance process for polling officials and casual staff. A new character clearance policy introduced additional steps for assessing employees’ character, including the requirement that potential employees undergo a police record check. The new policy was applied at the 2014 Griffith by-election and 2014 Western Australian Senate election.

The AEC’s collective determination for temporary staff was also updated to include the enhanced character clearance requirement as a condition of employment. The AEC is now undertaking a detailed evaluation of the new procedures to inform the approach for future federal elections.

Figure 10: Vacancies advertised, 2010 to 2014

Figure 10: Vacancies advertised, 2010 to 2014

A focus on learning

Effective and professional learning and development is a foundation of the AEC’s Investing in Our People programme. In recent years, the AEC has strengthened its approach to learning and development – particularly through online learning and training that simulates the operational demands of election periods. Examples are the 2012 Simulated Election and the Election Ready Operational Capacity (EROC) programme, which is described in more detail in the case study ‘A new approach to training’.

To build on this foundation and ensure capacity to meet future demands, early in 2014 the AEC commissioned the formation of a Learning and Development Blueprint. The blueprint incorporates findings from surveys and evaluations of the AEC’s current approach to learning and development and outlines a strategic path for continued improvement. The blueprint outlines four primary elements for delivering AEC learning programmes:

  • adoption of underlying key principles and a shared framework for learning design
  • a focus on performance coaching
  • development of certification processes and competency-based assessment
  • a redefined role for the AEC’s learning and development function.

The AEC has endorsed these reforms, which will be implemented in 2014–15.

Training and support for election staff

In line with a renewed focus on learning and development for all employees, the AEC is seeking to enhance learning and development for polling officials through effective training materials and delivery methods.

Following the 2013 federal election the AEC conducted a formal evaluation of the training delivered to senior polling officials. The evaluation also surveyed divisional returning officers responsible for recruiting and training local polling officials to help assess how well the polling officials performed their tasks on polling day. The evaluation survey received 8 170 responses, representing about 33 per cent of the target audience.

2014 graduates from left: Priscilla Li, Rachel Lelbach, Rebecca Hansen and Kalinga Hulugalle.
2014 graduates from left: Priscilla Li, Rachel Lelbach,
Rebecca Hansen and Kalinga Hulugalle.

One of the key findings of the evaluation was that both learners and their supervisors agreed there was a growing need for training focused on technical election scenarios and that more simulated assessments would better prepare the learners for their roles. This finding is in line with the AEC’s move to practical election training simulations and supports the recommended reforms outlined in the Learning and Development Blueprint.

Recruiting and retaining staff

The AEC’s ongoing staff retention rate is relatively stable and has averaged around 90 per cent each year for the past nine years. In 2013–14, the ongoing staff retention rate was 93.2 per cent, slightly down from 93.6 per cent in 2012–13. This is consistent with long-term fluctuations, particularly following an election.

AEC recruitment activities throughout the year were largely focused on attracting and employing temporary staff required for election delivery. Conversely, there was a decrease in ongoing recruitment activities due to the introduction of APSC Interim Recruitment Arrangements in November 2013.

The number of vacancies advertised externally (ongoing and non-ongoing) fell by 69 per cent, from 115 in 2012–13 to 36 in 2013–14. The interim recruitment arrangements saw changes to recruitment practices and a key focus of activity was the development of new documentation, procedures and supporting advice to ensure compliance with the policy.

Figure 10 shows vacancies advertised from 2010 to 2014. It reflects the large decline in 2013–14 due to the APSC Interim Recruitment Arrangements.

Election recruitment strategies

To ensure sufficient numbers of experienced staff are available at election time, the AEC seeks to retain a high proportion of polling officials from one election to the next. The retention rate for the 2013 federal election was 52.5 per cent1 and many of the same locally-based staff employed at the 2013 federal election worked again for the AEC at the 2014 Griffith by-election and 2014 Western Australian Senate election.

In a post-election environment, the AEC’s election employment strategy continues to focus on maintaining relationships with experienced polling officials and attracting a pool of potential new polling officials ahead of the next federal election.

AEC graduate programme

The AEC’s graduate programme strengthens organisational capacity and builds leadership potential. Graduates undertake three placements across core AEC business areas and complete a Diploma of Government with the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC). From a record 383 applications, the AEC selected four candidates for 2014.

The AEC’s 2013 graduates delivered two major projects:

  • Electoral Information and Generation Y
  • Fostering Innovation.

Fostering Innovation was one of only three APS graduate projects nominated for Major Project Outstanding Achievement at the 2013 APSC graduation ceremony.

Strengthening engagement

The AEC Investing in Our People Programme continued to focus on building organisational culture, leadership, and workplace environment and conditions. For 2013–14, activities were delivered across five areas:

  • workforce capability planning
  • strategic learning and development
  • building workforce capability and influencing culture
  • fostering innovation
  • listening to our staff.

The AEC’s APS State of the Service survey results for 2013–14 showed that AEC staff continue to value flexible working arrangements and the employment conditions offered under the AEC Enterprise Agreement 2012–14.

The survey results also highlighted areas for future investment including:

  • opportunities for career progression
  • learning and development.

Workplace diversity

The AEC promotes an inclusive and diverse workforce culture because it recognises the business benefits of maintaining a broad pool of talent, perspectives and experiences. A diverse workforce also reflects the diversity of the broader community and helps the AEC to deliver effective client services.

The AEC applies policies and procedures to foster and maintain workplace diversity, and support staff with different needs. These include:

  • educating staff about the benefits of diversity
  • requiring promotion on merit
  • providing education and skills development opportunities for staff with particular needs.

The AEC also implements inclusive recruitment processes to foster diversity. For example, the 2014 graduate programme included a designated Indigenous position, though the preferred candidate ultimately chose employment with another agency. These general policies are supported by targeted strategies.

The AEC Disability Inclusion Strategy 2012–2020

Aligned to the National Disability Strategy, the AEC Disability Inclusion Strategy helps the AEC to provide services to Australians with disabilities and promote an inclusive workplace that is supportive of employees with disability, ensuring they receive appropriate support, development and leadership opportunities.

The AEC reported on progress in implementing the strategy at the annual meeting of the AEC Disability Advisory Committee held in June 2014. The committee includes representatives from peak national disability organisations and the Electoral Council of Australia and New Zealand.

Disability reporting

Since 1994, Commonwealth 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 transferred to the Australian Public Service Commission’s State of the Service report and the APS statistical bulletin. These reports are available at www.apsc.gov.au. From 2010–11, departments and agencies are no longer required to report on these functions.

The National Disability Strategy has replaced the Commonwealth Disability Strategy. The new strategy sets out a 10-year national policy framework for improving life for Australians with disability, their families and carers. The Standing Council on Community, Housing and Disability Services will produce a high-level report to track progress for people with disability at a national level and present it to the Council of Australian Governments. It will be available at www.dss.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 is at www.socialinclusion.gov.au.

The AEC Multicultural Plan

The AEC’s Multicultural Plan outlines principles that ensure the AEC provides services to those from diverse backgrounds so that all eligible citizens can exercise their democratic responsibilities regardless of culture or language. The plan helps the AEC to provide a workplace that is tolerant and supportive of employees from different cultures and ensure that those employees receive equal opportunities and support.

Reconciliation Action Plan

The AEC’s Reconciliation Action Plan 2012–2014 outlines ways that the AEC seeks to build and sustain relationships with, and improve service delivery to, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This includes providing opportunities and a supportive workplace for Indigenous employees.

One key outcome of the Reconciliation Action Plan is the establishment of an AEC Indigenous Employees Network. The AEC has commenced developing the next Reconciliation Action Plan to build on these achievements.

Figure 11: Staff profile by self-identified category

Figure 11: Staff profile by self‑identified category

ATSI = people with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds; CALD = people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; PWD = people with disability.

In each category, the rates relate to employees who choose to self-identify. Employees may be reported under more than one heading. Data excludes irregular or intermittent staff.

Indigenous election employees

Recruiting Indigenous polling officials was a key objective during the 2013 federal election. For Indigenous audiences, polling assistance provided by others from a similar cultural background sends a powerful message about electoral rights and responsibilities.

Indigenous recruitment activities included targeted fieldwork by AEC Indigenous and community engagement officers, advertisements in the Indigenous press and distribution of Indigenous recruitment flyers and posters. The AEC also collaborated with government and non-government agencies to advertise election employment opportunities.

The AEC also created a new position – Indigenous Voter Information Officer – at polling places with a significant Indigenous population to promote turnout and help with formal voting.

In 2013, as a result of these efforts, the AEC more than doubled the Indigenous proportion of the election workforce compared with the 2010 federal election. Table 23 provides details. The benefits of increasing Indigenous polling official recruitment included improved turnout and a better election experience for Indigenous voters. Job opportunities also generated interest in democratic processes for the employees and their families and friends.

AEC workplace arrangements

Employment agreements

The AEC Enterprise Agreement 2011–2014, covers the majority of the AEC’s regular workforce of ongoing and non-ongoing staff, as well as its casual workforce of irregular and intermittent staff. Table 24 shows salary ranges for each classification under the agreement. In early 2014, the AEC commenced the process of negotiating a new Enterprise Agreement, as the current agreement nominally expired on 30 June 2014. These negotiations have continued in 2014–15.

Australian Workplace Agreements

An Australian Workplace Agreement covered one senior executive service officer.

Section 24(1) determinations

In 2013–14, the terms and conditions of employment of nine employees, mainly senior executive service and executive level officers, were set by individual determinations under section 24(1) of the Public Service Act 1999.

Collective determination under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

The AEC has a collective determination for staff engaged under the Electoral Act. The collective determination covers temporary staff, such as polling officials, for the election period only and sets their terms and conditions, hourly rates of pay and other entitlements. In 2013, the collective determination was maintained to support the conduct of the 2013 federal election, the 2014 Griffith by-election and the 2014 WA Senate election. The terms and conditions of the collective determination are set by the Electoral Commissioner under section 35 of the Electoral Act.

Senior executive remuneration

The Remuneration Tribunal determines the remuneration for the Electoral Commissioner under the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973.

Other statutory appointees are part of the principal executive officer structure under the Remuneration Tribunal Act. The Electoral Commissioner determines remuneration and conditions for appointees within parameters set by the Remuneration Tribunal.

Table 25 provides more information on remuneration of AEC senior executives and statutory appointees.

Individual flexibility arrangements

To meet the needs of the AEC and individual employees, under the AEC Enterprise Agreement 2011–2014 the Electoral Commissioner may agree to individual flexibility arrangements with employees for one or more of the following:

  • working hours
  • overtime rates
  • penalty rates
  • allowances
  • remuneration
  • leave.

During 2013–14, 24 employees had individual flexibility arrangements in place for allowances specific to their role and/or location. As of 30 June 2014, 19 were still active.

Performance management and pay

Salary progression in the AEC is subject to meeting performance standards governed by the performance management programme. AEC performance management covers the AEC’s regular workforce of ongoing and non-ongoing staff who are employed for six months or more.

Individual performance plans exist as part of the AEC’s performance management programme and are central to the monitoring and review of staff performance agreements.

The AEC provides direct assistance and advice to managers and staff on performance matters to ensure that the AEC can have confidence that it is properly addressing performance issues.

In 2013–14, performance bonuses were not offered to any employees.

Workplace health and safety

The AEC works to protect and promote the health and safety of employees and provide a safe environment for them and for members of the public who enter AEC premises. The AEC adopts a proactive approach and complies with its obligations under both the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRC Act) by implementing procedures and initiatives to actively monitor and evaluate health, safety and welfare across all aspects of business.

In 2013–14, the AEC introduced:

  • an enhanced workplace health and safety (WHS) management structure and greater consultation and representation through a strengthened health and safety representative network
  • a framework to assist senior executives to understand and meet their WHS legal obligations
  • a rehabilitation management system
  • targeted election health and safety strategies.

Table 26 summarises AEC workplace health and safety outcomes for the year.

Rehabilitation management system

The AEC’s rehabilitation management system provides services and guidelines to support injured employees and their managers, ensure compliance with obligations and promote employees’ return to health and work. An audit of the new system in December 2013 showed a 96 per cent compliance rate with the guidelines.

Health and wellbeing programmes

Complementing the AEC’s commitment to employee health, safety and welfare, a range of funded elective health and wellbeing programmes were offered to employees, including:

  • the Employee Assistance Programme
  • annual influenza vaccinations
  • workstation assessments
  • eyesight testing reimbursements
  • financial support for early intervention on health matters.

2013 federal election

Focused health and safety initiatives were undertaken to support AEC staff before, during and after the 2013 federal election – the first conducted under the requirements of the WHS Act 2011. A range of strategies were implemented, including:

  • AEC managers were given comprehensive WHS advice on managing staff fatigue across the election period. The advice highlighted their increased responsibilities to manage fatigue under the WHS Act and the SRC Act and provided practical support on managing fatigue through staffing plans and a fatigue assessment tool.
  • Personalised People Care Plans were developed in conjunction with each state and territory. These plans included tailored risk assessments and information sessions to mitigate risk.
  • Individual Injured Worker plans were developed for all staff with compensable and non-compensable injuries in conjunction with their treating practitioners and managers. These were designed to prevent aggravation of any existing injury or illness and ensure that staff were provided with appropriate support.
  • A broader programme of health and safety messages was communicated to all staff using corporate communication products including the Election Diary – a daily workbook used by staff during the election. Specific health and safety advice sheets were also developed for polling officials. Throughout the election, key WHS messages were released to coincide with peak workloads and specific deadlines. For example, manual handling tips were promoted just before peak manual handling periods in the election timetable, such as the ballot paper packaging and distribution period.

Following a review of WHS incidents during the 2013 federal election, the AEC was able to implement further initiatives for the subsequent Griffith by-election and 2014 WA Senate election – for example, polling places were provided with contact cards to be distributed to anyone injured in a polling place; health and safety advice was sent individually to all casual staff; and all polling places where WHS incidents occurred during the election were inspected.

The AEC will apply lessons learned from each election to focus future efforts on reducing risks identified through incident reporting.

Health, safety and welfare outcomes

Claims management

In 2013–14, the AEC managed 17 new cases for compensation, 29 continuing compensation cases, 32 new cases of non-compensation injuries and 33 continuing non-compensation cases. 41.4 per cent of injuries were compensable and 58.6 per cent were non-compensable. Table 27 shows the number of new cases the AEC managed for compensation and non-compensation injuries over the past three years.

Workers’ compensation premium

The AEC workers’ compensation premium for 2013–14 under the Comcare scheme was 1.3 per cent of wages and salary.

The AEC experienced an increase of workers’ compensation claims following the 2013 election. This is consistent with the historical pattern of a rise in claims following federal elections, when staffing numbers, premises and workloads increase significantly. Of the claims made, the number of physical injuries increased by 18.8 per cent compared with the 2010 election, while the number of mental health claims reduced slightly from five in 2010 to four in 2013. As a result of active intervention, investigation and resolution of cases, the number of open claim numbers has decreased since the election.

Over the year, a total of 239 WHS events were reported, comprising 176 incidents, 50 near hits and 13 hazards. While this was an increase against the previous year, 70 per cent (167) of these events related to the 2013 federal election. In the context of far greater staff numbers at election time, when the AEC workforce grew to 73 507, this increase is statistically insignificant.

Notifiable incidents

The AEC became aware of eight notifiable incidents during the year, including six serious injuries and two dangerous occurrences.

Investigations conducted during the year

One investigation conducted during the year related to business or undertakings conducted by the AEC. No notices were issued by the regulator.

  1. In other words, 52.5 per cent of polling officials who worked at the 2013 federal election had worked at a previous federal election.