Annual Report 2014–15

4Governance and compliance

Accountability

The AEC is accountable to its stakeholders, the Australian Parliament and the people of Australia. As a publicly accountable agency, the AEC has a duty to professionally plan, record and report on its activities each year. In 2014–15, this included a National Business Plan (to be replaced in 2015–16 by a Corporate Plan), the Budget Estimates process, Annual Report and documents which record work made towards achieving key performance indicators.

Overview

As an agency, the AEC meets government accountability requirements via a comprehensive range of business planning and reporting mechanisms. These address operations, strategic direction, risk management, business continuity, internal audits, fraud control, public accountability, ethical standards and staff consultation.

Planning, operating and reporting framework

In 2014–15, the AEC’s ongoing planning, operation and reporting framework illustrated in Figure 10 consisted of:

  • the AEC Strategic Plan 2009
  • a Strategic Risk Management Plan updated annually
  • portfolio budget and additional estimates statements updated annually
  • an annual report
  • an annual procurement plan
  • branch, state and territory plans updated annually
  • regular performance reporting.

Strategic direction

A range of corporate and business planning documents address specific operational or functional requirements and ensure that strategic planning informs local work and individual performance plans, as shown in Table 8.

Corporate plan

In 2014–15 the AEC began development of its inaugural Corporate Plan 2015–2019, replacing the Strategic Plan 2009–2014. The plan provides focus for the agency’s work over the next four years, commencing at the start of the 2015–16 financial year. The plan outlines the five following agency directions:

  • deliver a changed model for elections and referendums
  • govern the organisation for quality and assurance
  • professionalise the workforce
  • re-establish the reputation of the AEC
  • build an agile and responsive organisation.

Figure 10: Planning, operating and reporting framework

Planning, operating and reporting framework

Designed to guide the AEC’s day-to-day business activities and change programmes, the Corporate Plan will provide the foundation of the agency’s planning and operating framework.

National Business Plan

The 2014–15 National Business Plan was comprised of 55 reportable activities which were endorsed by the ELT.

The plan assisted the ELT in guiding and managing the work of all branches and state and territory offices. Progress, which was recorded regularly in agency performance reporting, was assessed against reportable activities in electoral roll management, election management services, election support services, education and public awareness.

Branch, state and territory plans

In 2014–15, corporate and business planning documents established by individual branches, states and territories complemented the National Business Plan. Addressing key activities such as planning, risk mitigation and resource allocation, they highlighted specific operational, functional and regional characteristics that inform strategic planning.

AEC performance reporting

In 2014–15, the AEC’s performance reporting provided senior management with financial and performance information which related directly to business plan targets and outcomes.

It covered progress and developments in a range of key areas, such as budgets, expenditure, staffing, AEC services and programme outcomes.

Table 8: Corporate and business planning documents
Document Purpose Reviewed

National Business Plan

Provides high-level guidance on the strategic priorities for the year

Annually

Business continuity plans

Ensures continuation of identified critical business functions during and following a critical incident that causes disruption to normal operations

Every three years (or sooner in the event of a major restructure)

Fraud Control Plan

Provides a tailored solution for preventing, detecting and responding to fraud in accordance with relevant Commonwealth law, fraud control policies and memorandums of understanding

Every two years

Election Readiness Framework

Sets out and monitors the programme of activity required to maintain election readiness

Every election cycle

Strategic Risk Management Plan

Details strategic risks that affect the AEC and specifies how these risks will be managed

Annually

Internal Audit Plan

Sets out the AEC’s internal audit programme for the financial year

Annually

Disability Inclusion Strategy

Identifies target outcomes from the National Disability Strategy 2010–2020 relevant to the AEC

2020

Health and Safety Action Plan

Sets out activities to underpin health and safety management arrangements

Every three years

Workplace Diversity Plan

Sets out activities to recognise and value diversity in the workplace

Every four years

Reconciliation Action Plan

Sets out activities to recognise and respect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in internal and external arrangements and activities

Every three years

Agency Multicultural Plan

Sets out engagement activities and access and equity policy to engage those from diverse cultural backgrounds

Every three years

Property Plan

Provides direction for long-term management of leased property

Annually

Security Plan

Sets out strategies to protect staff, visitors, information, equipment and premises against harm, loss, interference and compromise

Biannually

Strategic Plan

Identifies the agency’s strategic direction

Periodically, as required

Assurance Plan

Outlines assurance activities that target the AEC’s key/high risk business processes

Annually

Risk management and business continuity

The AEC is committed to integrating risk management principles and practices into its business processes. A range of initiatives guide the work of the AEC in its commitment to minimising risk and ensuring business continuity.

Addressing risk

The AEC safeguards risk-related planning by regularly updating its Strategic Risk Management Plan, Risk Management Handbook and Risk Management Policy to address changes and developments in the environment in which it operates.

The AEC’s approach to risk management seeks to:

  • ensure it manages all business in a responsible manner
  • ensure that risks faced in electoral operations and political environment are understood and managed
  • increase the likelihood of meeting key performance indicators and delivering the outcomes required by stakeholders
  • safeguard assets (i.e. people, information, property and public monies) and use them responsibly and efficiently
  • create an environment in which all employees assume responsibility for the proactive identification and mitigation of risk
  • facilitate compliance with relevant legal and regulatory requirements
  • ensure the adoption of evidence-based reliable decision-making processes and planning using professional risk management approaches
  • ensure a shared, agency-wide approach to risk management
  • improve operational effectiveness and efficiency (including use of resources)
  • ensure each specific risk to the agency will have a risk owner.

Risk register

In 2014–15, the enterprise risk register continued to provide a central platform for employees and management to record, assess and manage risks. By providing a snapshot of identified risks and management strategies, the register supported the agency in identifying, resolving and mitigating both operational and strategic risks.

Business assurance

The AEC developed the 2014–15 Assurance Plan to outline assurance activities for the financial year that targeted the AEC’s key/high-risk business processes. The Assurance Plan describes the Assurance Framework which is based on the three lines of defence model which recognises that there are a number of key contributors towards an agency’s governance and control framework, namely:

  • management control
  • various risk control and compliance oversight functions established by management
  • independent assurance.

The Assurance Plan included a number of internal audit topics and seven audits were undertaken in the financial year. These focussed on the change program underway in the AEC in preparation for the next federal election along with consideration of risk management and information technology.

Business continuity planning

The AEC’s approach to business continuity management is based on maintaining the reliability of functions which are critical to its operations. A range of plans and initiatives, overseen by the Business Continuity Management Policy and Framework, address the agency’s need to respond appropriately to disruptive events, maintain reporting lines and efficiently deliver critical services.

In 2014–15 incident management plans and election-critical business continuity plans were reviewed and updated in anticipation of the next federal election.

Internal audit

Scrutiny through audit is a key accountability mechanism for effective governance and the improvement of business processes and performance. The AEC’s internal audit function provides the agency with an independent and objective review. It also provides the Electoral Commissioner, through the BAC, with professional audit advice.

Internal Audit Plan

The 2014–15 Internal Audit Plan identified seven audit activities covering the following areas:

  • the AEC’s post-election evaluation processes
  • risk management framework maturity
  • People Services System Replacement Project
  • McLeod Review implementation
  • privacy, security and compliance
  • Keelty implementation
  • fraud control.

Internal Audit Charter

On 4 November 2014 a revised Internal Audit Charter and related protocols were introduced to improve on the previous year’s audit function. As agreed, the auditors reported to the BAC as required on audits completed and progress made in the implementation of the Internal Audit Plan. Auditors report annually on the overall status of the internal controls or issues that require management attention.

Auditors

PricewaterhouseCoopers and McGrath Nicol were appointed as intended auditors for the AEC on 1 July 2013. Appointed for an initial three-year period, they are responsible for the conduct of audits and other related services, as specified by the BAC and detailed in the 2014–15 Internal Audit Plan.

Fraud control

The AEC recognises and defines electoral fraud as ‘a breach of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act) and related legislation with intent to obtain a benefit for which the person is not otherwise entitled to or to cause detriment to the Commonwealth.’

The Fraud Control Plan 2013–15 established the Electoral Commissioner’s response to maintaining a zero tolerance of fraud in the operations and services of the AEC.

In the interests of public accountability, the AEC website clearly defines ‘electoral fraud’ and outlines a range of platforms for reporting fraud which include email, postal mail and a specialised phone service titled the AEC Fraudline.

The Fraud Control Committee is responsible for assessing the effectiveness of the agency’s fraud control plans, policies and procedures.

Service Charter

The AEC’s Service Charter provides the public with an explanation of AEC services, how they are provided and the standards of service provided. As a key corporate document implemented by the Public Engagement team, the Service Charter also guides AEC staff in their interactions with the public.

Following the introduction of the national complaints management framework in early 2014 and enhancements to the national public engagement contact register, the AEC’s Service Charter is being further refined.

The reviewed document will be published online in late 2015. The current AEC Service Charter can be viewed on the AEC website.

Public accountability

Freedom of Information

Agencies subject to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 1982 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.

As the AEC is subject to the FOI Act, it publishes this information on its website and updates it regularly.

Information Publication Scheme Statement

As an agency subject to the FOI Act, the AEC is required to publish information to the public as part of the IPS. The AEC’s IPS and FOI Disclosure Log is published on its home page using icons developed by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC).

In accordance with these requirements, the IPS page on the AEC website publishes the following:

  • an outline of the IPS and its requirements
  • the AEC Agency Plan (which includes invitations for the public to comment on the AEC Agency Plan)
  • details of the AEC’s structure and functions (including a link to the AEC’s organisational chart and a list of statutory appointments under the Electoral Act
  • the AEC’s reports and responses to the Australian Parliament
  • annual reports dating back to 1998
  • routinely requested information
  • contact details for further queries.

The AEC website also features operational information which assists the agency to make decisions or recommendations that affect members of the public, such as the AEC’s rules, guidelines, practices and precedents relating to former decisions and recommendations. These include:

Customer enquiries, issues and complaints

The AEC receives enquiries and feedback from the public and other stakeholders through a range of contact channels including telephone, email, social media, facsimile, postal mail and in person.

In 2014–15 the AEC received over 70 000 phone calls, over 29 000 emails and approximately 21 000 in-person contacts from the public.

Complaints management framework

In 2014–15, the AEC introduced a national complaints management framework which includes a Complaints Management Policy. The policy, available on the AEC website, sets outs the processes the AEC will follow in the management of a complaint. The policy also outlines the six principles of accessibility, responsiveness, confidentiality, fairness, transparency and efficiency as fundamental to the AEC’s management of complaints. The policy is operationally supported by two internal procedure documents titled Complaints Management Procedures and Internal Review of Complaints Procedures.

Public engagement contact register

Central to the AEC’s management of public enquiries and complaints is a public engagement contact register, which was further reviewed and enhanced in 2014–15 as part of the agency’s commitment to continual improvement.

More information on the AEC’s customer contact services, including accessible service options, is provided in the Performance Reporting chapter of this report (education and communications).

Addressing complaints

Most complaints to the AEC are made by telephone to the national contact number on 13 23 26 and are resolved immediately. Complaints made to divisional offices may be referred to the relevant state office, then to the national office as appropriate. The time required to address and resolve each complaint depends upon the nature and complexity of the matter raised. Most complaints the AEC receives are from voters, however a small number are from candidates.

Ethical standards

The AEC’s ethical standards are informed by the:

  • AEC values
  • AEC’s planning framework
  • AEC staff conduct policies (e.g. attendance, dress code, conflict of interest)
  • Australian Public Service Values and Code of Conduct (reinforced in the AEC Enterprise Agreement 2011–2014).

The AEC’s core values of electoral integrity through quality, agility and professionalism inform both strategic planning and day-to-day operations.

Electoral integrity has become a particularly important aspect of the AEC’s ethical standards and during 2014–15, the agency focused on understanding and responding to the expectations of the public and the Australian Parliament.

More information on the AEC values is provided in the chapter titled About the AEC.

Staff consultation

The AEC considers effective communication with staff as crucial to the achievement of its objectives. As a result, it manages a number of initiatives to ensure that employee’s views and opinions are heard on decisions that affect them.

As established in the AEC Enterprise Agreement 2011–14, a number of national and state consultative forums support open communication and consultation. Elections are held to select employee representatives, who may self-nominate to participate. The three employee representatives on the national consultative forum are elected by staff.

The responsibilities of the AEC Consultative Forum include:

  • improving communication between employees and AEC management
  • providing an opportunity for open, honest and effective communication on matters concerning the AEC nationally
  • reporting to the ELT as necessary
  • convening working parties to examine issues of interest to AEC staff and management (e.g. organisational and technical change, equity, diversity, employee relations and human resource management).

In 2014–15, significant consultation was also undertaken with staff as part of the negotiation of a new enterprise agreement. Membership of the negotiation committee included managers, employees and union representatives. All negotiations are conducted in accordance with the Fair Work Act 2009 and the Australian Government Public Sector Workplace Bargaining Policy.

AEC staff participate in the annual State of the Service survey conducted by the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC). The agency continues to rate above the APSC’s organisational response target of 65 per cent. In 2015 the AEC’s response rate was 76 per cent. Senior management reviews the results of this confidential report each year to identify what is working well across the agency and to address areas that may require improvement. A continuous process of review includes members of the Executive Leadership Team, Assistant Commissioners and State and Territory Managers.

Other initiatives used by the AEC to address staff consultation include internal surveys, workshops, dedicated email addresses for specific queries and online discussion forums. The intranet is the AEC’s key internal communication tool and is continuously improved through analysis of usage patterns and user experiences.