AEC Annual Report 2016–17

External scrutiny

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Customer scrutiny

Service Charter

The AEC’s Service Charter can be viewed on the AEC website.

The charter informs the public of the service they can expect to receive when interacting with the AEC. It reflects and supports the AEC values of electoral integrity through quality, agility and professionalism. As a high-level document, the charter also serves as a central link to the more detailed performance standards available in individual event or business area service plans.

Customer enquiries, issues and complaints

In 2016–17 (outside of the federal election period), the AEC received more than 80,000 phone calls, more than 16,000 emails and approximately 13,000 in-person contacts from the public.

During the election period, the AEC partnered with the Department of Human Services (DHS)to deliver election contact centre services on behalf of the AEC. The DHS contact centre continued to operate for two weeks after election day, and in the period from 1 July 2016 received more than 69,000 telephone enquiries, approximately 4,900 emails and just under 1,200 product requests. Further information and statistics regarding 2016 federal election public enquiries was provided in the AEC’s 2015–16 Annual Report.

National complaints management framework

The AEC complaints management policy is available on the AEC website and sets outs the processes to be followed when managing a complaint.

The policy outlines the six principles of accessibility, responsiveness, confidentiality, fairness, transparency and efficiency as fundamental to the AEC’s management of complaints. It is operationally supported by two internal procedure documents, on complaints management and internal review of complaints, respectively.

Administrative scrutiny

Guiding legislation

The administrative practices and decisions of the AEC are subject to a range of legislation, as outlined in Table 24.

Table 24: Guiding legislation for AEC administrative decisions
Act Governing body Related matters

Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975

Administrative Appeals Tribunal

Certain administrative decisions made under the Electoral Act.

Ombudsman Act 1976

Commonwealth Ombudsman

Complaints about matters of administration relating to AEC functions.

Privacy Act 1988

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (the Privacy Commissioner)

Complaints about breaches of privacy rights.

Freedom of Information Act 1982

Australian Information Commissioner

Freedom of Information Commissioner

Complaints about, and delays in, the handling of requests for access to information.

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986

Australian Human Rights Commission

Complaints that claim the AEC has unlawfully discriminated against an individual.

Relevant reports and reviews

Administrative Appeals Tribunal

There was one matter before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal during this period.

Matter relating to a party logo

On 19 June 2017, the appeals tribunal notified the AEC about an application to review the AEC decision to affirm the decision of the delegate, under subsection 134(6) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, to register the logo of the Australia First Party (NSW) Incorporated. This logo includes a representation of the Eureka flag.

Objections to the registration process for this logo were based on its reputed creation by the Ballarat Reform League as a symbol of defiance.

The widespread use of an image of the Eureka flag as a component of various registered trademarks supports the proposition that the image of the flag is not owned by anyone individual or organisation.

This matter has not yet been set down for hearing.

Commonwealth Ombudsman

There were no investigations undertaken by the Ombudsman into the AEC’s administration during the reporting period.

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

There were no reports of privacy breaches to the Australian Information Commissioner during the reporting period.

However, the AEC did receive a notice from the Freedom of Information Commissioner under section 55E of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 relating to a complaint about the handling of a request for access to documents. The AEC complied with the notice on 15 June 2017.

Ballot papers and pencils are requirements of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

Australian Human Rights Commission

The Australian Human Rights Commission dismissed a complaint that the AEC’s assisted voting services were discriminatory to blind or visually impaired electors, and that the AEC was in breach of its obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. The AEC was unable to enter a conciliation process because the AEC has little discretion to remedy the complaint in the manner sought by the complainant.

As part of the vetting process for senior polling officials, the AEC conducts criminal record checks. In June and July 2017, the AEC was notified of several complaints being lodged with the Human Rights Commission alleging criminal record discrimination under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986. One complaint remains outstanding at the end of the reporting period. All other complaints have been resolved.

On 2 March 2017, the commission advised the AEC of a complaint from the father of a disabled person alleging disability discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 because the AEC had not agreed to permanently remove the disabled person from the Commonwealth Electoral Roll.

This matter was subsequently resolved by the father providing medical evidence that the disabled person was ‘incapable of understanding the nature and significance of enrolment and voting’ as required by sections 93(8)(a) and 116(4) of the Electoral Act.

Judicial scrutiny

High Court

There have not been any decisions of the High Court that directly involved decisions made by the AEC during the reporting period. The AEC did provide assistance concerning the process for re-counting Senate votes following the decisions in the matters of Re Culleton [No 2] [2017] HCA 4 and Re Day [No 2] [2017] HCA 14, where both Mr Culleton and Mr Day were found to have been disqualified from nominating as candidates for the 2 July 2016 federal election due to the operation of section 44 of the Constitution.

Federal Court

Administrative decisions judicial review

There were no applications to the Federal Court under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 during the reporting period.

Industrial elections

There were no applications to the Federal Court involving the AEC’s conduct of industrial elections during the reporting period where the AEC was named as a party.

There was one application to the Federal Court for an inquiry in relation to the election for offices which the AEC conducted but was not named as a party. In Clancy, in the matter of an application for an inquiry in relation to an election for offices in the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation [2017] FCA 460 (5 May 2017), the court held that the applicant failed to establish reasonable grounds for his application for an inquiry. The court also dismissed the application for the institution of an inquiry under section 201 of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009.

Parliamentary scrutiny

Services to the Australian Parliament

The AEC is accountable to the Australian Parliament with responsibilities set out in the Electoral Act, the Referendum Act and related legislation. The AEC provides evidence, advice and other input to matters being considered by the Special Minister of State and to various parliamentary committees – but primarily to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.

In 2016–17, the Special Minister of State referred 131 letters to the AEC for input. Major themes included political donations and donation reform, compulsory voting, electronic voting, issues relating to polling places and enrolment. The AEC also provided 65 briefings to the Special Minister of State, and support for Question Time and Senate Estimates hearings.

Compulsory enrolment was introduced in 1911 and it became compulsory to vote at federal elections in 1924

Parliamentary inquiries

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters continues to be the central point for parliamentary consideration and debate on electoral law, administration and legislative reform. The AEC provides support to parliamentary inquiries by making submissions, appearing at hearings and providing information when requested.

Parliamentary inquiries conducted in 2016–17 are summarised in Table 25.

Table 25: Parliamentary inquiries and AEC involvement 2016–17
Inquiry Committee Date referred AEC involvement Status

Inquiry into the 2016 Federal Election and matters related thereto.

Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters

21 September 2016

The AEC made one primary submission and 18 supplementary submissions; appeared at 10 public hearings and four private meetings; and answered questions taken on notice.

The first interim report on the authorisation of voter communication was tabled on 9 December 2016.

The second interim report: Foreign donations was tabled in March 2017.

The third interim report: AEC modernisation was tabled on 21 June 2017.

Inquiry on the establishment of a National Integrity Commission

Select Committee on a National Integrity Commission

8 February 2017

The AEC appeared at a public hearing but did not make a submission.

The committee is to report by 15 August 2017.

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