House of Representatives Committees

Contents

Foreword
Membership of the Committee
Terms of reference
List of abbreviations
List of recommendations

Foreword

The publication of this report into the conduct of the 2004 Federal Election comes one year and one day after the election.

Over the course of the year since polling day, the Committee has held public hearings in rural and regional areas of both Queensland and New South Wales and in major metropolitan areas across Australia .

This report confirms that Australia has a very good electoral system – but it is one which can, and should, be further improved. The 56 recommendations in this report outline issues that the Committee believes should be dealt with immediately, as well as longer term reform issues for consideration into the future.

There are a number of issues that require immediate attention.

The Committee examined the problems with postal voting at the election. These problems should not have occurred. All stakeholders in the electoral process have the right to expect better service than was provided in respect of postal voting. The Committee makes a series of recommendations designed to ensure those problems are not repeated.

Present requirements for electoral enrolment result in an unacceptable level of inaccuracy in the electoral roll. The Committee recommends the adoption of two significant enrolment reforms designed to improve integrity and to prevent electoral fraud occurring.

The first is the requirement for proof of identification and address to be provided at the time of enrolment. This move is consistent with existing contemporary identification practices, already widely accepted and adopted by the community for everyday activities such as joining a video library, or obtaining a prepaid mobile telephone.

The second is closing the roll at 8.00 pm on the day that the writs are issued for an election. The Committee received compelling evidence indicating that the current seven day close of rolls period actually encourages electors not to enrol at the time when their enrolment entitlements change.

On one hand we have laws which compel electors to enrol at the time that they gain or change their enrolment entitlement. On the other hand, the law allows for a seven day period that provides an escape for those who do not do so.

This is clearly contradictory. It promotes the view that enrolment is neither necessary nor important.

This ongoing situation creates an unrealistic volume of enrolment in the close of roll period and makes the roll more vulnerable to electoral fraud and manipulation.

The Committee recommends that the Government make these changes as soon as possible. This will allow time for the Government and the AEC to communicate the changes and give them wide publicity, thus ensuring that electors are aware and able to update their enrolment well in advance of the next election.

The Committee is also most concerned about the current processes regarding provisional voting.

Under existing arrangements, electors may apply for and cast provisional votes on election day without any identification or proof of address. The Committee, therefore, recommends that all electors who cast provisional votes must provide proof of identification and address before those votes are accepted for counting.

The Committee is not recommending that all electors provide proof of identity at polling places at the time of voting, although it believes that those electors who wish to, should be able to do so. This may assist in the finding of names on the electoral roll and thus speed up the voting process.

The Committee also received convincing evidence that necessitated recommendations to overhaul party registration. These are aimed at preventing political parties from deliberately and deceptively misleading voters into unintentionally voting for them on the basis of a similar or like name to an existing party.

In this regard, the actions of the Liberals for Forests during the election campaign and, in particular, their actions on election day have galvanised the Committee to urge Parliament to act decisively. The Committee is most concerned to ensure that voters are not misled in the same way in the future.

The community has a right to expect a reasonable degree of transparency and accountability in the way that political parties are structured and managed, both administratively and financially. The Committee has made a number of recommendations aimed at ensuring this transparency.

Australia ’s public funding and disclosure laws are found to work well. However, the thresholds over which donations must be disclosed and tax deductibility ceases are considered far too low. Both have not altered in more than a decade. Both require an overhaul to reflect contemporary standards and community expectations. Increases would see the donation threshold move in line with that existing in New Zealand and the United Kingdom .

Over 88% of the total value of donations received by the major parties in the last financial year were amounts in excess of $10,000. Lifting the threshold over which donations must be disclosed to $10,000 would still see those donations disclosed.

Accordingly, the Committee recommends lifting the amount over which donations must be disclosed to $10,000 and the amount at which tax deductibility ceases to $2,000.

The Committee also canvasses a number of longer term reform issues which have been the subject of longstanding public debate.

The issue of four year terms for the House of Representatives has received a great deal of attention by the Committee. Previous reports of the Committee in 1996, 1998 and 2001 have advocated four year terms for the House of Representatives. This report deals with the history, issues and options for reform in a comprehensive way, and recommends that a referendum be held at the next election to alter the Constitution to extend the Parliamentary term for the House of Representatives to four years. In the context of this debate, the Committee also highlights the need for consideration to be given to the application of consequential changes to the length of the Senate term.

The Committee also revisits the longstanding debate about voluntary and compulsory voting covering arguments both for and against a possible change. The Committee has recommended that compulsory voting be retained for the next election. However, it believes it worthwhile to encourage and foster further public debate and for this issue to be examined through a JSC EM inquiry in the future.

The Committee also examined voting systems (particularly for the Senate), the use of technology in the electoral process, and the need for education to be recognised as a key to a healthier democracy.

The Committee believes that technological advances should now enable the vision impaired and blind to cast a secret and independently verifiable vote through electronic voting.

The Committee recommends that the AEC undertake a trial of electronic voting at one location in each electorate at the next Federal Election.

This should ideally be a central and accessible location and not necessarily an AEC office or a pre-poll centre. This measure would, for the first time, allow those voters who currently require assistance when casting their vote to exercise the franchise independently, whilst ensuring that their vote remains secret.

The Committee does not view this measure as the precursor to a general move to electronic voting.

It will, however, provide the opportunity to gradually integrate suitable technologies into an already stable electoral system, whilst making it responsive to the needs of the blind and visually impaired.

The work of the Committee on this report would not have been possible without the dedication, effort and professional conduct of the Committee Secretariat staff. I thank Dr Stephen Dyer , Mr Andrew McGowan and Mr Terry Rushton who travelled to the public hearings, and all of the other staff who worked on the report over the course of the last 12 months.

I express my thanks also to the Electoral Commissioner Mr Ian Campbell and the staff of the Australian Electoral Commission who met the Committee’s requests for information in a professional and timely manner.

Finally, I would like to thank the Members and Senators of the Committee for their work and contribution to the report, in particular, the Deputy Chair Mr Michael Danby MP and Senator Andrew Murray , both of whom attended hearings and actively shared their experience and wisdom through all aspects of the Committee’s activities, examinations and considerations.

The Committee received 221 submissions from members of the public and organisations, and heard from 84 witnesses at 11 public hearings, gathering 798 pages of evidence. The evidence and submissions have provided valuable contributions to the Committee’s consideration of the last election, and Australia ’s electoral system now and for the future.

The Committee and Secretariat staff have worked to a very tight timeframe to produce this report. The Committee was determined to complete its investigations and consideration of matters so that the Government has sufficient time to make the necessary changes to electoral legislation, and to communicate those changes to the community in a timely manner prior to the next Federal Election.

 

Tony Smith , MP

Chair

Membership of the Committee

Chair

Mr Tony Smith MP

 

Deputy Chair

Mr Michael Danby MP

 

Members

Mr Steven Ciobo MP

Senator George Brandis

 

Mr Alan Griffin MP (from 6/9/05 )

Mr Daryl Melham MP (to 6/9/05 )

Ms Sophie Panopoulos MP

 

Senator Kim Carr

Senator Michael Forshaw

Senator Brett Mason

Senator Andrew Murray

 

 

 

Committee Secretariat

Secretary

Mr Stephen Boyd (from September 2005)

Mr Peter Keele (July-September 2005)

Ms Bev Forbes (to July 2005)

Inquiry Secretary

Dr Steve Dyer (from July 2005)

Dr Sarah Miskin (to July 2005)

Technical Advisor

Mr Terry Rushton

Research Officers

Mr Andrew McGowan

Ms Carolyn Morris

Ms Loes Slattery

Mr Justin Baker

Administrative Officers

Mr Cameron Carlile (from June 2005)

Ms Natasha Petrovic (from June 2005)

Mr Robert Nicol (to June 2005)

 

 

Terms of reference

In December 2004, the Special Minister of State, Senator the Hon Eric Abetz, referred to the Committee an inquiry with the following terms of reference:

That the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquire into and report on all aspects of 2004 Federal Election and Matters Related thereto.

List of abbreviations

AEC

Australian Electoral Commission

ABC

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

ACT

Australian Capital Territory

ADF

Australian Defence Force

AEO

Australian Electoral Officer

AFP

Australian Federal Police

ALP

Australian Labor Party

ANAO

Australian National Audit Office

APVIS

Automated Postal Vote Issuing System

ARO

Assistant Returning Officer

ATL

Above the Line

BCRA

Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act

CEA

Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

CEO

Chief Executive Officer

CRU

Continuous Roll Update

CSSS

Computerised Senate Scrutiny System

CVP

Citizenship Visits Program

DAC

Direct Address Change

DPP

Director of Public Prosecutions

DRE

Direct Recording Electronic Voting Machine

DRO

Divisional Returning Officer

EAV

Electronically Assisted Voting

ECQ

Electoral Commission Queensland

EVACS

Electronic Voting and Counting System

FACS

Federation of Australian Commercial Stations

FEC

Federal Electoral Commission

GPV

General Postal Voter

HTV

How to Vote

IDEA

Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance

IDTV

Interactive Digital Television

IVR

Interactive Voice Recognition

JCPAA

Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audits

JSCEM

Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters

NESB

Non English Speaking Backgrounds

NSW

New South Wales

NT

Northern Territory

PEO

Parliamentary Education Office

PIAC

Public Interest Advocacy Centre

PILCH

Public Interest Law Clearing House

PPERA

Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act

PVA

Postal Vote Application

QLD

Queensland

RTA

Road Transport Authority

RMANS

Roll Management System

SA

South Australia

SMS

Short Message System

STV

Single Transferable Vote

TAS

Tasmania

TCP

Two-Candidate Preferred (Count)

VEC

Victorian Electoral Commission

VIC

Victoria

WA

Western Australia

 

 

List of recommendations

2 Enrolment

Recommendation 1

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Electoral Act be amended to require that electoral enrolment forms, AEC reply paid envelopes and enrolment promotional material be prominently displayed at all times in every Australia Post, Medicare, Centrelink and Rural Transaction Centre outlet, including any agency or sub-agency, to encourage electors and potential electors to meet enrolment obligations. Further, all such material should be displayed without fee to the Commonwealth.

Recommendation 2

The Committee recommends that:

Recommendation 3

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Electoral Act be amended to require all applicants for enrolment, re-enrolment or change of enrolment details be required to verify their identity and address.

Regulations should be enacted as soon as possible to require persons applying to enrol or change their enrolment details, to verify their identity and address to the AEC by:

Where the AEC or a person who can attest a claim for enrolment receives original documents from an enrolee, the AEC must return the documents to the enrolee by hand, registered mail or other means agreed to by the enrolee.

Recommendation 4

The Committee recommends that Section 155 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act be amended to provide that the date and time fixed for the close of the rolls be 8.00pm on the day of the writs.

Recommendation 5

The Committee recommends:

Recommendation 6

The Committee recommends that:

3 Voting in the pre-election period

Recommendation 7

The Committee recommends:

Recommendation 8

The Committee recommends:

Recommendation 9

The Committee recommends:

Recommendation 10

The Committee recommends:

Recommendation 11

The Committee recommends that the AEC:

Recommendation 12

The Committee recommends that prior to the next election:

The AEC discusses with the Minister’s office options for establishing a process for the provision of information about emerging issues during the election period; including:

And, that following those discussions:

Recommendation 13

The Committee recommends that the AEC:

Recommendation 14

The Committee recommends that political parties and candidates should ensure that any material they provide to electors in advance of the writ issue or public announcement of the election date, advises electors of the relevant provisions relating to the lodgement of postal vote applications.

Recommendation 15

The Committee recommends that the AEC should review its pre-polling arrangements with a view to ensuring that, wherever practical, pre-poll centres are located at appropriate Commonwealth, State or Territory government, or local government, agencies in regional areas.

Recommendation 16

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Electoral Act and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act be amended to provide that:

Recommendation 17

The Committee recommends:

4 Registration of political parties

Recommendation 18

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Electoral Act be amended to expand the definition of an eligible political party so that:

Eligible political party means a political party that is either:

Recommendation 19

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Electoral Act be amended to provide minimum requirements for the constitution of a registered political party.

Potential minimum requirements would include:

Recommendation 20

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Electoral Act be amended to provide for the:

Recommendation 21

The Committee recommends that the AEC be given appropriate funding to meet the additional obligations associated with de-registration and re-registration.

5 Election day

Recommendation 22

The Committee recommends that the AEC review the proportion of its election budget allocated to training polling booth staff.

Recommendation 23

The Committee recommends that the AEC ensure that it has sufficient staff to meet peak demands at known busy polling places, if need be through the use of casual staffing at peak times.

Recommendation 24

The Committee recommends that the AEC increase the thresholds for joint polling booths to a level to be determined through consultation with the JSCEM.

Recommendation 25

The Committee recommends that, at the next Federal Election, those wishing to cast a provisional vote should produce photographic identification.

Voters unable to do so at the polling booth on election day would be permitted to vote, but their ballots would not be included in the count unless they provide the necessary documentation to the DRO by close of business on the Friday following election day. Where it was impracticable for an elector to attend a DRO’s office, a photocopy of the identification, either faxed or mailed to the DRO, would be acceptable.

Those who do not possess photographic identification should present one of the other forms of identification acceptable to the AEC for enrolment.

Recommendation 26

The Committee recommends that the AEC continue its consultations with relevant parties and prior to the next Federal Election, as part of improving access to the franchise by those experiencing homelessness, as a minimum:

Recommendation 27

The Committee recommends that the AEC consult with appropriate organisations to establish appropriate experimental arrangements to assist the blind and visually impaired to cast a secret ballot at the next Federal Election.

Recommendation 28

The Committee recommends that, as a future direction, the AEC consult with relevant organisations representing people with disabilities to develop a disability action plan covering the full spectrum of access issues faced.

Recommendation 29

The Committee does not support the introduction of proof of identity requirements for general voters on polling day at the next election.

Instead, the Committee recommends that the AEC report to the JSCEM on the operation of proof of identity arrangements internationally, and on how such systems might operate on polling day in Australia.

Recommendation 30

The Committee recommends that, at the next Federal Election, the AEC encourage voters to voluntarily present photographic identification in the form of a driver’s licence to assist in marking off the electoral roll.

6 Counting the votes

Recommendation 31

The Committee recommends that the AEC increase its efforts to improve understanding of the voting system and reduce the informal vote in electorates with a high percentage of constituents from non-English speaking backgrounds, including by development of new and innovative strategies.

7 Parliamentary terms

Recommendation 32

The Committee recommends that there be four-year terms for the House of Representatives.

Recommendation 33

The Committee recommends that the Government promote public discussion and advocacy for the introduction of four-year terms during the remainder of the current Federal Parliament.

Recommendation 34

The Committee recommends that, in the course of such public discussion, consideration be given to the application of consequential changes to the length of the Senate term, and in particular, Senate Options 1 and 2, as set out in this chapter.

Recommendation 35

The Committee recommends that proposals be put to the Australian public via a referendum at the time of the next Federal Election. If these

proposals are successful, it is intended that they come into effect at the commencement of the parliamentary term following the subsequent Federal Election.

8 Voluntary and compulsory voting

Recommendation 36

The Committee recommends that voluntary and compulsory voting be the subject of a future inquiry by the JSCEM.

9 Voting systems

Recommendation 37

The Committee recommends that compulsory preferential voting above the line be introduced for Senate elections, while retaining the option of compulsory preferential voting below the line. Consequently, the practice of allowing for the lodgement of Group Voting Tickets be abolished. This would involve amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act, in particular the repeal of ss.211, 211A, 216, 239(2) and 239(3).

Recommendation 38

The Committee recommends that the system of compulsory preferential voting for the House of Representatives be retained.

Recommendation 39

The Committee recommends that the AEC be resourced to conduct a public education campaign, in advance of the next Federal Election, to explain the changes to the above-the-line Senate voting system.

In those States where the Commonwealth and State voting systems are different (i.e. New South Wales and Queensland), the AEC’s education campaign should emphasise the necessity, in Federal Elections, of voting by the compulsory preferential, as opposed to the optional preferential, method.

11 Technology and the electoral system

Recommendation 40

The Committee recommends that the AEC investigate technology that could facilitate electronic checking of the electoral roll through networked polling places. In doing so, it will be beneficial to monitor any

international developments in which such technology is utilised. The AEC should report back to the Committee about any major developments in this area.

Recommendation 41

The Committee recommends that a trial of an electronic voting system be implemented at an appropriate location in each electorate to assist blind and visually impaired people, who currently cannot cast a secret and independently verifiable vote.

Recommendation 42

The Committee recommends that the AEC identify, at an early stage, any legislative changes required to allow the paper ballot output of the system (whether electronic counting or a printed ballot paper) to be counted as a valid vote.

Recommendation 43

The Committee recommends that the AEC trial remote electronic voting for overseas Australian Defence Force and Australian Federal Police personnel, and for Australians living in the Antarctic. The AEC should develop a proposal that considers matters such as security and verification of identity, and report back to the Committee.

12 Campaigning in the new millennium

Recommendation 44

The Committee recommends that the AEC review section 328 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act to devise authorisation requirements for electoral advertisements, as distinct from general commentary, on the internet.

Recommendation 45

The Committee recommends that the AEC review section 328 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act to enhance the accountability and transparency of the electoral process.

Recommendation 46

The Committee recommends that the Government give consideration to amendment of the Commonwealth Electoral Act to remove section 350, which carries criminal actions and penalties for defamation against electoral candidates.

Recommendation 47

The Committee recommends that the AEC assess local and state legislation governing electoral signage and determine whether the Commonwealth Electoral Act should be amended to preserve candidates’ equivalent rights to display electoral advertising during an election period.

Recommendation 48

The Committee recommends that the AEC review Sections 340 and 348 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act with a view to addressing issues of “misleading conduct” on polling day.

13 Funding and disclosure

Recommendation 49

The Committee recommends that the disclosure threshold for political donations to candidates, political parties and associated entities be raised to amounts over $10 000 for donors, candidates, political parties, and associated entities.

Recommendation 50

The Committee recommends that the threshold at which donors, candidates, Senate groups, political parties, and associated entities must disclose political donations should be indexed to the Consumer Price Index.

Recommendation 51

The Committee recommends that the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 be amended to increase the tax deduction for a contribution to a political party, whether from an individual or a corporation, to an inflation-indexed $2,000 per year.

Recommendation 52

That the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 be amended to provide that donations to an independent candidate, whether from an individual or a

corporation, are tax deductible in the same manner and to the same level as donations to registered political parties.

Recommendation 53

The Committee recommends that third parties be required to meet the same financial reporting requirements as political parties, associated entities, and donors.

14 Looking to the future— education as the key to a healthy democracy

Recommendation 54

The Committee recommends that State, Territory and Federal education authorities coordinate their contributions to students’ understanding and appreciation of Australia's system of government.

Recommendation 55

The Committee recommends that State, Territory and Federal education authorities increase their financial contribution to enable students in grades five and six to vitis the National Capital to further their understanding of democracy.

Recommendation 56

The Committee recommends that the Parliament refer electoral education to the JSCEM for further examination and report.

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