Chapter 1 Introduction
Referral of the Bill
On 16 February 2012 the House of Representatives Selection Committee
referred the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector
Participation) Bill 2012 to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
(the committee) for inquiry and report.
Origins and purpose of the Bill
It is estimated that 1.5 million eligible electors are not on the
Commonwealth electoral roll and will not be able to vote unless they initiate
enrolment. The number of eligible
electors is growing faster than the rate of enrolled electors.
To abate this trend the Government has proposed significant changes to the Commonwealth
Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act) and the Referendum (Machinery
Provisions) Act 1984 (Referendum Act). The Electoral and Referendum
Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012 (the Bill) seeks to
provide the Electoral Commissioner with the power to directly enrol previously
unenrolled eligible electors.
At the 2010 federal election, Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)
figures revealed that around 280 000 declaration votes (pre-poll, absent
and provisional votes) were rejected due to the people casting the votes being
incorrectly enrolled or not enrolled. Many of these electors
were removed under the objection process, which requires the AEC to remove an
elector from the roll if there is reason to believe that an elector no longer
lives at their enrolled address.
The current arrangements provide that an elector who attends a polling
place but is not found on the roll may make a declaration vote at an election,
but cannot be reinstated to the roll if they were removed under the objection
process. As a result their vote cannot be counted. This Bill will allow these
votes to be admitted to further scrutiny if certain requirements are met.
The Bill is described in the Explanatory Memorandum (EM) as implementing
recommendations one and 24 of the committee’s report entitled The 2010
Federal Election: Report on the conduct of the election and related matters.
The EM also incorporates a statement of compatibility with human rights.
It concluded that the Bill ‘is compatible with human rights because it advances
the realisation of Article 25 of the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights] by ensuring that all Australian citizens can vote in
Direct changes to the roll
The proposal to introduce direct enrolment is based on recommendation
one of the committee’s review of the 2010 federal election, which supported
amending the Electoral Act to allow the AEC to directly enrol eligible
The Committee recommends that, wherever appropriate, the Commonwealth
Electoral Act 1918 should be amended to allow the Australian Electoral
Commission (AEC) to directly enrol eligible electors on the basis of data or
information provided by an elector or electors to an agency approved by the
AEC, as an agency which performs adequate proof of identity checks, where that
information is subsequently provided by that agency to the AEC for the purposes
of updating the electoral roll. Approval of such agencies by the AEC should be
made by disallowable instrument.
The current Bill’s substantive change—enrolling electors without
claim—is dependent on the commencement of Schedule 2 of the Electoral and
Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011. The latter Bill provides
the Electoral Commissioner with the power to directly update an enrolled
elector’s address details ‘following the receipt and analysis of reliable and
current data sources from outside the Australian Electoral Commission that
indicate an elector has moved residential address’.
That Bill was also the subject of inquiry by the committee.
The current proposals to allow the Electoral Commissioner to make
amendments to the electoral roll based on sources of data from outside the AEC
have developed over the last decade. It will be an extension of the Continuous
Roll Update (CRU) process that is a key component of the AEC’s roll maintenance
The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) in a 2001-2002 performance
audit of the integrity of the electoral roll, found that:
Greater efficiencies could be obtained and CRU could be
further streamlined through automatic updating of the roll using information
provided from reliable third party sources. Automatic updating of enrolment
information is possible through cross matching the electoral roll to, and
updating it from, reliable COA information provided by electors to other
In its 2002 review of the ANAO’s report, the committee at the time noted
the AEC’s interest in the concept of ‘automatic roll updating and direct
address change’ and acknowledged that ‘automatic roll updating provides a means
of streamlining CRU’. However, it also
expressed reservations about the ‘potential for inaccurate outcomes if the
elector is not directly involved in the process’.
The committee recommended, in its report on the 2004 federal election, that:
...the AEC consider and report
on the implications of the Direct Address Change proposal (contained in
Submission No. 136) and provide a detailed report to the Committee on its
findings by the end of 2005.
The review of the 2007 federal election contained a recommendation in
relation to the update of address details of already enrolled electors
(recommendation 10). This unanimous
recommendation was the basis of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment
(Maintaining Address) Bill 2011.
The committee again considered the issue of adding eligible electors to
the roll based on third party data in its report entitled Inquiry into the
implications of the Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Amendment (Automatic
Enrolment) Act 2009 (NSW) for the conduct of Commonwealth elections. The
committee examined the adoption of this approach in New South Wales and
recommended that the AEC be allowed to ‘automatically enrol electors on the
basis of data provided by trusted agencies’.
A dissenting report opposed the recommendation.
In the committee’s review of the 2010 federal election, recommendations
one and two supported amending the Electoral Act to enable the AEC to ‘directly
enrol eligible electors’ and to ‘directly update the enrolment details of
electors’ on the ‘basis of data or information provided by an elector or
electors to an agency approved by the AEC’. A dissenting report
opposed these recommendations.
Declaration votes and objection action
Significantly, the Bill also proposes to change the requirements for
admitting declaration votes to further scrutiny and allowing the reinstatement
of some eligible electors who have been removed from the roll.
It will affect electors who believe they are already on the roll, but
cast a provisional vote because they could not be found on the roll at the time
of voting. Some of these electors may have been removed under the AEC’s
objection process. However, under current arrangements they cannot be
reinstated to the roll and their vote will not be admitted to further scrutiny.
The Special Minister of State, the Hon Gary Gray AO MP, stated in his
second reading speech that the Bill will ‘protect the participation of eligible
Australian citizens in the electoral process by establishing a safety net for
enrolment and voting’.
Recommendation 24—which is being implemented in Schedule 2 of the
Bill—aimed to reinstate people onto the roll after they had been removed as the
result of an objection by the AEC:
The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Electoral
Act 1918 be amended to provide that where an elector who had lodged a
declaration vote at an election has been removed from the electoral roll by
objection action on the ground of non residence; and
n the removal from the
roll occurred after the election prior to the election to which the scrutiny
n where there has been
a redistribution of the state or territory that includes the division since the
last election but one before the election to which the scrutiny relates, the
removal from the roll was made after the last such redistribution, then:
Þ if the
address at which the elector claims to be enrolled at the time of voting is
within the electoral division for which he or she was previously enrolled, his
or her House of Representatives and Senate votes will be counted; but
Þ if the
address at which the elector claims to be enrolled at the time of voting is in
a different electoral division in the same state or territory, his or her
Senate vote will be counted, but his or her House of Representatives vote will
not be counted.
Prior to and at the 2004 election, around 50 per cent of provisional
voters were reinstated to the roll during the preliminary scrutiny of
provisional votes. These electors were reinstated and their votes accepted for
further scrutiny on the basis that the electors had, prior to their removal
from the roll, previously been enrolled in the division in which they cast
their vote. In the majority of cases, it was found that these electors had been
removed from the roll as a result of the objection process. However, the
percentage of provisional votes accepted dropped to less than 20 per cent for
the 2007 and 2010 elections.
Amendments to the Electoral Act in 2004—amending subsections 114(4) and
118(4)—and to Schedule 3
in 2006, removed the AEC’s discretion in relation to removing an elector from
As outlined earlier, the Bill seeks to implement recommendation 24 of
the committee’s report The 2010 Federal Election: Report on the conduct of
the election and related matters. In that report, it was noted that
traditionally the Electoral Act has contained safety nets designed to ensure
that the voting franchise can be exercised by those who are entitled to do so.
The Bill aims to return safety net provisions for electors who have been
removed from the roll, enabling them to be put back on the roll and their vote
counted in certain circumstances.
Requirement to enrol
For the purposes of federal elections in Australia, an eligible elector
is a person who is:
n 18 years of age or
n an Australian citizen,
or was a British subject on a Commonwealth electoral roll as at 25 January 1984;
n has lived at their
current address for at least one month.
There is an inherent tension between eligible people’s entitlement to
vote and the compulsory nature of the act. One presupposes a right and the
other an obligation. The Electoral Acts states that ‘any person qualified for
enrolment...shall be entitled...to have his or her named placed on the Roll’.
Under the Electoral Act, it is compulsory for eligible electors to enrol
and vote in federal elections. Section 101 provides that eligible people who do
not enrol are guilty of an offence and punishable by a fine of one penalty
point, which is currently $110.
The Bill aims to facilitate people to meet their enrolment obligation
and exercise their right to vote.
CRU and objection processes
One of the main tools used by the AEC for roll update is the Continuous
Roll Update process:
The process of CRU data matching operates as follows:
n data is matched
against AEC enrolment records to establish whether or not a person is enrolled;
relating to specific categories of electors is excluded, e.g. silent electors,
Members of Parliament, eligible overseas electors (and their kin), Antarctic
electors, itinerant electors, and prisoners;
n date of enrolment is
compared against the currency of the data record supplied by the third party to
determine further action;
n address data is
matched against the AEC address register to establish whether or not an address
is valid for enrolment purposes; and
with no mail service are excluded where no postal address is provided.
CRU activities are often based on data received from third party sources
that indicate address details of enrolled people may have changed. It places
the onus on the elector to confirm their current address details. The AEC
advised that response rates were generally between 15 and 20 per cent for
the monthly mail-outs during periods when there were no major electoral events.
Part IX of the Electoral Act sets out the objection process under which
electors can be removed from the electoral roll. A person enrolled in a
particular electoral division may object to the enrolment of another elector if
they believe the person is not entitled to be enrolled in that division or is
enrolled at an address at which they do not currently live and have not lived
for at least one month.
Section 114 also requires the Electoral Commissioner to object to the
enrolment of an elector in these circumstances. The AEC indicated that
objection actions initiated by the Electoral Commissioner ‘are most commonly
triggered by CRU mailing based on third party data’.
The Electoral Commissioner writes to the elector notifying of the AEC’s
intention to remove them from the roll. If the elector does not respond to this
notice within 21 days, they will be removed from the roll. The AEC will send a
second notice to the same address advising the elector that they have been
removed from the electoral roll.
New South Wales and Victorian enrolment activities
In 2010 New South Wales and Victoria commenced with direct enrolment of
eligible unenrolled people and the direct update of relevant enrolment details.
On 1 December 2009 the NSW Parliament passed the Parliamentary
Electorates and Elections Amendment (Automatic Enrolment) Act 2009 (NSW).
The Act gave effect to the ‘Smart Roll’ system which introduced the direct
enrolment of electors for state and local government elections in New South Wales.
It also allowed eligible state electors to enrol and cast a provisional vote on
In Victoria, the Electoral Amendment (Electoral Participation) Act
2010 (Vic) was passed in July 2010. It provided the Victorian
Electoral Commission with greater enrolment powers that included:
n enrolment procedures
on election day for those electors not on the electoral roll;
n abolition of the
"three-month rule", which uses the elector's principal place of
residence, three months prior to election day, as a measure of the elector's
entitlement to vote;
n streamlined enrolment
procedures whereby the Victorian Electoral Commission (the Commission) will
have the power to enrol people on its own initiative based on information
obtained from sources under section 26(4) of the Act...
The AEC has suggested that this will lead to divergence between the
Commonwealth electoral roll and the NSW and Victorian state rolls, as currently
Commonwealth enrolments must be elector initiated.
Overview of the Bill
The Bill contains two significant schedules: ‘enrolment without claim’
and ‘declaration votes and objection action’. The substantive change to the Electoral
Act is the inclusion of section 103B which allows the Electoral Commissioner,
or delegate, to enrol an unenrolled eligible person without claim or notice
from the person. The majority of the other amendments to both the Electoral Act
and the Referendum Act are to ensure the changes proposed by 103B are
consistently represented through both Acts and allow for their implementation.
Other amendments correct past errors and clarify existing subsections.
The commencement of Section 103B (enrolment without claim) is contingent
on the commencement of Schedule 2 (updating enrolment without claim) of the Electoral
and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011.
Schedule 1—Enrolment without claim
Items 1 and 2 provide that directly enrolled voters will be placed on
any new roll and that they are included on the roll even though they have not
directly made a claim or given notice.
Item 3 reflects the change proposed by subsection 101(8) of the
Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and
prohibits legal proceedings being commenced against a person for failing to
enrol if the Electoral Commissioner enrols them.
Item 4 is the key amendment of Schedule 1 to the Bill—‘Enrolling
unenrolled person without claim or notice from the person’:
n 103B(1): Before
proceeding with a direct enrolment, the Electoral Commissioner must be satisfied
that the person (a) is entitled to enrolment, (b) has lived at an address for
one month, and (c) is not enrolled.
n 103B(2): The Electoral
Commissioner may give a person notice of the proposed action and inform them
they have 28 days to respond. The proposed action is ‘that the Electoral
Commissioner proposes to enter the person’s name and other particulars required
by section 83 on the Roll for the relevant Subdivision’.
n 103B(3)–(4): The Electoral
Commissioner can enrol a person after 28 days, or prior to the 28 days if the
elector responds confirming address details and entitlement.
n 103B(5): The
Electoral Commissioner cannot directly enrol a person in the period starting
from the close of rolls to the close of polling for the election.
n 103B(6): If the Electoral
Commissioner directly enrols, or decides not to enrol a person, the affected
person must be given notice in writing of the decision and the person’s full
name and address as entered on the roll, if applicable.
n 103B(7): If the
Electoral Commissioner receives a claim for enrolment after giving notice of
the proposed action, then a notice advising the person that they have been
enrolled need not be sent under subsection 102(1)(b)(ii).
n 103B(8): A notice can
be given by electronic means, regardless of whether or not the person has
consented to this form of communication.
Item 6 sets out ‘reviewable decisions’ in a table format. The principle
change is the addition of item 10 in the table which identifies the mechanisms
for the dismissal of an objection and the subsequent notification. Changes to
enrolments made under section 103A (update of address details) and section 103B
(enrolment without claim) are also subject to review. A person has 28 days from
the issue of a notice to apply for an internal review of the decision.
Items 10, 11, 12, 14 and 15 provide the standard protection afforded by
the AEC against the disclosure of an elector’s personal information.
Schedule 2—Declaration votes and objection action
The inclusion of subsection 105(4) provides ‘the Electoral Commissioner
with the discretion to enrol a person who was not enrolled when casting a
At present the Electoral Commissioner will enrol a person who casts a
declaration vote if they are entitled to vote and their omission from the roll is
the result of an error by an electoral officer or a mistake of fact. However,
removal due to objection action is not currently regarded as an error or
mistake of fact.
The new subsection 105(4) provides that a declaration vote may be
admitted to further scrutiny if it meets with certain requirements under
schedule 3, paragraph 12 of the Electoral Act.
Paragraph 12 of Schedule 3 currently reads:
This paragraph applies to an envelope if the DRO is
the elector who signed a certificate or declaration on the envelope is not
enrolled for the Division; and
(b) after making enquiry:
the elector was, at the time of voting, entitled to be enrolled for the
the omission of the elector’s name from the Roll for the Division was due to an
error made by an officer or to a mistake of fact; and
the omission was not attributable to subsection 118(4A) [Determination of
The Bill proposes to remove subparagraph 12(b)(iii). This will provide
the AEC with the previous discretion it had to admit these declaration votes to
further scrutiny and reinstate electors to the roll who were removed by
In its submission to the inquiry the AEC illustrated how ‘declaration
votes cast by people who have been omitted from the electoral roll due to an
“error or mistake of fact” would be treated under the proposed Bill’.
Table 1.1 How changes to declaration votes and objection
action will operate
from the roll due to an ‘error or mistake of fact’ including based on
Address on envelope compared to address on Roll at the
time of removal
Elector at same address
Same division but different
Different division but same
and/or referendum ballot papers only
the roll and for which address (if any)
Address prior to removal from
Latest known address in the
Latest known address in the
state or territory
Electoral Commission, Submission 4, Attachment C, Table C1, p. 12.
Similar changes are also proposed to be made to the Referendum Act.
Date of effect
Clauses one to three will commence on the day the Act receives Royal
Assent. The amendments in Schedule 2 (Declaration votes and objection action)
of the Bill will take effect from the day following Royal Assent. However, the
amendments in Schedule 1 (Enrolment without claim) are contingent on both this
Act and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Act
2012 receiving Royal Assent.
Objectives and scope of the inquiry
While the committee acknowledges that the Bill seeks to implement a
policy on which there has been some difference of opinion in the past, the main
objective of this inquiry is to investigate the adequacy of the Bill in
achieving its policy objectives and, where possible, identify any unintended
On 17 February 2012, the committee
Chair, Mr Daryl Melham MP, issued a media release announcing the inquiry and
called for submissions to the inquiry.
The committee received seven submissions for this inquiry, which are
listed in Appendix A. It held a roundtable discussion in Canberra on 29 February
2012. The participants are listed in Appendix B. The submissions and transcript
of evidence are available on the committee’s website at: www.aph.gov.au/em.