House of Representatives Committees

Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters

Inquiry into all aspects of the conduct of the 1996 federal election and matters related thereto

Chapter summary and list of recommendations

The page number after each recommendation refers to the full report, which is available in PDF format.

Chapter One - Introduction

This Chapter provides information on the 1996 Federal election and the conduct of the inquiry.

Chapter Two - Electoral Integrity

It is unacceptable that the most fundamental transaction between a citizen and the government - the act of choosing the government at a democratic election - is subject to a far lower level of security than such lesser transactions as opening a bank account, applying for a passport, applying for a driver's licence or registering for social security benefits, to name but a few.

The Committee therefore recommends that the witnessing requirement on the enrolment form be upgraded, electors be asked to produce at least one form of proof of identity for enrolment, the government expedite cross-checking of electoral data with information held by other agencies, new enrolments cease on the day the writ for an election is issued and "subdivisional" voting be re-examined. Certain amendments should also be made to the procedures for removing names from the electoral rolls following objection action.

Recommendation 1:

that the AEC prepare a comprehensive implementation plan on the Committee's proposed measures to improve the integrity of the enrolment and voting process, and report back to the Committee by the end of 1997. (p7)

Recommendation 2:

that as part of the implementation plan recommended above, the AEC nominate a prescribed class of persons eligible to complete the witnessing portion of the enrolment form if upgraded into a proof of identity declaration. The upgraded enrolment form should specify that a witness must be on the Commonwealth electoral roll (rather than merely eligible to be enrolled). Adequate provision should be made for identifiable groups of people who will face unusual difficulties in finding a witness. (p7)

Recommendation 3:

that the Electoral Act be amended to provide that an applicant for enrolment must produce at least one original item of documentary proof of identity, where such information has not been provided previously (that is, all enrolment transactions initially and new enrolments thereafter). Acceptable documents might include photographic drivers' licences, Birth Certificates or extracts, Social Security papers (such as notice or advice of a pension) or Veterans' Cards, Citizenship Certificates, passports, Medicare Cards, or a written reference for a limited range of clients unable to produce the above documentation. (p9)

Recommendation 4:

that in co-operation with relevant Commonwealth, State and Territory departments and agencies, the AEC conduct a study identifying costs, benefits, methods of implementation, and requirements for legislative amendment of the following options for the expanded matching of enrolment data:

Recommendation 5:

that the Electoral Act be amended to make clear that claims for enrolment from persons who state they have achieved citizenship through naturalisation under the Australian Citizenship Act 1948, but who do not provide a date of naturalisation or citizenship number, will not be accepted until such information has been verified by the AEC (see also Recommendation 4 on cross-checking of electoral data against external databases). (p13)

Recommendation 6:

that section 155 of the Electoral Act be amended to provide that for new enrolments, the rolls for an election close on the day the writ is issued, and for existing electors updating address details, the rolls for an election close at 6.00pm on the third day after the issue of the writ. (p14)

Recommendation 7:

that as part of the implementation plan referred to at Recommendation 1, the AEC prepare a detailed proposal for the reintroduction of subdivisional voting for future Federal elections. The proposal should consider a corresponding public awareness campaign (so that people are aware they may be disenfranchised if they fail to advise the AEC of a change of address across a subdivisional boundary, even when remaining within the same division). (p16)

Recommendation 8:

that in relation to multiple voting, the word "wilfully" be deleted from section 339(1)(j) of the Electoral Act. (p17)

Recommendation 9:

that electoral rolls for a division or subdivision again be made available for inspection in local libraries and Post Offices. (p17)

Recommendation 10:

further to Recommendation 6, that section 118(5) of the Electoral Act be amended to provide that the period during which a Divisional Returning Officer cannot remove a name from the roll following objection action commences at the close of rolls. (p19)

Recommendation 11:

that a) sections 95, 99 and 101 of the Electoral Act be amended so that electors are required to re-enrol within one month of changing address anywhere in Australia and b) the AEC be empowered to negotiate with utilities and local government so that documents sent out by those bodies, to persons who have changed address, include reminders to change enrolment details. (p20)

Chapter Three - Preferential and Compulsory Voting

Compulsory voting was first introduced in Australia in 1915 by the government of Queensland. A person who does not vote at a Federal election is guilty of an offence and must pay a penalty of $20.00, unless he or she can provide to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) a reason which must be "valid and sufficient". Failure to pay the penalty may lead to court proceedings and a fine of up to $50.00 plus court costs.

To date the political parties have conspired to use the law to do what in virtually every other democracy the parties themselves must do - namely, maximise voter turnout at elections. However, if Australia is to consider itself a mature democracy compulsory voting should now be abolished. The assertion that voting is a "right" means little if one can be imprisoned for conscientiously choosing not to exercise that right - or rather, for conscientiously exercising the right not to vote.

Also, controversy was caused during the election by the jailing of Mr Albert Langer. Mr Langer had defied a Victorian Supreme Court injunction preventing him from breaching section 329A of the Electoral Act. Section 329A makes it an offence to encourage, during the election period, voters to fill in House of Representatives ballot papers other than in accordance with the full preferential voting method set out in section 240 of the Electoral Act.

The Langer affair has clearly shown that section 329A is an ineffective and heavy-handed provision. Section 329A and related provisions should be repealed, while the wording of section 240 should be clarified.

Preferential voting for the Senate is also examined in this Chapter.

Recommendation 12:

that section 245 of the Electoral Act and section 45 of the Referendum Act, and related provisions providing for compulsory voting at Federal elections and referenda, be repealed. In the interests of effective management of the electoral system and maintaining accurate records of turnout, compulsory enrolment should be retained. (pp26-27)

Recommendation 13:

that sections 270(2), 329(3) and 329A of the Electoral Act be repealed. (p32)

Recommendation 14:

that section 240 of the Electoral Act, which provides for full preferential voting at House of Representatives elections, be amended to include the words "consecutive numbers, without the repetition of any number". (p32)

Recommendation 15:

that if Recommendation 13 is accepted, at future Federal elections the AEC monitor how many informal votes would have been accepted as formal had section 270(2) of the Electoral Act remained in force. (p33)

Recommendation 16:

that before the next election, the government seek advice on the constitutional validity of sections 272(2) and 272(3) of the Electoral Act, which allow a Senate group to lodge multiple voting tickets. (p35)

Recommendation 17:

that the AEC revise its procedures to ensure compliance with section 216 of the Electoral Act, which requires that Senate group voting tickets be "prominently displayed" on posters at polling booths. Such information should be made available to electors who request it before polling day. (p36)

Chapter Four - Enrolment and Voting by Certain Groups

The Committee recommends, among other things, that:

Recommendation 18:

that the Electoral Act be amended to allow the reinstatement of provisional votes where an elector has moved between subdivisions in the Northern Territory or Kalgoorlie, but has remained within the relevant division. (p40)

Recommendation 19:

that following the next Federal election the AEC conduct a review of its service delivery to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander electors, in the context of the abolition of the ATSIEIS, and report back to the Parliament. (p44)

Recommendation 20:

that in relation to assisted voting, section 234(1) of the Electoral Act be repealed, and section 234(2) be amended to allow any polling official (rather than a "presiding officer") to assist a voter. (p46)

Recommendation 21:

that the ATSIC Act be amended to provide that ATSIC elections may not be held in the period between the close of nominations and the close of polling for a Federal, State or Territory election. (p46)

Recommendation 22:

that the Electoral Act be amended to allow Australians resident overseas for the purposes of career or employment to remain enrolled, or to enrol after departing Australia, for a subdivision under similar criteria to those provided for itinerant electors in section 96(2A) of the Act. The qualifying period of three years or less under section 94 of the Act should be extended to six years (with the retention of the capacity, under sections 94(8) and 94(9), for electors to apply for further extensions on a year-by-year basis). (pp47-48)

Recommendation 23:

that section 193(2) of the Electoral Act be amended to replace any reference to the "Queen's Dominions" with "Commonwealth". (p48)

Recommendation 24:

that section 93(8)(b) of the Electoral Act be amended to provide that a person serving a prison sentence for any offence against the law of the Commonwealth, or of a State or Territory, is not entitled to enrol or vote at Federal elections. (p48)

Recommendation 25:

that the AEC improve education for staff in hospitals and nursing homes (and other such institutions likely to be appointed as polling places) to ensure that patients are not deprived of the right to vote, and that the rights of party scrutineers are understood and applied consistently. (p50)

Recommendation 26:

that section 226(2A) of the Electoral Act be amended so that during the conduct of mobile polling at special hospitals, Electoral Visitors are allowed to advise voters that how-to-vote material is available. (p51)

Recommendation 27:

that a drafting error in section 226(4)(a) of the Electoral Act be corrected, by replacing the reference therein to section 219 of the Act ("participation by candidates in the conduct of an election") with a reference to section 348 ("control of behaviour at polling booths etc."). (p51)

Recommendation 28:

that the Electoral Act be amended to enable presiding officers to take ballot papers immediately outside a polling place to electors who, because of physical incapacity, cannot enter the polling place. Scrutineers should be given the opportunity to observe this process. (p52)

Chapter Five - Enrolment and Voting: Other Issues

Some 13.8 percent of the votes cast at the 1996 Federal election were "declaration" votes (postal, pre-poll, absent and provisional votes), for which electors filled out their details on envelopes into which their ballot papers were placed. The Committee rejects the AEC's proposal that voters casting pre-poll votes in their own electorates have ordinary votes rather than the present declaration votes.

Certain restrictions should be placed on the political parties' use of the AEC's official postal vote application form. Also, the postal vote envelope needs to be redesigned as a matter of urgency, given that a number of envelopes split when sorted through Australia Post's machinery. The redesign should take account of concerns about the secrecy of postal voting.

Regarding the method of marking the ballot paper, the existing formality provisions are generally appropriate. Also, the Committee rejects calls for computerised voting. A computerised system would be expensive and less secure than existing methods, and there is no evidence to suggest that voters would find a computer screen more user-friendly than a conventional ballot paper.

The counting of votes is known as the "scrutiny". The Senate scrutiny should be computerised, while the "two candidate preferred count" (a provisional distribution of preferences direct to the two candidates most likely to win each seat) should be used where possible for the formal declaration of House of Representatives results.

Also examined in this Chapter are the live broadcast of early results to Western Australia, queuing at some polling places and the AEC's public awareness campaigns. On this last matter, the Committee is concerned about instances of the AEC's Voting Guide being delivered to households together with political material.

Recommendation 29:

that the AEC, in its pre-election advertising, emphasise that pre-poll and postal voting is only available to those electors who will be unable to cast an ordinary vote on polling day. (p54)

Recommendation 30:

that the Electoral Act and the Referendum Act be amended to make clear that a postal vote application form sent to an elector must be the official AEC form or an exact replica, and must not be incorporated into another document with material issued by a body other than the AEC. (p55)

Recommendation 31:

that the postal voting provisions of the Electoral Act and the Referendum Act be amended to enable double enveloping, by deleting the requirement for the declaration certificate and the return address of the Divisional Returning Officer to be printed on the envelope into which the postal ballot papers are placed. (pp56-57)

Recommendation 32:

that paragraph 7 of Schedule 3 of the Electoral Act and paragraph 7 of Schedule 4 of the Referendum Act concerning the postmarking of postal vote envelopes be repealed, so that the date of the witness's signature is instead used to determine if a postal vote was cast before the close of polling. The witnessing portion of the postal vote envelope should specify all the elector's details being attested to, and should make clear that it is an offence for a witness to make a false declaration. (p58)

Recommendation 33:

that the Electoral Act be amended to permit candidates to receive, on request, an electronic copy of the marked roll of those electors who lodged postal votes at the relevant election. (p58)

Recommendation 34:

that the Electoral Commissioner be provided with a discretion in the Electoral Act with regard to the layout and formatting of the Senate ballot paper, to enable cost-effective use of standard paper stocks and printing technologies. Any new format should not compromise the legibility of the ballot paper. (p61)

Recommendation 35:

that section 273 of the Electoral Act be amended so as to permit the Senate scrutiny to be carried out by either the current manual processes or by a computer process based on the same principles as the manual count. (p63)

Recommendation 36:

that the Electoral Act be amended so that, where on the basis of first preferences votes the exclusion of all but two candidates for a House of Representatives division is inevitable, the declaration of the poll proceeds based on the result of the two candidate preferred count. (p64)

Recommendation 37:

that section 266 of the Electoral Act concerning the preliminary scrutiny of declaration votes be amended to provide that the preliminary scrutiny may begin on the Monday before polling day. (p65)

Recommendation 38:

that sections 153(2)(b) and 154(4)(b) of the Electoral Act, and section 14(2) of the Referendum Act, be amended to require the advertising of election and referendum writs in only one newspaper circulating in a State or Territory where there are not two newspapers in wide circulation. (p68)

Chapter Six - Nomination of Candidates and Registration of Parties

In this Chapter the Committee:

Recommendation 39:

that at an appropriate time, such as in conjunction with the next Federal election, a referendum be held on a) applying the "office of profit" disqualification in section 44(iv) from the start of an MP's term, rather than from the time of nomination, and b) deleting section 44(i) on "foreign allegiance" and otherwise amending the Constitution to make Australian citizenship a necessary qualification for membership of the Parliament. (pp73-74)

Recommendation 40:

that section 170(3) of the Electoral Act be amended to increase the deposit for nomination from $250 to $350 for the House of Representatives, and from $500 to $700 for the Senate. (p74)

Recommendation 41:

that section 166(1)(b)(i) of the Electoral Act be amended so that the number of signatures required in support of a nomination by a candidate not endorsed by a registered political party is increased from six to 50. (p75)

Recommendation 42:

that sections 156(1), 176 and 213(1)(a) of the Electoral Act be amended to reduce the nomination period by one day (to not less than 10 days or more than 27 days), with the declaration of nominations to be held 24 hours after the close of nominations. Sections 211 and 211A of the Act (which refer to the "closing" of nominations) should be amended, so that Senate candidates and groups still have 24 hours after the declaration to advise the AEC of their desired preference distributions. (pp75-76)

Recommendation 43:

that sections 176(1), 213(1)(a) and 283(1) of the Electoral Act be amended to allow the Senate ballot paper draw and the declaration of the Senate result to be carried out at the place of nomination, or at another convenient location as decided by the Australian Electoral Officer, if insufficient space is available at the AEC Head Office. (pp76-77)

Recommendation 44:

that the Electoral Act be amended to enable registered party names or abbreviations, as appropriate, to be printed against the names of candidates, where two or more parties are seeking to use the same party identifier to endorse candidates at an election. An appropriate description should also be able to be used if necessary. (p78)

Recommendation 45:

that section 169B of the Electoral Act be amended to provide that a candidate endorsed by more than one political party must specify to the AEC, in writing, the name of the political party to be printed on the ballot paper. (p78)

Recommendation 46:

that the Electoral Act be amended to enable a registered political party to object to the continuing use of a party name and/or abbreviation by another party which obtained its registration by claiming related party status to that registered political party, where that relationship no longer exists. (p79)

Chapter Seven - Election Campaigning

As is always the case after a Federal election, several MPs and political parties wrote to the inquiry to express concern about opponents' campaigning practices. In addition, a number of submission writers dealt with such policy issues as the regulation of "truth" in political advertising.

A provision similar to section 113 of South Australia's Electoral Act (which bans "inaccurate and misleading" purported statements of fact in election advertising) should be introduced into Commonwealth law. The provisions of the Electoral Act which govern the authorisation of campaign material also need to be amended, while the penalties applying to electoral offences should be reviewed.

Section 91 of the Electoral Act provides that after each general election, the latest printed rolls and "habitation indexes" (name and address information from the rolls reformatted in street address order) shall be copied to registered political parties, Senators and Members of the House of Representatives. The rolls and habitation indexes only show name and address information. The additional provision of age, gender and salutation information would greatly assist MPs and political parties in their basic role of communicating with electors.

Recommendation 47:

that the Electoral Act and the Broadcasting Act be amended to prohibit, during election periods, "misleading statements of fact" in electoral advertisements published by any means. (p85)

Recommendation 48:

that section 328 of the Electoral Act and section 121 of the Referendum Act be amended, to provide that where an electoral advertisement is presented so that the AEC believes there is no reasonable doubt as to the individual who, or body which, is responsible for its publication, the authorisation requirements will be taken to be satisfied. The authorisation provisions should still specify that correct name and (street) address details must be clearly displayed. (p87)

Recommendation 49:

that section 331 of the Electoral Act ("heading to electoral advertisements") be amended to ensure that a) as well as newspapers it applies to other periodical newsheets and magazines that accept paid advertisements, and b) it applies to advertisements containing electoral matter whether inserted "for reward" or free of charge by the owner or editor of the publication. (p88)

Recommendation 50:

that section 332 of the Electoral Act and section 125 of the Referendum Act ("authors of reports etc. to be identified") be repealed. (p89)

Recommendation 51:

that a review of the level of penalties for offences under the Electoral Act and the Referendum Act be undertaken by the AEC with the assistance of the Attorney-General's Department, with a view to bringing the penalties into line with penalty rates for comparable offences under other Commonwealth statutes. (p90)

Recommendation 52:

that the enrolment form be amended to provide for electors' salutation details, and that section 91 of the Electoral Act be amended so that electors' gender, age and salutation details are provided to Members of Parliament and registered political parties, subject to a) sections 91A(1A)(c) and 91A(2)(c) of the Act being amended to make clear that the "permitted purposes" in relation to MPs and registered parties include research purposes, and b) the penalties for misuse specified in sections 91A and 91B of the Act being increased from $1000 to $10 000 (the outcome of the review of penalties provided for in Recommendation 51 should not delay the proposed increase). (p93)

Recommendation 53:

that sections 89 to 92 of the Electoral Act, concerning improper use of roll information, be reviewed to take account of developments in computer technology. The existing entitlements of MPs and registered political parties should be maintained. (p94)

Recommendation 54:

that the Electoral Act be amended so that the prohibition on canvassing at "special hospitals" and hospitals that are polling places applies from the Monday before polling day to the expiration of polling day, and so that the gazettal of special hospitals is effective on an ongoing basis. (p97)

Chapter Eight - Election Funding and Financial Disclosure

Part XX of the Electoral Act provides for public funding of election campaigns, annual financial disclosure by registered political parties and donors, and post-election financial disclosure by parties, candidates, and others. The Committee recommends that:

Recommendation 55:

that section 314AC(1) of the Electoral Act be amended so that political parties are required to disclose a total amount of $5000 or more, rather than $1500, received from a person or organisation during a financial year. (p101)

Recommendation 56:

that section 314AC(2) of the Electoral Act be amended to raise from $500 to $1500 the threshold for counting individual amounts received. (p101)

Recommendation 57:

that section 305B(1) of the Electoral Act be amended to increase from $1500 to $10 000 the amount above which a donor to a registered political party must furnish a return for the financial year. (p102)

Recommendation 58:

that section 309 of the Electoral Act be amended so that registered political parties are not required to lodge returns of electoral expenditure. (p102)

Recommendation 59:

that the Electoral Act be amended to allow registered political parties to lodge their audited accounts in place of the annual return, subject to a) the accounts containing a level of detail consistent with Part XX of the Act and b) the format of the accounts being approved by the AEC. (p102)

Recommendation 60:

that section 314AD of the Electoral Act be amended to replace the current requirement to report in detail amounts paid with a requirement to report total expenditure. (p103)

Recommendation 61:

that section 78 of the Commonwealth Income Tax Assessment Act be amended so that donations to a political party of up to $1500 annually, whether from an individual or a corporation, are tax deductible. (p104)

Recommendation 62:

that section 78 of the Income Tax Assessment Act be amended to provide that donations to an independent candidate at a Federal or State election are tax deductible, at the same level as donations to registered parties. (p104)

Recommendation 63:

that the Electoral Act be amended so that the amount of public funding available is based on the total enrolment at the close of rolls for an election, multiplied by the amount payable per elector as in section 294 of the Act. (p105)

Recommendation 64:

that section 311A of the Electoral Act, concerning annual returns by Commonwealth departments, be deleted and inserted in more appropriate legislation. (p105)

Chapter Nine - Other Matters

The AEC has a three-tiered structure with a Central Office in Canberra, a Head Office in each State and the Northern Territory, and offices in most of the House of Representatives electoral divisions. The divisional offices have a permanent staff of two to three officers including the Divisional Returning Officer (DRO). The ongoing debate about the divisional office structure is noted in this Chapter.

An election result for a House of Representatives division, or a State or Territory for the Senate, may be challenged by way of a petition to the High Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns. The Electoral Act should be amended to expedite petition results and to avoid a repeat, at the Commonwealth level, of the Mundingburra by-election in Queensland.

The Committee endorses four-year terms for the House of Representatives, and recommends that limits be placed on the extent to which by-elections can be delayed for partisan reasons.

The 1996 Federal election is the sixth in succession to be examined by a parliamentary committee on electoral matters. The Committee now intends to report on more specialised topics, having tabled this comprehensive review of the electoral system. An inquiry into industrial elections is underway, while later this year the Committee will seek a reference on the AEC's conduct of elections for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).

Recommendation 65:

that when available, any government proposal for reorganisation of the AEC divisional office structure be referred to this Committee for inquiry and report. (p110)

Recommendation 66:

that if regionalisation does not proceed, funding for AEC divisional offices be increased to a level sufficient to maintain a permanent staff of three in each office. (p110)

Recommendation 67:

that if regionalisation does not proceed, the government provide special project funding as a matter of urgency to enable replacement of the information technology used in AEC divisional offices. (p111)

Recommendation 68:

that section 188 of the Electoral Act and section 61 of the Referendum Act be amended to provide that where Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel are serving in an overseas country as a formed unit, and Australia Post certifies that postal vote applications or ballot papers would not, if posted, reach the personnel in time for their votes to be cast before the relevant deadline, then the requirements of section 188 and section 61 shall be satisfied if a Divisional Returning Officer provides the relevant applications or ballot papers to a designated member of the ADF. (p113)

Recommendation 69:

that similar amendments be made to the Electoral Act and the Referendum Act to cover cases where the AEC uses services other than postal services, such as contractual delivery, for the conveyance of postal voting material. (p113)

Recommendation 70:

that the Electoral Act and the Referendum Act be amended to provide explicitly that a failure of an alternative mechanism to the postal service shall not, in cases where the postal service has broken down, form the basis for a challenge to the result of the election in the Court of Disputed Returns. (p113)

Recommendation 71:

that the Electoral Act and the Referendum Act be amended so that the Court of Disputed Returns or the High Court must decide election or referendum petitions "as quickly as is reasonable in the circumstances". (p114)

Recommendation 72:

that section 354 of the Electoral Act be amended to enable the High Court to remit aspects of a petition to a Supreme Court, with the High Court retaining final jurisdiction on relief. (p114)

Recommendation 73:

that the Electoral Act be amended so that within 75 days of the resignation or death of a Member of the House of Representatives, a writ must be issued for a by-election (except in the four months before the expiry of the House of Representatives by effluxion of time). A similar amendment should apply to supplementary elections caused by, for example, the death of a candidate after the close of nominations. (p115)

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