3. Voter enrolment and participation

3.1
The state of the electoral roll and the rate of voter turnout are key indicators of the health of Australia’s democratic system. By any international measure, Australia does extraordinarily well on both these fronts, with comparatively high enrolment and participation numbers. This is largely due to compulsory voting and the entrenched habits of Australian voters.1
3.2
The culture of voting in Australia and supporting the local school or community organisation fundraising through a sausage sizzle is so strong that the Australian National Dictionary Centre declared ‘democracy sausage’ to be Australia’s 2016 ‘word of the year’.2
3.3
While our democratic system remains robust, with a record number of eligible electors enrolled to vote, concerning trends exist. At the 2016 federal election, voter turnout reached record low levels from a 94 per cent turnout in 2007 to a 91 percent turnout in 2016–the lowest since compulsory voting was introduced in 1925. Enrolment and participation figures for some of Australia’s Indigenous communities remains low in comparison to the wider community of eligible voters, with enrolment rates estimated to be around 58 per cent3.

The Electoral Roll

Enrolment

3.4
Enrolment to vote is the first step in ensuring that Australian citizens are electorally franchised. The state of the electoral roll is, therefore, critical to the overall vitality of Australia’s democracy. Under section 92(2) of the Electoral Act, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has responsibility ‘for the preparation, maintenance and revision of the Rolls’.4
3.5
In the lead-up to the 2016 election, the AEC achieved its 95 per cent enrolment target for eligible electors. At the close of the rolls, 15 676 659 people from a total population of about 16.5 million eligible voters were enrolled. This is up from an enrolment rate of 92.4 per cent at the 2013 election, an addition of 963 860 people to the roll, and is the largest enrolment in Australia’s history.5 The Committee congratulates the AEC for this achievement.
3.6
This achievement included a decrease in people ‘missing’ from the electoral roll by nearly 400 000, from an estimated 1 210 000 in 2013, to 822 000 in 2016. People ‘missing’ from the roll are eligible voters who are not enrolled, as estimated using Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data.6
3.7
This upward trend in enrolment has continued since the election. As at 31 March 2018, of a total population of 16 727 896 eligible voters, 16 115 265 people have been included on the roll—96.3 per cent of eligible voters.7
3.8
According to the AEC, the improved state of the electoral roll is due to ‘the AEC’s concerted focus on enrolment since the 2013 federal election and included a range of roll stimulation activities, including Federal Direct Enrolment and Update (FDEU)’.8
3.9
FDEU allows the AEC to use data gathered by other government agencies, such as Centrelink, and the national driver license database (NEVDIS) to up-date the electoral roll, without requiring the intervention of the electors concerned. Eligible electors who are found missing from the electoral roll are sent a letter confirming their enrolment/re-enrolment and requiring them to contact the AEC if any of their up-dated details are incorrect. The system, therefore, operates in an opt-out, rather than an opt-in, manner.9
3.10
Between 2013 and the 2016 election, FDEU resulted in 278 727 new enrolments, 151 903 re-enrolments and 2 898 486 enrolment up-dates.10
3.11
JSCEM had recommended FDEU in its inquiry into the implications of the Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Amendment (Automatic Enrolment) Act 2009 (NSW), and in its review of the 2010 federal election. FDEU was legislated in 2012.11
3.12
Together with FDEU, the AEC’s Online Enrolment Service (OES) is the leading gateway onto the electoral roll for eligible voters. Between 2013 and 2016, OES resulted in 365 448 new enrolments, 72 657 re-enrolments, and 2 192 574 enrolment up-dates.12
3.13
During the close of the rolls period in 2016, OES was the most common channel for enrolment transactions (enrolment, re-enrolment and enrolment up-date), with 84 per cent (or 576 363) of all transactions for this period completed online.13
3.14
Apart from FDEU and OES, the AEC engages in a range of other activities to encourage voter enrolment, including ‘mail, online, phone and one-on-one contact, plus general public awareness activities’. The AEC ‘also attends citizenship ceremonies’.14
3.15
The activities of some non-governmental organisation may also lead to higher rates of enrolment and voter participation. Mr Paul Oosting, National Director of GetUp!, for instance, informed the Committee that ‘each and every election we run voter enrolment drives, encouraging all potential voters to join the roll regardless of the party they may choose to vote for’.15
3.16
While enrolment levels remain consistently high across the nation, there was some variance between jurisdictions. The Australian Capital Territory enjoyed the highest rate of enrolment, at 99.7 per cent, with the Northern Territory having the lowest level, at 81.1 per cent. New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania each had rates of around 96 per cent. Table 3.1 compares enrolment by state/territory.
Table 3.1:  Enrolment rate by state/territory
Jurisdiction
Enrolment Rate
Federal Enrolment
Estimated Eligible Enrolment Population
NSW
96.0%
5 087 171
5 301 018
Vic.
96.0%
3 963 538
4 130 337
Qld
93.7%
3 075 709
3 281 097
WA
92.2%
1 578 462
1 711 106
SA
95.9%
1 183 049
1 234 078
Tas.
96.2%
373 584
388 404
ACT
99.7%
282 126
283 117
NT
81.1%
133 020
163 941
National
95.0%
15 676 659
16 493 096
Source: AEC, Submission 66, p. 13.
3.17
The low enrolment rate for the Northern Territory and the comparatively lower rates for Queensland and Western Australia reflect the higher proportion of Indigenous voters in those jurisdictions. Indigenous enrolment and turnout is examined in more detail below.
3.18
Rates of enrolment also vary significantly according to age cohort. The breakdown of enrolment according to age cohort appears in Table 3.2.
Table 3.2:  Enrolment by age group
Age (years)
Enrolment rate
18
71.1%
19
83.7%
20-24
90.4%
25-39
93.3%
40-59
96.1%
60 and over
98.7%
Source: AEC, Submission 66, p. 13.
3.19
While youth enrolment remains comparatively low, current enrolment rates are higher than historical levels. The AEC submitted:
Since 2013, enrolment participation by 18-24 year olds has substantially increased from historical averages below 80 per cent to over 86 per cent for the 2016 federal election. The increase in youth participation is the basis for the increase in overall enrolment participation and may be attributed to electronic improvements such as the online enrolment service, and FDEU.16
3.20
Currently, enrolment is only possible until the ‘close of the rolls’, set at 8pm 7 calendar days following the issue of writs for the election. ‘After this date, you cannot enrol or update your details on the electoral roll for the federal election.’17 A number of submitters suggested ways to increase enrolment numbers. The Australian Greens, for example, recommended:
that the Electoral Act be amended to permit the use of electronic or digitally formed signatures for enrolment purposes; and
that ‘enrol-and-vote’ provisions be introduced.18
3.21
Senator Steele-John, of the Australian Greens, introduced a Bill to enact ‘enrol-and-vote’ measures in June 2018 which was referred to the Committee for inquiry and report. The Committee is currently considering this Bill.19
3.22
The Australian Greens submitted that while the AEC acknowledges that the biggest avenue for new enrolments was the internet, the AEC ‘is not meeting the community’s expectations in terms of delivery of enrolment services’. They suggested that ‘[l]egislation should be passed to permit the use of electronic or digitally formed signatures for enrolment purposes as guided by the Electoral Act and the Electronic Transactions Act 1999’.20
3.23
The Australian Greens further expressed support for:
…voters being able to enrol or update their enrolment at a polling place on election day, provided they have appropriate identification such as a drivers licence or other, and then cast a declaration vote which will be included if the enrolment claim is accepted.21
3.24
Equality Rights Alliance also suggested this approach, recommending that the ‘experience of election day enrolment in NSW and Victoria should be examined for application to Federal elections’.22
3.25
Mr Ian Brightwell (private capacity) also supported the introduction of such ‘enrol-and-vote’ provisions. He submitted:
The use of enrolment votes is now common for most states at their general elections.
I would recommend the AEC adopts enrolment voting using similar procedures to NSW. This would result in the AEC potentially accepting into the count an extra 50 000 votes and correcting the enrolment details (and in many cases their division) of about 100 000 electors at the next general election.
3.26
Mr Brightwell cautioned that such provisions would require the AEC to ‘update their systems, voting procedures and training’. Additionally, the AEC would have to ‘provide electronic roll lookup devices in all voting venues.23 Extending the use of Electronic Certified Lists (ECL) is discussed in more detail in Chapter 6.
3.27
The Committee notes that there are online enrolment options made available for some circumstances and agrees online enrolment should be made available for all electors, including those with special enrolment status.
3.28
This would not only meet community expectations, but also align with the Government’s digital transformation agenda. However, amendments may need to be made to the Act in order to allow the AEC to accept digital evidence of identity requirements.

Recommendation 6

3.29
The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 be amended to allow for online enrolment in all enrolment circumstances, provided that an appropriate digital identity verification process is in place.

Electoral roll accuracy

3.30
According to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), roll accuracy refers to ‘the percentage of electors enrolled for the address at which they live. It is a measure of how many electors have correctly updated their address details after changing address’.24
3.31
The AEC conducted a Sample Audit Fieldwork between 8 and 25 May 2015 of approximately 30 440 addresses in 165 randomly drawn geographic areas across 75 divisions to gauge the accuracy of the roll. The results of that survey revealed that roll accuracy was 89.2 per cent—that is, the percentage of electors enrolled at the correct address. 25
3.32
Mr Malcolm Baalman commented that direct enrolment and update positively impacts the accuracy of electoral rolls in jurisdictions which use it: ‘with NSW, Victoria and the Commonwealth now accessing data updates from various official sources, the rolls are almost certainly the most accurate they have ever been’.26

Roll divergence

3.33
Roll divergence is a serious hidden disenfranchisement caused when an elector is on a state or territory electoral roll but not on the federal roll, or vice-versa. Each state and territory maintains an electoral roll, as does the Commonwealth, with each jurisdiction having different eligibility requirements and enrolment procedures. This has led to divergence in the number of people enrolled federally compared with the state and territory level.
3.34
At the last election this affected the votes of over half a million Australians, resulting in voters unknowingly being disenfranchised at either state or federal elections.
3.35
Roll divergence can be separated into two categories:
1
entitlement divergence: occurs ‘when the Commonwealth and State laws have different eligibility requirements. Persons with an entitlement divergence will have either a Commonwealth enrolment or a state/territory enrolment, but never both’.
2
procedural divergence: occurs ‘where the elector is eligible for enrolment at both Commonwealth and state/territory, but the method of enrolment or information provided by the elector is insufficient for enrolment at both levels’.27
3.36
Since late 2015, a number of Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) activities, together with greater collaboration between the AEC and its state and territory counterparts, have resulted in a significant reduction in the roll divergence.28 Australian Electoral Commissioner, Mr Tom Rogers, informed the Committee: ‘Divergence is currently less of an issue than it was’.29
3.37
As at 31 May 2016, the aggregate roll divergence between the federal roll and all state and territory rolls was 572 417. This included 561 753 procedural and 10 664 entitlement divergences.30 At 7 November 2016, this decreased to an aggregate divergence of 288 991. This represents a significant reduction from the peak figure at 31 December 2015, which was 785 000.31
3.38
Most entitlement divergence is between the Commonwealth and Victoria and Western Australia, and is related to the age of enrolment. Whereas for the Commonwealth and other jurisdictions enrolment is allowed from the age of 16, in Victoria and Western Australia enrolment is allowed from the age of 17.32
3.39
The bulk of the remaining divergence is caused by procedural differences between the Commonwealth, and New South Wales and Victoria, with divergences of 128 395 and 206 873 respectively. This is because the AEC ‘does not recognise the processes conducted by the NSW and Victorian electoral commissions, and Victoria does not recognise the process conducted by the AEC’.33
3.40
The roll divergence as at 31 May 2016 included a divergence of 161 722 between the Commonwealth and Western Australia. This has recently been decreased by 140 000 electors due to the amendment of Western Australia’s electoral legislation to recognise the Commonwealth’s direct enrolment procedure.34
3.41
Speaking to the issue of divergence between the Commonwealth and New South Wales, Mr Ian Brightwell submitted that ‘the AEC does not have a viable solution to the divergence problem’.35
3.42
Mr Brightwell also argued that:
Additionally, it should be noted that the NSW Electoral Commission (NSWEC) is in the later stages of implementing a new Roll Management System (RMS). The Business case for the new system is based entirely on removing the need for AEC roll data from the NSW roll preparation process and using ‘free’ source data. …
Given the new RMS system may be operational early next year, it is my view, that NSW roll divergence may significantly increase should the NSWEC no longer use the federal roll as its foundation.36
3.43
Mr Brightwell suggested that the ‘only way to properly address this issue is for it to be raised at Council of Australian Governments (COAG) and the issue to be treated as a national issue rather than leaving it to the Commissions to resolve be agreement’. He further suggested that ‘the only viable solution to this issue is for a national enrolment body to be formed which can deal with all Commissions roll requirements equitably and reliably’.37
3.44
Roll divergence can cause serious confusion for electors who may not be aware of the problem until they are unable to vote in an election. As mistrust in political institutions is increasing, it is important that where electors do engage directly with institutions–such as on election day–that their engagement is as seamless and easy as possible.
3.45
The Committee agrees that this matter should be raised at the COAG level, as electoral management bodies can only implement the requirements of their respective parliaments and must be addressed before the next election.
3.46
This is of critical importance to ensure that the over 100 000 voters currently impacted by this issue are not disenfranchised in the 2019 election.

Recommendation 7

3.47
The Committee recommends that the issue of electoral roll divergence between the Commonwealth, state and territory electoral rolls be raised as a matter of priority at the next Council of Australian Governments meeting to harmonise electoral rolls nationally.

Voter turnout

3.48
In contrast to the high percentage of eligible Australians enrolled to vote, voter turnout for the 2016 federal election reached its lowest point since the introduction of compulsory voting in 1924. On this point, Mr Malcolm Baalman submitted that ‘the past three elections have each successively set a new record for the lowest such results since the 1920s’, and that ‘this trend should be of concern’. 38
3.49
The Australia Institute submission outlines the positive effects compulsory voting and the ‘culture of voting’ has had in Australia and notes that high voter turnout is important to the overall health of democracy:
A government that better reflects the wishes of all of its people is less likely to see the development of groups that are increasingly dissatisfied, frustrated and angry with their government and society. These groups are likely to form extremist movements … [studies have] found a strong association between higher voter turnout and less citizen turmoil and violence.39
Table 3.3:  Voter turnout 2007-2016
2007
2010
2013
2016
Turnout (per cent)
Senate
94.82
93.83
93.88
91.93
House of Representatives
94.76
93.22
93.23
91.01
Source: AEC, Submission 66, p. 7
3.50
Turnout is the number of people who voted in the election (formally and informally) as a percentage of the total enrolled voter population. For the 2016 election, voter turnout was 91.01 per cent for the House of Representatives and 91.93 per cent for the Senate.40 According to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), turnout is ‘a vital indicator of democratic health’.41
3.51
These turnout figures mean that of those voters on the roll at the time of the election (15 676 659 persons), 1 409 535 persons did not vote in the House of Representatives election and 1 264 845 persons did not vote in the Senate election—either formally or informally. Of the entire eligible voter population (estimated at 16 493 096 persons), approximately 2.95 million and 2.65 million persons did not cast an effective vote for the House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively.42
3.52
The AEC explained the divergence between the turnout rate for the House of Representatives and the Senate:
The difference between the total number of HoR valid votes cast and the total number of Senate valid votes cast is largely due to partial admissions of declaration votes, where the Senate ballot paper can be admitted to the count, but the House of Representatives ballot cannot. This occurs where a voter is issued with the correct state ballot paper because the voter is voting in the correct state, but is issued with the wrong House of Representatives ballot paper likely because the voter is not enrolled at the address (and therefore in the division) the voter indicated on the declaration vote envelope.43
3.53
Mr Antony Green supported this analysis, noting that the difference ‘is almost certainly due to voters asking for, and being supplied with, a House of Representatives ballot paper that was not for the electorate in which the voter lived’.44
3.54
He elaborated further:
With Absent and Declaration Pre-Polls, voters outside of their district nominated the wrong electoral for their address. With Provisional votes, voters were given a ballot paper for the local electorate when they were found missing from the roll, but it was later identified their address was in a different electorate.
In these cases, the Senate ballot paper was allowed to count as the voter was correctly enrolled in the state, but the House ballot paper was the wrong ballot paper for where the voter was enrolled.45
3.55
The Committee heard evidence that this divergence could be substantially reduced with a full rollout ECLs at polling places that issue declaration votes. This was discussed in the Committee’s third interim report on the 2016 federal election: AEC modernisation.46
3.56
The AEC provided the following analysis of the turnout:
while the House of Representatives turnout decreased, effective participation rates (formal votes as a proportion of total potential electors) increased as a result of higher formality rates.
there are more divisions consistently showing low levels of turnout than divisions consistently showing high levels of turnout.
the decline in turnout in conjunction with an increase in formality for the House of Representatives is unusual, but not unique.
turnout and formality decreased for the Senate.
age, Indigeneity, socio-economic status, and Federal Direct Enrolment and Update processes, as well as an elector’s confidence in the electoral system or politics in general influence voter turnout.
the clear relationship between age and voter turnout at the national level suggests turnout initiatives targeted at people under the age of 40 may increase overall turnout.47
3.57
Expanding on the point of elector confidence, AEC submitted that ‘results from the 2016 AEC Voter Survey and the 2013 survey imply a decrease in elector confidence, in the electoral system and politics in general, may contribute to the decrease in voter turnout’.48
3.58
Addressing this decrease in elector confidence, the Accountability Round Table submitted:
Voters expect, and are increasingly demanding, that their elected representatives must always put public interest above personal and party interests. This, the public office-public trust principle, is one that has been hallowed by time. Recent neglect goes far to explain the present loss of confidence in democratic governance.49
3.59
In its submission, the Australia Institute placed the issue of falling voter turnout within the international context. It submitted:
Australia has among the highest participation rates in the world, while electoral turnout has been falling for decades internationally. In Australia, a decline is apparent from the 2010 election—from an average of 95% turnout for the previous 85 years to 91%, a fall of 4 percentage points. In the rest of the OECD, turnout rates have fallen buy some 17 percentage points since the 1960s.50
3.60
Despite the record low turnout at the last election, Australia’s 91 per cent turnout figure was equal to Luxembourg’s, which also compels voting, ‘as the highest turnout rate for OECD countries for their most recent elections and ranks it well above the OECD average of 66%’.51
3.61
Added to this, Australia and New Zealand are the only countries which have compulsory enrolment of voters. Because of this, ‘in other countries many people eligible to vote do not enrol as a voter’52 meaning that Australia’s turnout rate as a percentage of population is a significant achievement.
3.62
The Electoral Commissioner noted:
Most Australians associate elections with an established ritual of heading down to a local school or community centre, walking past a usually congenial group of party volunteers handing out how‑to‑vote cards, filling in ballot papers and then visiting the cake stall or sausage sizzle. This year, many social media users added photos of dogs at polling places to that series of activities.53
3.63
While the Committee is pleased to note the strong voting culture in Australia, which placed well above the majority of the world for voter turnout, it is concerning to note a trend in some divisions for consistently low turnout.
3.64
The Committee notes the AEC’s reported success with initiatives aimed at increasing voter turnout and considers that these initiatives should be further aimed at divisions that have consistently low turnout.

Recommendation 8

3.65
The Committee recommends that the Australian Electoral Commission commission research into the causes of low voter turnout and develop initiatives aimed at improving voter turnout in divisions that have had consistently low turnout over recent elections.

Informality

3.66
An informal vote occurs when the ballot paper has not been completed in accordance with the Act, resulting in the vote being excluded from the count. Section 268 of the Electoral Act stipulates that a vote is informal if one or more of the following occurs:
the ballot paper is not marked at all;
the ballot paper does not have the official mark and has not been initialled by the polling official, and the ballot paper is not authentic in the opinion of the Divisional Returning Officer (DRO);
the ballot paper has writing on it which identifies the voter;
in the case of an absent vote, the ballot paper is not contained in the declaration envelope;
in the House of Representatives, the voter has not completed a full preferential vote;
in the Senate, if the voter has not filled at least six boxes above the line or at least 12 boxes below the line. 54
3.67
There are savings measures to keep formal some ballot papers marked incompletely or incorrectly.
3.68
Additionally, a vote is considered informal, and therefore not counted, when a voter is issued incorrect Senate and/or House of Representatives ballot papers when casting a declaration vote. That is, the voter’s enrolment record does not match the ballot papers on which they have voted. This can also occur when declaration votes are placed in the ballot box for ordinary issued ballot papers at the polling place rather than being returned to the vote issuing officer for inclusion in the declaration vote envelope.55
3.69
For the 2016 federal election, the rate of the informal vote for the Senate was 3.9 per cent, compared with 2.9 per cent in 2013. For the House of Representatives, the informal vote rate was 5.1 per cent, a decrease from the 5.9 per cent rate in 2013.56
3.70
Informality rates for both houses of Parliament from 1977 to 2016 are shown in Table 3.4. This indicates that the informality rates for the 2016 election were unremarkable compared to recent trends but were nonetheless concerning. The increased Senate informality rate may have been due to voters adapting to the new Senate voting rules. The 1 per cent increase in informality for the Senate was significantly lower than many predicted, however, with some suggesting the new rules would result in an increase in informality of 10 per cent.57
Table 3.4:  Informal Vote Rates 1977-2016
Year
Senate
House of Representatives
1977
9.0
2.5
1980
9.6
2.5
198358
9.9
2.1
1984
4.3
6.3
1987
4.1
4.9
1990
3.4
3.2
1993
2.6
3.0
1996
3.5
3.2
1998
3.2
3.8
2001
3.9
4.8
2004
3.8
5.2
2007
2.6
4.0
2010
3.8
5.6
2013
2.9
5.9
2014
2.5 (WA only)
2016
3.9
5.1
Source: AEC, ‘Informality (%) House of Representatives and Senate’, 13 July 2015, <https://www.aec.gov.au/Voting/Informal_Voting/summary.htm>, accessed 5 May 2018; AEC, Submission 66, p. 39.
3.71
The informality rates for the 2016 election mean that 720 915 House of Representatives and 567 806 Senate ballots were cast but were not admitted to the count.59
3.72
Mr Tom Rogers informed the Committee that ‘many of those are deliberate informal votes, but a large number are inadvertent’. He continued: ‘To my mind this is significant, particularly considering the ongoing closeness of results’.60
3.73
Mr Malcolm Baalman pointed out that due to incidents of informal voting and non-turnout, while the physical turnout for the Senate was 91.9 per cent, only 88.3 per cent of enrolled voters cast formal ballots. Similarly, a physical turnout of 91 per cent of enrolled voters for the House of Representatives equated to a final rate of formal voting of 86.4 per cent of those enrolled. This was down from 87.7 per cent at the 2013 election.61
3.74
While the Committee does not endorse deliberate informal voting, it does respect that this is the right of electors as a means of expressing their views.
3.75
However, the Committee is concerned about the increase in inadvertent informal voting, and resulting disenfranchisement.

Savings provisions

3.76
One mechanism to decrease informality of the House vote could be to insert a ‘savings’ provision as is in place for Senate votes.
3.77
Savings provisions in the Electoral Act function to ‘save’ some types of incorrect Senate votes from becoming informal. These savings provisions were explained by Ms Gemma Whiting (private capacity) in her submission:
Under the voter saver provisions a ballot paper will be formal if there is a first preference mark ATL [Above the Line]. This first preference mark may be a 1, X, or tick. The marking of multiple x or tick renders the ballot informal. The ATL preferencing can go to 6 as advertised by the AEC or it can exhaust and preference every party above the line, so long as they are a grouped ticket and a box is provided to preference that grouped ticket.
BTL’s [Below the Line] remained formal if they had a 1-6 clear sequence with no numbers 1-6 repeated. If a number was duplicated after that point the ballot maintained formality until the point of inconsistency in sequence.62
3.78
As noted in Chapter 2, due to these savings provisions, 6.56 per cent of formal votes which would otherwise have been informal were included in the count.63
3.79
A number of submissions recommended the introduction of savings provisions for the House of Representatives. Mr Jeff Waddell (private capacity), for instance, argued that ‘[i]n the interests of consistency, some alignment of what constitutes a formal vote should exist between voting for the HOR and voting in the Senate’.64
3.80
Dr Kevin Bonham (private capacity) noted the impact of the lack of savings provisions for the House of Representatives vote:
The informal vote in the House of Representatives is still over one point higher than in even this first attempt at the new Senate system, because the House of Representatives lacks adequate savings provisions.65
3.81
Such an alignment may take current Senate BTL vote savings provisions as its model. Under such a system, where a voter has indicated a sequential preference of at least 1 to 6 a House of Representatives vote would be admitted to the formal count, irrespective of any unmarked boxes remaining on the ballot paper. Under current House of Representatives voting arrangements, a voter is required to ‘number every box with a series of consecutive numbers according to their preference’. 66
3.82
Another conceivable savings provision for the House of Representatives would be one that requires all boxes to be marked but allows for breaks in numbering sequence, where the preference of the voter is clearly indicated. Dr Bonham commented in relation to this suggestion that ‘[t]he advantage of such a provision is that all formal votes would retain a full order of preferencing and there would still not be any exhaust’.67
3.83
This approach was recommended by Mr Antony Green:
…the formality criteria should be amended so that a simple ordered sequence of preferences be permitted as a formal vote rather than the current criteria that requires an exact sequence from 1 to the number of candidates.68
3.84
Similarly, Mr Jeremy Buxton (private capacity) submitted that for votes for the House of Representatives, ‘it is wrong that electors who have indicated a clear first preference and have filled in all, or all but one squares on the ballot paper, should have their vote invalidated because of a break in numerical sequence.’69

Recommendation 9

3.85
The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 be amended to permit, for House votes, a simple ordered sequence of preferences to be considered formal to the extent that that sequence allocates preferences to candidates. This sequence must still allocate a first preference for the vote to be formal and meet the other existing formality rules in section 268 of the Act.

Continuing role of compulsory voting

3.86
Australia’s internationally high turnout rates are due to the imposition of compulsory voting and an entrenched culture of voting. At a time of rising levels of non-voting in many of the world’s advanced industrial democracies, compulsory voting remains crucial in ensuring the continued integrity of Australia’s democratic system. Australia is one of only 27 countries in the world that practices compulsory voting.70
3.87
The Committee received limited evidence calling for the end of compulsory voting in Australia. Dr Peter Brent (private capacity) submitted that ‘the guiding principle should not be to force people to participate in the electoral process, but to construct the best feasible voting infrastructure, and encourage them to avail themselves of it’.71
3.88
Most other contributors expressed strong support for Australia’s system of compulsory voting. Family Voice Australia, for instance, submitted:
Australia has been well served by a system of compulsory voting. This system has contributed towards making Australia one of the most politically stable countries in the world.
While it could be argued theoretically that true democracy demands the right to refuse to vote, the practical reality is that compulsory voting produces a better indication of the opinion of the people than voluntary voting.72
3.89
The compulsory voting system in Australia has been described as an example of international ‘best practice’ that positively impacts the high standards of probity in Australia’s democratic system. Compulsory voting:
…colours electoral authority in a positive way by encouraging electoral commissions to treat every vote as sacred and to expend considerable efforts in ensuring adequate access to the ballot.73
3.90
The compulsory nature of voting in Australia positively impacts how the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) conducts elections:
It would be hard to find an electoral authority in a voluntary setting anywhere that goes to nearly this much trouble to ensure full voting inclusion.74
3.91
Mr Tom Rogers adds:
We have said previously that we're the Australian Electoral Commission, so we're the commission for all Australians, not just the ones that we can reach.75
3.92
Popular support for compulsory voting in Australia remains high, with support levels ‘hovering between 70% and 77% for decades’. This support stems from ‘the high standard and integrity with which Australian elections are carried out’.76
3.93
The Electoral Integrity Project indicated similar levels of support in its own research—the Australian Voter Experience (AVE) survey—with 68 per cent of respondents supporting compulsory voting.77
3.94
Irrespective of the high level of popular support for compulsory voting, the Electoral Integrity Project’s AVE survey indicated that ‘just 60 per cent of the sample reported that they would definitely vote if voting were not compulsory’. Significantly, the survey found that ‘less than half of those 34 years or younger report that they would definitely vote if they were not compelled to do so, compared to 71 percent of those 55 years and over’.78
3.95
The Electoral Integrity Project warns that ‘it is possible that in the future, compulsory voting may not be enough to compel citizens to vote, particularly if citizens see the costs of voting as being higher than the cost for abstaining’. They suggest that efforts to make voting more convenient for citizens, such as the facilitation of early voting, may improve voter participation: ‘there is strong evidence that early voting allows more people to vote’.79 Early voting is discussed in more detail in Chapter 5.
3.96
The Australia Institute emphasised the public good compulsory voting brings to Australian society, noting that ‘if you don’t vote, you don’t count’. They highlighted a range of positive outcomes from high levels of citizen participation in the electoral process, including:
improved income distribution throughout society
less citizen turmoil and violence
increased social co-operation, co-ordination, and cohesion
reduced influence of powerful minority groups
more representative governments.80
3.97
Members of the Committee also regard compulsory voting as a corner-stone of Australia’s democratic system.

Compliance measures and penalties for non-voting

3.98
Australia does comparatively well in promoting compliance with compulsory voting laws, as shown by world-leading levels of voter turnout. The Electoral Integrity Project pointed this out, noting that ‘other countries have compulsory voting but have not been as successful in achieving such a high degree of compliance’.81
3.99
The AEC conducts a range of measures to promote voting and discourage non-voting.
3.100
Mr Rogers explained some of these measures. Prior to the 2013 election, for instance, the AEC ‘wrote to a group that I would call “serial non-voters” to explain to them what their obligations were under the Electoral Act. That was an attempt to demonstrate the seriousness with which we treat that. We sent a number of follow-up letters’.82
3.101
Section 245(1) of the Electoral Act stipulates that ‘it shall be the duty of every elector to vote at each election’. Section 245(5)(b) states that ‘it is an offence to fail to vote at an election without a valid and sufficient reason for the failure’, and s. 245(5)(c)(iii) sets a $20 penalty for non-voting.83
3.102
Following an election, the AEC issues ‘apparent failure to vote’ notices to people who did not have their name marked off the electoral roll. Electors issued such notices have the opportunity to provide reasons for their failure to vote, or provide information about the time and location if they did vote.84
3.103
Those who fail to provide a valid reason for not voting are required to pay a $20 fine. As Mr Rogers explained: ‘If I write to you and if you pay us $20 that matter is closed’.85
3.104
For the 2013 election, fine payments amounted to $2 million revenue; for the 2016 election, this is estimated to be $2.1 million. This revenue is ‘paid back to the Commonwealth and not available for the AEC’s use’. Moreover, ‘the estimated cost for the AEC to pursue apparent non-voting and subsequent prosecution following the 2016 election is $3.4 million’.86
3.105
The AEC has the option to take further action against those who refuse to pay fines for non-voting. Mr Rogers, informed the Committee that:
If you do not pay the small sum of $20 and it goes to court action, that can actually become a significant amount of money. If you do not pay the money, eventually that can lead to some fairly dramatic consequences.87
3.106
Following the 2013 election, the AEC took between 3 000 to 3 500 people to court for failure to vote.88
3.107
AEC Chief Legal Officer, Mr Paul Pirani, explained the penalty for failing to pay the $20 fine for non-voting:
One-hundred and eighty dollars. The act actually says $50, but when you go through process that is in the Crimes Act, section 4AB, it converts across to one penalty unit. The fine for failing to vote is $180, plus court costs. That is a maximum fine.89
3.108
A criminal conviction may also be recorded against the person.90 Despite this, several submissions argued that the current penalties are an inadequate deterrent against non-voting. The Australia Institute recommended ‘a review of fines for not voting’, and submitted:
The fine for not voting last increased in 1984, to $20. Average wage earnings—which are used by the federal government to index payments such as child support—have increased roughly 3.5 times since 1984. A fine of $70 would restore it to the equivalent of what it was in 1984 (adjusted for average wage earnings). The AEC should conduct behavioural economic studies as to whether such a change would incentivise greater participation, and to determine the socio-economic impact of its imposition and enforcement.91
3.109
The Electoral Integrity Project’s AVE survey indicated that 57 per cent of respondents ‘believe that there should not be a penalty for abstaining [from voting] or that the penalty should be decreased’.92

Recommendation 10

3.110
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government review the penalty for non-voting.

AEC publicity campaigns and electoral education

3.111
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) engages in a range of publicity measures to inform people about elections. These include print, television, radio, and social media advertising; the compilation of an official guide to the election; the use of a call centre to respond to voters’ enquiries; and tailored material targeting Indigenous voters. Much of this material is provided in 27 languages.93
3.112
For the 2016 federal election, the AEC had a total advertising budget of $55 810 000. This included $47 000 000 for media buy, $3 340 000 for publications, and $3 580 000 for advertising creative.
3.113
On its public relations campaign, the AEC submitted:
The AEC pre-election public relations activities disseminated information about the new Senate voting system. An online kit was promoted to national, state and local community and sporting organisations, for distribution to members, and a range of corporate bodies.94
3.114
The AEC’s advertising in major metropolitan and regional newspapers included information on:
the issue of the writs;
election service centres;
candidate information sessions; and
candidates and polling places.
3.115
The AEC provided the Official guide to the 2016 federal election to over 10.3 million households leading up to election day. ‘The guide provided specific information on when and how to vote, and changes to Senate voting. The guide was translated into 27 languages and available in Braille, large print, audio and electronic versions’.95
3.116
The AEC also engages voters via various social media platforms. The AEC submitted that its ‘social media presence on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube was a key part of external communication activities to distribute messages and respond to enquiries’.96
3.117
Reflecting on the record low level of voter turnout, the Australian Institute recommended ‘that the AEC adopt more innovative marketing and education by activating other motivations to encourage Australians to enrol, to vote and to vote validly’.97
3.118
Elaborating, the Australia Institute stated that:
We encourage the AEC to emphasise voting as a part of Australian tradition and culture through measures such as:
Promotion of our history of electoral reform and our world-leading participation rates.
Working with social media trends such as the hashtag #democracysausage…
Engagement with Australians who come from other countries, where voting is not well practised or doesn’t happen, to help them communicate their experience with voting.98
3.119
The Committee heard evidence that more education on Australia’s electoral system in schools may also promote greater voter participation. Dr Harry Philips suggested that ‘voting engagement is one of the most productive dimensions of Civics and Citizenship education and should be integral to virtually all years of the curriculum’. He recommended:
As a dearth of knowledge of the existing electoral system is usually a major problem I strongly recommend that your committee endorse the widespread adoption of mandatory civic and citizenship education, including electoral systems for all Australian students.99
3.120
The importance of civics and electoral education in promoting greater engagement with the electoral system has been recognised by the JSCEM for some time.
3.121
In its report on the 2004 federal election, the JSCEM highlighted the generally lower participation rates among younger voters and noted that ‘more effort is needed to promote democratic opportunities as well as obligations.’ It recommended ‘that the Parliament refer electoral education to the JSCEM for further examination and report’.100
3.122
In 2007 the JSCEM examined the issues in detail in its report Civics and Electoral Education. The report noted that:
…a healthy democracy needs citizens who are informed and who are involved and engaged in the issues that are important to them. It is therefore concerning that there is evidence to suggest increasing apathy and a decline in traditional forms of political participation such as joining political parties, attending party meetings and voting.101
3.123
The report recommended that the AEC be resourced to develop a ‘focused electoral education unit to be delivered to either Year 9 or 10 students, and Year 11 and 12 students, in all secondary schools’ and that the federal government ‘ensure that the delivery of this unit is incorporated into all secondary schools’.102 This Committee reiterates its support for that recommendation.
3.124
Additionally, the Committee notes that over a decade has passed since this report was released. The world has markedly changed since then, with the proliferation of social media, the circulation of so-called ‘fake news’, and the insidious spread of foreign interference in the electoral processes of democracies around the globe.
3.125
The Committee is strongly of the opinion that increased social media literacy, as part of a strengthened civics and electoral education curriculum, is a vital component in facing the challenges posed by this new social media environment. Australians must be better equipped to critically discern and judge any media which seeks to influence their voting behaviour.
3.126
This issue is further discussed in Chapter 7.
3.127
As part of the Committee’s overview of the 2016 federal election, the Committee visited the Museum of Australian Democracy. The Committee was impressed by the education activities available and expresses support for the important role our national institutions play for an engaged civil society in Australia.
3.128
The Committee notes a recent review of the Parliament and Civics Education Rebate (PACER) program by the Commonwealth Department of Education which recommends changing the eligibility requirements for PACER funding. Currently, for schools to be eligible for PACER funding they are required to visit the Parliament House, Old Parliament House (encompassing the Museum of Australian Democracy and the National Electoral Education Centre) and the Australian War Memorial. The review recommends that only Parliament House be a mandatory prerequisite to receive PACER funding.
3.129
The Committee strongly supports the current requirements; all 3 institutions serve vital functions in supporting a buoyant and engaged civil society in Australia. Visits to these national institutions are important milestones in the cultivation of strong civics consciousness in students and should be facilitated for as many Australian students as possible.

Recommendation 11

3.130
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government permanently maintain current requirements that schools visit the Parliament House, the Old Parliament House and the Australian War Memorial to be eligible for PACER funding.

Voter identification

3.131
There is no requirement for voters to produce identification in order to vote in federal elections. This has been a longstanding matter of discussion in Australia with arguments on both sides of the debate.
3.132
Those opposed to the introduction of voter identification argue that:
voter turnout will be affected;
voters will be disenfranchised; and
an increased administrative burden will be placed on the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).
3.133
Those arguing for the introduction of voter identification point to instances of multiple voting and concerns about fraudulent voting, due to the ease of voters representing themselves as someone else.103
3.134
This matter was canvassed thoroughly by this Committee’s predecessor in its report on the 2013 election. From its examination of voter identification requirements in Queensland104 and international jurisdictions with compulsory voting the majority of the Committee concluded that voter identification should be introduced in order to prevent instances of multiple voting and voting in another person’s name.105
3.135
In its report, the Committee refuted the arguments against voter identification, noting:
compulsory voting ensures a high voter turnout;
declaration votes are provided for voters who fail to present identification; and
administrative burdens will potentially be lessened by reduced issuing officer error and fewer occasions of multiple vote checks to be actioned.
3.136
The then Committee recommended that voter ID be introduced alongside the expanded use of Electronic Certified Lists (ECL) (see Chapter 6 for full discussion) with the safeguard that declaration votes be available to those who present themselves to vote without identification.
3.137
In a submission to this inquiry, Ms Robyn Nolan noted the growing support, both within the Australian community and internationally for the introduction of voter ID:
There is no doubt that there has been in more recent years an escalation of support and acceptance for voter ID across Australia and the importance of integrity and robustness of the electoral roll. While Voter ID will not prevent a voter voting more than once it will in fact discourage such attempts.
Many democracies around the world including India and Canada require Voter ID (allowing a number of forms of ID) when a person is voting. A number of American States also require Voter ID while many nations Spain, Greece, France, Malta, Belgium, Italy, Timor-Leste provide national identity documents to their citizens. In many cases these documents are used for many purposes including travel, banking and healthcare access as well as voting.106
3.138
The Committee remains convinced by the arguments put forward by its predecessor of the need to introduce voter identification:
Not only will it bring confidence to the system in respect of the identity of the person voting, but it will deliver a robust basis for strengthening the democratic process and the sanctity of the ballot by seeking to best ensure that Australian citizens are exercising their franchise accurately and in the way intended, only once.107
3.139
Therefore, the Committee is reiterating its predecessor’s recommendation that the requirement for voter identification be introduced for federal elections provided:
declaration voting is made available to those electors who do not have identification available; and
authorised identification is suitably broad so as not to actively prevent electors from casting an ordinary ballot, for example:
drivers license, passport, or state-issued proof of age card;
evidence of electoral enrolment;
Commonwealth issued identification card such as a health care card, senior’s card, Medicare card or concession card;
a voter registration letter and/or confirmation of registration issued by the Australian Electoral Commission;
a recent account from a local government or utilities provider (including telephone and internet services);
a notice of assessment from the Australian Taxation Office.
3.140
A full rollout of ECL, as discussed in Chapter 5, will make the change to required voter identification much easier than the continued reliance on paper-based Certified Lists.

Recommendation 12

3.141
The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 be amended to require that:
voters must present a form of acceptable identification to be issued with an ordinary pre-poll or election day vote. Authorised identification must be suitably broad so as to not actively prevent electors from casting an ordinary ballot. Examples of acceptable identification would include:
photographic ID such as a drivers licence, passport, or proof of age card;
government-issued identification card, such as a Medicare card, senior’s card of concession card;
proof of address, such as an account from a utilities provider, taxation notice of assessment or Australian Electoral Commission issued voter registration letter; or
alternatively, a ‘voter ID’ card be introduced and issued to all voters.
where voters cannot provide acceptable identification they must be issued with a declaration vote.
3.142
The Committee further recommends that, in order to make this change as easy as possible, the national rollout of Electronic Certified Lists be fully funded (see Recommendation 25).

Indigenous enrolment and voting

3.143
In contrast to the generally high levels of enrolment and voting by Australians, some of the nation’s Indigenous communities continue to experience persistent low levels of enrolment, turnout and formality.108 Equality Rights Alliance submitted that the low rates of Indigenous enrolment ‘continue to be a concerning blight on Australia’s system of compulsory voting’.109
3.144
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) highlighted the issue:
Areas where a higher proportion of the population are Indigenous tend to have lower enrolment and formality rates, indicating that issues relating to Indigenous electoral participation are broader then turnout alone.110
3.145
The Australia Institute also touched on the issue of Indigenous enrolment rates:
Rates are low in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia. These states contain large Indigenous populations, a group that is among the most marginalised in Australia. It is important that their vote is counted.111
3.146
Indeed, as indicated in Table 3.1 above, the enrolment rates for the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland are the lowest in Australia, at 81.1 per cent, 92.2 per cent and 93.7 per cent, respectively.
3.147
Using Australian Bureau of Statistics data, the AEC estimates that only 58 per cent of all eligible Indigenous citizens were enrolled to vote in 2013.112
3.148
While Federal Direct Enrolment and Update (FDEU) has been effective in seeing a record number of Australians enrolled to vote, it has been less effective for Indigenous communities, ‘particularly, Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory…for a whole range of reasons’.113
3.149
The AEC submitted that it has:
a wide range of strategies to increase Indigenous enrolment, including outreach and community engagement activities conducted by the AEC’s Indigenous Electoral Participation Program (IEPP). These programs have achieved positive outcomes, including the enrolment of 3 000 people online as a result of the AEC’s Our Vote Our Future campaign, a 200 per cent increase from 2014-15.114
3.150
The IEPP was established in 2009-10 ‘to help close the gap in Indigenous electoral participation and to increase electoral knowledge, enrolment, turnout and formality’, with a ‘core program goal of providing targeted and culturally appropriate electoral services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’.115
3.151
The program is delivered by the AEC’s Indigenous Community Engagement Officers, the majority of whom are Indigenous. Work of the program in 2016-17 included:
conducting the third National Indigenous Youth Parliament in May 2017;
providing electoral information sessions at key community events, meetings, conferences and forums to raise awareness of enrolment, voting, vote formality and democratic processes;
raising public awareness for federal, state and local elections; and
contributing to the AEC’s Reconciliation Action Plan, cultural awareness training and staff development.116
3.152
In mid-2018 the AEC advised the Committee that it had changed the focus of the IEPP:
Previously a lot of the activity in the Indigenous Electoral Participation Program was focused on field visits. A lot of the outcome of those field visits, in our perspective, was that it looked okay but it wasn't generating enrolments. The model was that we would have vehicles that would go into a community; they'd engage with the community on the day they were there; they'd hand out beanies and footballs and try and generate some interest; and then they moved on. Our assessment of that was that it wasn't actually leading to a sustained increase in the roll. The proof of that is that the Indigenous roll wasn't increasing to the same extent as the rest of the roll. As you know, there was a budget decision, last year I think, for us to reduce the physical footprint in the Northern Territory office. At the same time we were looking at ways of doing fieldwork that is actually going to make a difference. I mentioned to this committee that we've been working on a trial of two flagship programs. One of those is the Electoral Awareness Officer program. It's covering three communities as a pilot. It's going to be the starting point for engagement with remote communities and will seek to improve electoral education for communities in an ongoing way. Then we have the regional council roll integrity program covering 62 communities, which is going to engage with remote community regional councils in undertaking roll integrity and enrolment activities. We've also done some work in South Australia. We've partnered with the Electoral Commission of South Australia and helped to deliver an Aboriginal services project right there.117
3.153
One of the programs being trialled was in the community of Galiwinku (Arnhem Land) where 6 electoral awareness officers have been trained and are subsequently delivering electoral awareness education in language.118
3.154
Mr Warren Snowdon MP also spoke of the importance of providing such targeted and culturally appropriate electoral services to Indigenous voters. He submitted that:
The issue of polling official experience and expertise in remote polling places is finding a comfortable compromise between staff that understand and are well versed in AEC procedures and staff that are able to communicate with skill and empathy when dealing with remote living Aboriginal people.119
3.155
Mr Snowdon also suggested that:
The AEC should include in all its policy and procedure documents a much stronger statement to outline the imperative of addressing under-enrolments, particularly amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.120
3.156
Some of the issues surrounding Indigenous enrolment and voting were seen in relation to the Aboriginal community of Palm Island in the federal division of Herbert, Queensland. The 2 July federal election coincided with the Townsville show meaning that many Palm Island residents were in Townsville, with many making provisional votes.
3.157
Mr Evan Moorhead, Australian Labor Party (ALP), informed the Committee that ‘on Palm Island the system of postal delivery is quite different. Many of the houses and streets are not numbered, and many of the residents on Palm Island collect their post from the post office rather than have it delivered’.121
3.158
He continued:
One of the major difficulties in both enrolment and provisional voting has been matching addresses, which are described in a very different way on Palm Island than they would be in Townsville… [T]he application of that to provisional votes meant that the Electoral Commission were excluding votes when there was a clear understanding of who the person was and that they resided at the address, even though the address on the electoral roll and the address that the person had used on their form may have been explained in different ways due to the significant differences in community infrastructure on Palm Island or lack thereof.122
3.159
Mr Paul Pirani, Chief Legal Officer, AEC, spoke to the issue of provisional votes and Indigenous communities:
The issue is that under the Electoral Act the electoral roll is required to include the name and address, and the address is a street address. The difficulty in a lot of Indigenous communities—it is not just restricted to Palm Island—is about how that address is expressed on the electoral roll. There are always other issues, particularly in the Indigenous community, about names. Quite often people are known by a local name within the community that might be different to the name they put on the enrolment form when they enrolled, and that causes issues in relation to allowing a declaration vote to get through preliminary scrutiny.
The test for preliminary scrutiny of a declaration envelope in schedule 3 of the act requires the DRO to be satisfied that the person is the elector—so that is the name—and that the address which is there is the address the person has on the roll. Of course, if the address is not the address that is on the roll but it is an address within the state, then only one of the ballot papers from that declaration envelope will be capable of getting through preliminary scrutiny. So it is an issue. I do not think it is restricted to Palm Island, but it is an issue about the requirement of an address.123
3.160
Measures should be considered on a community-by-community basis to improve enrolment and voter engagement. Where the Act directly prevents votes being admitted because of a conflict between commonly used community address and an official address, as the example above demonstrated, this is a hurdle to voting that should be removed.
3.161
For example, the Act already permits people to enrol as ‘no fixed address’ if, for example, they are ‘grey nomads’. The Committee believes this same consideration could be extended to Indigenous communities.
3.162
The Committee understands that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is currently supporting initiatives to improve Indigenous voices in decision-making124 in local communities and may be best placed to contribute to such proposals.
3.163
The Committee was pleased to hear that the AEC is trialling the delivery of electoral education programs in language and looks forward to following the progress of these initiatives.

Recommendation 13

3.164
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government consult with Indigenous communities and stakeholders to devise culturally appropriate enrolment requirements for Indigenous voters with a view to increase Indigenous engagement with the electoral process.

Political participation

3.165
Political parties are an essential part of the electoral process in Australia. Senators and Members of Parliament are generally aligned with parties, and the seats won by those parties determine who will fill the essential roles under our Westminster system of both the Government and the official Opposition.
3.166
Those who contest an election, but do not get elected, also play an essential role in our democracy. The policy deliberations and decisions of each party contribute to the contest of ideas on which elections are fought. The number of parties and the breadth of the viewpoints available for voters to choose between for House and Senate seats are a core part of Australia’s robust representative democracy.
3.167
During 2016 and 2017, the Museum of Australian Democracy and the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis have undertaken qualitative and quantitative studies on Australian’s attitudes towards the political system and democracy. This study notes that the strength of Australia as demonstrated through external measures, such as economic growth, has not been reflected in trust in our democracy:
The Australian economy has experienced twenty years of economic growth. A remarkable performance that is unprecedented both historically and in comparison with other OECD countries over the period. Yet, during the same time Australia has suffered a period of democratic decline and the depth of that decline has increased dramatically since 2007. The level of democratic satisfaction has decreased steadily across each government from 85.6 percent in 2007 (Howard), to 71.5 percent in 2010 (Rudd), 71.7 percent in 2013 (Abbott) and 42 percent in March 2016 under Malcolm Turnbull.125
3.168
Attitudes toward political parties play a major part in this decline in trust:
Levels of trust in government and politicians in Australia are at their lowest level since 1993. Only five percent of Australians exhibit strong trust in government with 74 percent displaying a critical perspective. 25 percent trust government ministers in contrast with 72 percent who trust the police and 56 percent the judiciary. The most remarkable finding from our survey work and a measure of the degree of discontent is that the majority of Baby Boomers (citizens born between 1946 and 1964) who have benefited most in economic terms from a period of affluence no longer trust their politicians.
However, it is equally evident that Australian citizens are still interested in politics. Hence the level of partisan dealignment is a reflection of the inability of mainstream political parties to capture the political imagination.126
3.169
This shows how intrinsically linked political parties are with politics, democracy and the public good.
3.170
While all political parties acknowledge the decline in public trust is an issue they individually need to overcome, the Committee also notes that parties play an important role in providing not only the political leadership of the country, but also a direct way for the public to be involved in political decision-making. The Committee would like to see more recognition for the central position of political parties in the way our government is formed.
3.171
The Committee therefore places on the record its strong support for all of those who participate in Australia’s political system. This includes all candidates for election, whether successfully elected or not, and particularly the important members–staff and volunteers–of all political parties. Their work is an essential part of running our free and fair elections.

  • 1
    Malcolm Baalman, Submission 64, p. 3.
  • 2
    BBC News, ‘The meaning of “democracy sausage”, Australia’s word of 2016’, 14 December 2016, <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-38311263>, accessed 8 August 2018.
  • 3
    Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), Submission 66, p. 18
  • 4
    Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, section 92(2).
  • 5
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 11.
  • 6
    Initial estimates at the Close of the Rolls on 23 May 2016, had this figure as 816 000. AEC, Submission 66, p. 11; AEC, Submission 66: 2, Attachment A, p. 1.
  • 7
    AEC, ‘Enrolment statistics’, 19 April 2018, <https://www.aec.gov.au/Enrolling_to_vote/Enrolment_stats/>, accessed 3 May 2018.
  • 8
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 11.
  • 9
    For information on FDEU, see: Ed Killesteyn, ‘Federal Direct Enrolment and Direct Update,’ 3 April 2013, <https://www.aec.gov.au/About_AEC/research/caber/files/2c.pdf>, accessed 2 May 2018; and AEC, ‘Direct enrolment and update’, 8 September 2016, <https://www.aec.gov.au/Enrolling_to_vote/About_Electoral_Roll/direct.htm>, accessed 2 May 2018.
  • 10
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 17.
  • 11
    See: Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM), Inquiry into the implications of the Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Amendment (Automatic Enrolment) Act 2009 (NSW) for the conduct of Commonwealth elections, February 2010, recommendation 1, <https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=em/autobill2009/report/fullreport.pdf>, accessed 22 November 2018; JSCEM, The 2010 Federal Election: Report on the conduct of the election and related matters, June 2011, recommendation 1, <https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=em/elect10/report/final%20report.pdf>, accessed 22 November 2018.
  • 12
    AEC, Submission 66, pp. 17-18.
  • 13
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 11.
  • 14
    AEC, Submission 66, pp. 17-18.
  • 15
    Paul Oosting, National Director, GetUp!, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 31 January 2018, p. 34.
  • 16
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 11.
  • 17
    AEC, ‘Enrolment—Frequently Asked Questions’, 5 January 2017, <https://www.aec.gov.au/FAQs/Enrolment.htm>, accessed 12 June 2018.
  • 18
    Australian Greens, Submission 89, p. 4.
  • 19
    See: Parliament of Australia, ‘Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Lowering Voting Age and Increasing Voter Participation) Bill 2018, <www.aph.gov.au/votingage>, accessed 22 November 2018.
  • 20
    Australian Greens, Submission 89, pp. 3-4.
  • 21
    Australian Greens, Submission 89, p. 4.
  • 22
    Equality Rights Alliance, Submission 133, p. [2].
  • 23
    Ian Brightwell, Submission 76, p. 4.
  • 24
    Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), Submission 66, p. 15.
  • 25
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 15.
  • 26
    Malcolm Baalman, Submission 64, p. 13.
  • 27
    Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), Submission 66: 2, Attachment C3, p. 1.
  • 28
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 16.
  • 29
    Tom Rogers, Electoral Commissioner, AEC, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 9 November 2016, p. 2.
  • 30
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 16-17.
  • 31
    AEC, Submission 66: 2, Attachment C3, p. 1.
  • 32
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 16.
  • 33
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 16.
  • 34
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 16.
  • 35
    Ian Brightwell, Submission 76, p. 3.
  • 36
    Ian Brightwell, Submission 76, p. 3.
  • 37
    Ian Brightwell, Submission 76, pp. 3-4.
  • 38
    Malcolm Baalman, Submission 64, pp. 4, 9.
  • 39
    Australia Institute, Submission 67, p. 13.
  • 40
    Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), Submission 66, p. 44.
  • 41
    AEC, Submission 66.2, Attachment A, p. 1.
  • 42
    AEC, Submission 66.2, Attachment A, pp. 1-2.
  • 43
    AEC, Submission 66.2, Attachment A, pp. 1-2.
  • 44
    Antony Green, Submission 30, p. 7.
  • 45
    Antony Green, Submission 30, p. 7.
  • 46
    See: JSCEM, Third interim report on the inquiry into the conduct of the 2016 federal election: AEC modernisation, June 2017, pp. 18-21, <https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Electoral_Matters/2016Election/Third_Interim_Report> accessed 22 November 2018.
  • 47
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 45.
  • 48
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 45.
  • 49
    Accountability Round Table, Submission 84, pp. 1-2.
  • 50
    The Australia Institute, Submission 67, p. 1.
  • 51
    The Australia Institute, Submission 67, p. 5.
  • 52
    The Australia Institute, Submission 67, p. 4.
  • 53
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 1.
  • 54
    Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), ‘Informal voting’, 15 February 2017, <https://www.aec.gov.au/Voting/Informal_Voting/>, accessed 4 May 2018.
  • 55
    AEC, Submission 66: 3, p. 2.
  • 56
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 39.
  • 57
    Kevin Bonham, Submission 74, p. 11.
  • 58
    1983 figures include missing and discarded votes.
  • 59
    AEC, Submission 66: 2, Attachment A, p. 2.
  • 60
    Tom Rogers, Electoral Commissioner, AEC, Committee Hansard, 9 November 2016, Canberra, p. 2.
  • 61
    Malcolm Baalman, Submission 64, pp. 3, 9.
  • 62
    Gemma Whiting, Submission 99, p. [2].
  • 63
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 39.
  • 64
    Jeff Waddell, Submission 3, p. 11.
  • 65
    Kevin Bonham, Submission 74, p. 12.
  • 66
    AEC, ‘Voting in the House of Representatives’, 28 June 2016, <https://aec.gov.au/Voting/How_to_Vote/Voting_HOR.htm>, accessed 5 April 2018.
  • 67
    Kevin Bonham, Submission 74:1, p. [3].
  • 68
    Antony Green, Submission 30, p.13.
  • 69
    Jeremy Buxton, Submission 12, p. [2].
  • 70
    The Australia Institute, Submission 67, p. 8.
  • 71
    Peter Brent, Submission 59, p. [2].
  • 72
    Family Voice Australia, Submission 27, p. 8.
  • 73
    Graeme Orr, Bryan Mercurio and George Williams cited in Australian Institute, Submission 67, p. 9.
  • 74
    Lisa Hill cited in the Australia Institute, Submission 67, p. 9.
  • 75
    Tom Rogers, Electoral Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission, Proof Committee Hansard, 29 June 2016, p. 16.
  • 76
    The Australia Institute, Submission 67, p. 9.
  • 77
    The Electoral Integrity Project, Submission 52, p. 2.
  • 78
    The Electoral Integrity Project, Submission 52, p. 3.
  • 79
    The Electoral Integrity Project, Submission 52, pp. 3-4.
  • 80
    The Australia Institute, Submission 67, pp. 11-14.
  • 81
    The Electoral Integrity Project, Submission 52, p. 3.
  • 82
    Tom Rogers, Electoral Commissioner, AEC, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 9 November 2016, p. 8.
  • 83
    Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, s. 245.
  • 84
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 46.
  • 85
    Tom Rogers, Electoral Commissioner, AEC, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 9 November 2016, p. 9.
  • 86
    AEC, Submission 66: 2, Attachment A, p. 3.
  • 87
    Tom Rogers, Electoral Commissioner, AEC, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 9 November 2016, p. 8.
  • 88
    Tom Rogers, Electoral Commissioner, AEC, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 9 November 2016, p. 8.
  • 89
    Paul Pirani, Chief Legal Officer, AEC, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 9 November 2016, p. 8.
  • 90
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 46.
  • 91
    The Australia Institute, Submission 67, p. 16. Also: A J Rawling, Submission 44, p. 3.
  • 92
    The Electoral Integrity Project, Submission 52, p. 2.
  • 93
    Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), Submission 66, pp. 22-4.
  • 94
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 22.
  • 95
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 23.
  • 96
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 24.
  • 97
    Australia Institute, Submission 67, p. 1.
  • 98
    Australia Institute, Submission 67, pp. 1-2.
  • 99
    Harry Philips, Submission 107, p. 2.
  • 100
    JSCEM, The 2004 Federal Election: Report of the Inquiry into the Conduct of the 2004 Federal Election and Matters Related Thereto, September 2005, pp. 346, 354, <https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=em/elect04/report.htm>, accessed 22 November 2018.
  • 101
    JSCEM, Civics and Electoral Education, May 2007, p. 1, <https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=em/education/report.htm>, accessed 3 December 2018.
  • 102
    JSCEM, Civics and Electoral Education, May 2007, p. xvi, <https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=em/education/report.htm>, accessed 3 December 2018.
  • 103
    Lex Stewart, Submission 118; Australian Monarchist League, Submission 122; Family Voice Australia, Submission 27.
  • 104
    These requirements have since been repealed.
  • 105
    JSCEM, The 2013 Federal Election: Report on the conduct of the 2013 election and matters related thereto, April 2015, pp. 112-120, <https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Electoral_Matters/2013_General_Election/Final_Report>, accessed 3 December 2018.
  • 106
    Robyn Nolan, Submission 219, p. [2].
  • 107
    JSCEM, The 2013 Federal Election: Report on the conduct of the 2013 election and matters related thereto, April 2015, pp. 119.
  • 108
    Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), Annual Report 2016-17, p. 62, <https://annualreport.aec.gov.au/2017/contents/files/aec-annual-report-2016-17.pdf>, accessed 3 December 2018.
  • 109
    Equality Rights Alliance, Submission 133, p. [1].
  • 110
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 45.
  • 111
    The Australia Institute, Submission 67, p. 18.
  • 112
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 18.
  • 113
    Tom Rogers, Electoral Commissioner, AEC, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 28 November 2016, p. 11.
  • 114
    AEC, Submission 66: 19, p. [4].
  • 115
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 24.
  • 116
    AEC, Annual Report 2016-17, pp. 62-3, <https://annualreport.aec.gov.au/2017/contents/files/aec-annual-report-2016-17.pdf>, accessed 3 December 2018.
  • 117
    Tom Rogers, Electoral Commissioner, AEC, Proof Committee Hansard, 29 June 2016, p. 15.
  • 118
    Jeff Pope, Deputy Electoral Commissioner, AEC, Proof Committee Hansard, 29 June 2016, p. 15.
  • 119
    Warren Snowdon MP, Submission 73, p. [3].
  • 120
    Warren Snowdon MP, Submission 73, p. [5].
  • 121
    Evan Moorhead, Australian Labor Party (ALP), Committee Hansard, Townsville, 31 January 2017, p. 20.
  • 122
    Evan Moorhead, ALP, Committee Hansard, Townsville, 31 January 2017, pp. 20-1.
  • 123
    Paul Pirani, Chief Legal Officer, AEC, Committee Hansard, Townsville, 31 January 2017, p. 22.
  • 124
    Australian Government, ‘Empowered Communities’, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, <https://pmc.gov.au/indigenous-affairs/empowered-communities>, accessed 22 November 2018.
  • 125
    Evans, M. M. Halupka, G. Stoker, (2017) How Australians imagine their democracy: The Power of Us, p. 8. Taken as Exhibit 3 to the inquiry.
  • 126
    Evans, M. M. Halupka, G. Stoker, (2017) How Australians imagine their democracy: The Power of Us, p. 20. Taken as Exhibit 3 to the inquiry.

 |  Contents  | 

About this inquiry

On 21 September 2016, the Special Minister of State, Senator the Hon Scott Ryan, asked the Committee to inquire into and report on all aspects of the 2016 Federal Election and related matters.


The Committee is conducting a review of political donations as part of its inquiry into the conduct of the 2016 federal election.



Past Public Hearings

20 Nov 2018:
29 Jun 2018: Parkes
20 Feb 2018: West Perth