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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: ACT
29 Jun 2018: Parkes, ACT
20 Feb 2018: West Perth, WA

2. 2016 federal election overview and key issues

The 2016 federal election

2.1
The 2016 federal election was notable in two significant ways:
1
it was the first double dissolution election held in Australia since 1987; and
2
it introduced the first major reforms to how Australians vote since 1984.
2.2
It was also the first national electoral event that allowed the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to test reforms put in place after the loss of ballot papers during the 2013 election.

A double dissolution

2.3
On 8 May 2016 the Prime Minister wrote to the Governor-General to request that he dissolve both Houses of Parliament under section 57 of the Constitution, stating:
I am able to advise that all conditions for a double dissolution have been met with respect to two parcels of legislation: the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013 and the Building and Construction Industry (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013 ("ABCC Bills") and the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 ("Registered Organisations Bill").
The Senate has, on two occasions, rejected each of the ABCC Bills and the Registered Organisations Bill. The requirement in section 57 that there be an interval of at least three months between the first rejection by the Senate and the second passage by the House of Representatives has been met in respect of each of those Bills.1
2.4
The 2016 election was only the seventh occasion that both Houses have been dissolved simultaneously.2
2.5
A double dissolution election has a significant impact on the election of Senators. The threshold for election is much lower in a double dissolution election than a normal half-Senate election:
A normal half-Senate election the quota is 1/7 of the total formal vote, whereas in a double dissolution election the quota is 1/13 of the total formal vote, because of the greater number of vacancies to be filled.3
This further increased the size of the Senate ballot paper, as is addressed later in the Report.
2.6
It also affects the terms of Senators:
Under section 13 of the Constitution Senators’ terms commence on the first day of July following their election.
In a normal half-Senate election, senators are elected well before their term begins (the senators elected at the September 2013 federal election, for example, did not take their seats until 1 July 2014). However, under section 13, following a dissolution of the Senate and the subsequent election, the terms of the elected senators are backdated to commence on the previous 1 July.
This means that a double dissolution election held prior to July 2016 would see the terms of the elected senators backdated to commence on 1 July 2015. This would mean in turn that the terms of the three-year senators would expire on 30 June 2018 (only two years after they were elected), thereby requiring an election for those senators well before then. The effect of this would either be a short parliamentary term leading to a normal general election, or a separate half-Senate election followed by a later House of Representatives election.4
2.7
Section 13 of The Constitution provides for how the term of Senators is to be divided following a double dissolution election–terms are determined by which order Senators were declared elected, based on the number of votes received. The Electoral Act was amended in 1983 to provide for a recount of just the elected Senators, excluding the unsuccessful candidates, in order to determine terms (those being elected with the highest vote received six year terms and those with the lower vote receiving 3 year terms)5 however, this provision has never been utilised.
2.8
The Senate may choose to utilise either of these methods and on 31 August 2016, the Senate resolved to determine terms as per the provisions of The Constitution:
That, pursuant to section 13 of the Constitution, the senators chosen for each state be divided into two classes, as follows:
(1) Senators listed at positions 7 to 12 on the certificate of election of senators for each state shall be allocated to the first class and receive 3 year terms.
(2) Senators listed at positions 1 to 6 on the certificate of election of senators for each state shall be allocated to the second class and receive 6 year terms.6
2.9
The use of The Constitution rather than s. 282 of the Electoral Act affected the positions of two NSW7 and two Victorian8 senators.9 This reordering is due to the count methodology, with s. 282 providing that the recount use a half-Senate quota (14.3 per cent), rather than a full-Senate quota (7.7 per cent).
2.10
The terms to be served by Senators elected at the 2016 election are at Appendix C.
2.11
Since the 2016 election, the 45th Parliament has also been notable for the number of Senators and Members who have been replaced due to the provisions of section 44 of The Constitution. The Committee issued a comprehensive report on this matter in May 2018.10 Current Senators are listed on the Parliament House website.11

Reform for the Senate

2.12
The 2016 election also tested a new system of Senate voting. In the most significant voting reform since 1983, the new system of voting abolished the group voting tickets that had been found to ‘game the system’ and handed greater control of preferences to voters.12
2.13
The changes:
removed the use of group voting tickets; and
required voters to allocate six or more preferences above the line or 12 or more preferences below the line.
2.14
Voters appear to have responded positively to this change; in one state voting against a chosen major party order of candidates. This shows that the reforms have met the intent expressed by this Committee’s predecessor to ‘provide the people with the power to express and to have their voting intent upheld.’13
2.15
The changes to Senate voting contained a ‘savings provision’ where ballot papers with fewer than six preferences were still counted. Mr Antony Green noted:
Were it not for the savings provisions, the 908,305 ballot papers with fewer than six preferences would have been excluded from the count and the informal vote would have returned to the double digit levels that existed prior to 1984.14
2.16
Nonetheless, as demonstrated by Table 2.1, 86.8 per cent of voters completed six or more preferences above the line.
2.17
Further analysis provided by Mr Green suggests that individual state patterns were influenced by state-specific issues:
There was a higher incidence of 1-only voting in NSW, perhaps caused by the state having a higher proportion of voters from non-English speaking backgrounds. It may also be due to the dogged campaign by radio presenter Ray Hadley to argue that voters only needed to number a single square.
In Tasmania and the ACT, both of which use the candidate based Hare-Clark system to elect local Assemblies, there was a much higher rate of below the line voting.15
Table 2.1:  Preference category of ballot papers by state
% of Ballot papers with number of preferences
State
1
2–5
6
7–12
>12
BTL
NSW
4.7
4.1
80.9
4.3
0.6
5.4
VIC
2.4
3.6
83.5
4.5
0.8
5.3
QLD
2.0
3.3
83.2
4.5
0.8
6.1
WA
2.2
3.4
83.5
4.2
1.2
5.5
SA
2.3
3.0
79.2
5.2
1.7
8.5
TAS
1.1
2.2
61.1
5.0
2.5
28.1
ACT
1.3
1.8
70.6
11.1
..
15.2
NT
2.3
2.8
50.8
35.5
..
8.6
National
3.0
3.6
81.2
4.8
0.8
6.5
Source: Antony Green, Submission 30, p. 9. Note: there were only seven Senate groups in the Northern Territory and 10 in the ACT, which resulted in many more voters going beyond six preferences.
2.18
Although there were some criticisms16 of the Senate voting reforms submitted to the inquiry, on the whole, the reforms were positively regarded by the majority of electoral experts who made submissions to this inquiry. Dr Kevin Bonham submitted an analysis of the key concerns raised about the new voting system and concluded:
Every one of the concerns I have mentioned above that was raised by opponents of the new system, and that it is within my ability to assess, has turned out to be either vastly exaggerated or completely false.17

Count methodology and quotas

2.19
Given the change from compulsory preferential voting to optional preferential voting, several expert submitters highlighted the need to review the count methodology and quotas used for the election of Senators.
2.20
Dr Kevin Bonham submitted that the continued use of the unweighted Inclusive Gregory system for surplus distributions may lead to a situation where the wrong Senator is elected due to increased value at transfers, when they should have otherwise decreased. He argues for a change to Weighted Inclusive Gregory, as used in Western Australia, explaining the impact in Tasmania, which had a high proportion of below-the-line votes:
In total, by my calculations, 3214 papers that were primary votes for Senator Lambie (either above or below the line) reached Senator Bushby at a remaining value of .064 votes per paper. Most of these arrived on the exclusion of Steven Martin. As Senator Bushby had 1.41 quotas in the Weighted Inclusive Gregory system the value of these papers remaining from his surplus would have been reduced to .026 votes per paper. Instead, rather than having their value reduced at all, these papers were passed on at a new value of .091 votes per paper. This meant that if a voter voted for Lambie and then Bushby they got 6.5% of an extra vote for their vote. Other voters would have lost vote value to this problem.
Overall almost 1% of Tasmanian voters had their votes increased in value after already helping to elect two candidates, and the net value of the distortion exceeded the final seat margin.18
2.21
Mr Antony Green also identified the need for improvement in the count process:
When a candidate is excluded from the count, their distribution is conducted on the number of VOTES they have. When a candidate is elected and their surplus distributed, the size of their surplus is based on the number of VOTES they have, but its composition is determined by the number of BALLOT PAPERS they hold. This can produce some serious distortions to the flows of preferences from elected candidates and determine who wins the final seats in a state.19
2.22
Dr Bonham also argued for a progressively reducing quota, stating:
In the previous Senate system, with an exhaust rate of close to zero, it made sense to keep the same quota for the whole count. In the new system, as exhaust increases through the count, keeping the quota the same means that candidates will keep receiving votes even after their election may be mathematically assured, until they hit the original quota. It also means that the elected candidate retains more votes than they need in order to secure election, and hence that preferences flowing to them do not carry as much value as they could.20
2.23
The Proportional Representation Society further submitted:
There were instances of people having more than one vote’s worth of influence in all states except South Australia because transfer values rose after certain ballot papers had helped elect someone. That phenomenon can only occur at the expense of certain other voters as the total formal votes and quota are determined at the start of the scrutiny.21
2.24
Dr Bonham, the Proportional Representation Society and Electoral Reform Australia all called for the Meek System to be adopted for the Senate count,22 while Mr Green recommended that a technical report be commissioned on the mathematical formulas behind the distribution of preferences for surplus to quota votes.23
2.25
The Committee notes the concerns of electoral experts regarding the count methodology and quota surplus and agrees that it is timely to review the count and surplus transfer methodology to ensure that it most accurately reflects the will of voters under the new Senate voting system.

Recommendation 1

2.26
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government commission a technical report on the most appropriate count and surplus transfer methodology for Senate elections.
2.27
This technical report should consider the need for a progressively reducing quota.
2.28
Further, in reviewing the evidence, the Committee expresses its support for the Senate voting system, including the retention of the ‘savings provision’ for a single 1 above the line. The savings provision may prove to be unnecessary for elections after the public is used to voting in the new system and this should be kept under review. The ‘savings provision’ and its application to the House is discussed in more detail in Chapter 4.

Count and scrutiny of Senate ballot papers

2.29
Counting changes were put in place as a result of post-2013 election reviews and the changes to Senate voting. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) explained:
Under the previous [Senate voting] system, approximately 97 per cent of ballot papers were cast above the line which could easily be entered in the AEC count system. … Less than half a million (three per cent) Senate ballot papers contained below the line votes, and preferences had to be manually entered.
As a result of the legislative changes, data entry was needed for all 14.4 million Senate ballot papers.
In just over three months the AEC developed, tested, certified and operationalised a new end‑to‑end solution to count and distribute Senate preferences. The semi‑automated process, using scanning and image recognition technology to capture preferences, was developed with a contractor – Fuji Xerox Document Management Services (FX DMS). …
After election day, Senate ballot papers were progressively despatched to a CSS site in the capital city of each state and territory. Senate ballot papers were scanned to capture an image of everything contained on the ballot paper, except the watermark. Preferences were captured using optical character recognition and verified by a human operator.
The process required the movement of 14.4 million ballot papers, in over
34 000 transport containers, from over 8 000 polling places, via the divisional outposted centre, to a CSS site in each state and territory. At these sites, operating two shifts, seven days a week, over 800 staff scanned and verified preferences for 631 candidates. Counting and distributing preferences required scanning of 14 406 706 ballot papers and entry into the count system by a human operator of 101 535 258 preferences.
All ballot papers were passed to a second human operator for full blind entry of all preferences on the ballot paper and comparison with scanned and verified data. Once verified, a digital record was generated representing the preferences on the ballot paper.
Any discrepancy during verification directed the image and data preference record to the AEC for adjudication and resolution. Scrutineers viewed the scanning, verification and adjudication processes and could challenge at any time.24
2.30
Serious concerns were raised about the capacity of scrutineers to adequately scrutinise the Senate count due to the central count and the computerised count.
2.31
The Australian Greens raised concerns that the large temporary workforce employed by Fuji Xerox for scanning and data entry of Senate ballot papers did not have background in the electoral process. They submitted:
We were concerned by some reports from our scrutineers of data entry operators failing to record all marks upon the ballot, or attempting to independently make formality decisions. These staff should instead record the markings they observe, and if they are unsure they should escalate the ballot to an AEC officer.25
2.32
The Australian Greens further submitted that the appointment of sub-contractors to manage the Senate count ‘may unfairly limit the number of scrutineers that could be appointed, and make a practical scrutiny of the count impossible.’26 This process was outlined:
Ballots were processed via queues – some of these queues were “end” queues, meaning that ballots which passed through the queues without a challenge from a scrutineer; or a request from a data entry operator for further assistance, would receive no further scrutiny.
We have some concern that a large number of ballots followed the following process:
Optical Computer Recognition (OCR)→Perfect Capture→Data entry 2→admitted to count.
Such a ballot would have only gone through been seen by one member of the data entry personnel during the count. Additionally, the restrictions placed upon the maximum number of scrutineers meant that it was impossible for a candidate’s scrutineers to watch the large number of workstations (in Western Australia, at times more than thirty) processing the “DataEntry 2” queue
2.33
The submission notes that this has not been as issue at previous elections as the count was conducted by AEC staff. Ms Gemma Whiting, a scrutineer for the Liberal Party of Australia (WA Division) confirmed this evidence, raising similar concerns.
2.34
It was also apparent from Ms Whiting’s submission and subsequent evidence to the Committee in Perth that there was a misunderstanding on the part of some Fuji Xerox staff about the role of scrutineers, with some tension arising regarding access to the centre and challenging votes.27 The Queensland Liberal National Party (LNP) also confirmed reports of scanning staff resisting the escalation of challenges to AEC officials.28
2.35
Ms Whiting stated:
In theory the system when explained sounds thorough and an improvement on past practices. However, as a scrutineer what was encountered was continuing issues of Fuji Xerox staff trying to rule on formality instead of AEC officials. There was a strong culture of casual contracted data entry operators who would not allow scrutineers to adequately perform their function and a system that is designed to limit effective scrutiny of the ballots.29
2.36
The LNP Campaign Director stated that the experience with Fuji Xerox staff in Brisbane was good but also noted:
…when they were scanning and processing over 24 hours, I do not think it is reasonable to expect major political parties, let alone independents and minor parties, to have scrutineers at a counting centre for 24 hours. We had teams there throughout the scrutiny process, and I know that the Labor Party had people there most of the time, but that was it. It was a difficult process there. There is also a need for better training for some of those operators at the centre. If a vote was being challenged later in the piece, they were not following their due process where that vote would be looked at by a supervisor. Those issues were resolved; it comes down to a training issue.30
2.37
A large part of the challenge for scrutineers was the technology used to scan the votes and the legibility of scanned ballot papers. Both the speed of scanning and ‘zooming out’ of scanned papers made them difficult to read.
2.38
Ms Whiting noted that in the new scanning system once the ‘enter’ button had been hit the ballot went through and was irretrievable. Ballot papers would flash onto the screen for sometimes only 2 seconds before the casual data entry staff would hit ‘enter’ and the ballot paper would be gone. Ms Whiting reported that if a scrutineer asked a casual data entry operator to slow down complaints were made by the casual data entry personnel to Fuji Xerox supervisors.31
2.39
The Australian Greens also raised the same concerns about how fast ballot papers were being reviewed, and the inability to recall the ballot paper once it had been accepted:
The amount of time provided for scrutiny of each senate ballot has decreased compared to previous senate elections… the great majority of ballots only appeared on the computer screen for a matter of seconds. As formality decisions were being made from scanned images it was difficult for scrutineers to view the preferences markings in the full context of the ballot paper.
Were a member of the counting staff to consider a ballot’s form entered, they had simply to press “enter” on their workstation and the ballot would be entered into the count. This left scrutineers with a very short window to say “challenge”...
The software system in use did not allow the ballot previously on the screen to be recalled, even by AEC officials in the room.32
2.40
The Electoral Reform Society of South Australia also reported difficulties in reading the computer terminals and noted that this places independent scrutiny at risk.33
2.41
Scrutineers perform an essential role in the conduct of elections, satisfying candidates about their fair treatment and ensuring integrity of electoral processes. Although the AEC is confident that the integrity of the Senate count was maintained, the Committee is seriously concerned that this confidence was not shared by scrutineers.
2.42
In its report on the AEC’s procurement of services for the 2016 election, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) recommended:
When the Australian Electoral Commission uses computer assisted scrutiny in future federal electoral events, the integrity of the data is verified and the findings of the verification activities are reported.34
2.43
In response to the ANAO’s report, the AEC reaffirmed its confidence in the process and stated:
For future events, the AEC will continue to evaluate and if appropriate, implement additional verification mechanisms to maintain the integrity of the count. The results of verification activities undertaken at future electoral events may be reported in support of the scrutineering process.35
2.44
The Committee has received no evidence to suggest that the results were in any way compromised by the counting process. However, noting the evidence put to this inquiry by scrutineers and the ANAO’s findings, and recognising the challenges in scrutinising a computer vs manual count, the Committee does find that there is a need to make changes to the scrutiny of the Senate count.
2.45
The Electoral Act currently limits the number of scrutineers to no greater than the number of officers who are engaged in a scrutiny of counting.36 Submitters noted that this was interpreted as AEC officers, not data entry officers (Fuji Xerox staff) so scrutineers could not observe all terminals in operation.
2.46
However, given the difficulties with observing the electronic count, the Committee is not convinced that more candidate scrutineers would necessarily be an adequate solution, given the challenges in scrutinising technology. Brightwell et al note:
The skills needed for the scrutiny of votes which are electronically captured and managed are obviously quite different to those needed in previous entirely paper based elections. The main reason being that information flow is not tangible and so inherently non-transparent because neither the AEC and the scrutineer can be certain that the computer has faithfully captured and held the electronic ballot preferences and passed them uncorrupted to the count process. The new system only provides scrutineers with “snapshots” of individual ballots on a screen at different stages of the process. These “snapshots” identify which preference marks the computer uses in the final count. However, it is all but impossible for a scrutineer to confirm that the preference marks they saw in a “snapshot” are accurately reflected in the final preference file used for the distribution of preferences process. Given this situation new approaches to transparency are necessary to enable the combination of electronic systems and physical processes to be scrutinised effectively.37
2.47
Blom et al submitted:
The recently introduced electronic Senate ballots scanning applies scrutineering procedures that are rooted in a manual process. Rather than scrutinize the process from one end to the other, the scrutiny is at intervals in the process, for example, when data is sent from one system to the next, or when there is an inconsistency in the interpretation. Scrutiny at these points creates the illusion of meaningful scrutiny across the whole process, when in fact it is only providing a view of a small portion, leaving plenty of scope for the introduction of both intentional and unintentional errors. In fact a great deal of trust was vested in the security and accuracy of hardware and software provided by a number of foreign companies.
What should happen is that new auditing protocols should be introduced to audit the output of the process, that is, to select some paper ballots at random and use that paper evidence to check the announced result. This permits untrusted hardware and software to be used within the process, whilst still gaining assurance that the result is correct. If the process is well designed, it could give even stronger assurances than those gained from manual counting. The issue is not with the introduction of electronic scanning and counting, it is with the lack of appropriate scrutiny of what is an inherently very different process. Applying the appropriate auditing procedures will not only provide assurance of the electronic counting process, but also reduce the margin of error and provide a greater return on the introduction of electronic scanning and counting.38
2.48
Given the expertise required for technology scrutiny, Brightwell et al proposed that:
the software and associated processes be made available for independent audit; and
random checks are made comparing the captured data to physical ballot papers and reports provided to candidate scrutineers.
2.49
The Committee agrees that a consequence of the Senate voting changes is a more complex count and a heavy reliance on automated count processes. As a result, it is more difficult, if not impossible, for candidate scrutineers to adequately scrutinise the vote. The Committee also questions how transparency is achieved in practice during a 24-hour count process.
2.50
Therefore changes need to be made to the Senate scrutiny process.
Firstly, that data entry operators be considered ‘officers engaged in counting’ for the purposes of s. 264 of the Act. This would permit a greater number of candidate scrutineers to be appointed to the centralised Senate count.
Secondly, that a non-partisan independent expert scrutineer be appointed to each Central Senate Scrutiny centre in each state and territory to be responsible for:
auditing the computer systems and processes used to capture and count votes;
undertaking randomised checks between captured data and physical ballot papers throughout the count at a level that provides surety as to the accuracy of the system; and
providing reports to candidate scrutineers about their findings on a regular basis during the count.

Recommendation 2

2.51
The Committee recommends that Central Senate Scrutiny Centre data entry operators be considered ‘officers engaged in counting’ for the purposes of s. 264 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

Recommendation 3

2.52
The Committee recommends that a non-partisan independent expert scrutineer be appointed to each Central Senate Scrutiny Centre in each state and territory and be responsible for:
auditing the computer systems and processes used to capture and count votes;
undertaking randomised checks between captured data and physical ballot papers throughout the count at a level that provides surety as to the accuracy of the system; and
providing reports to candidate scrutineers about their findings on a regular basis during the count.

Size of Senate ballot papers

2.53
The size and manageability of Senate ballot papers has been an issue of concern for several elections, as voters struggle to manage large ballot papers with small font in small polling booths. The size of the Senate ballot paper has continued to grow each election.
Table 2.2:  Senate nominations at the 2016 and 2013 elections
Jurisdiction
Nominations (2016)
Nominations (2013)
Nominations (2014)
NSW
151
110
0
Victoria
116
97
0
Queensland
122
82
0
WA
79
62
77
SA
64
73
0
Tasmania
58
54
0
ACT
22
27
0
NT
19
24
0
Total
631
529
77
Source: AEC, Submission 66, p. 57; AEC, Election 2013, Virtual Tally Room.
2.54
This has significantly complicated the process of Senate voting for electors and for the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). The AEC explained:
Additionally, the number of candidates nominating at each election continues to increase. As a result, the Senate ballot paper, in particular, continues to grow in size (conversely, whilst font size decreases on some ballot papers) presenting challenges for voters in relation to handling, legibility and formal completion, and logistical challenges for the AEC in relation to printing, movement and transportation, and scrutiny increases.39
2.55
Mr Antony Green commented on the issues associated with very large Senate ballot papers:
It makes the voting process much more difficult for voters, because the ballot paper is much bigger than the voting space. It makes it more difficult to seal declaration envelopes. If you start getting declaration envelopes bursting because the size of the ballot paper makes it harder for the glue—because the glue is not strong enough to hold that amount of paper inside the ballot paper—you have a problem.40
2.56
The AEC also commented on how the changes to the Senate voting system and the size of the Senate ballot paper contributed to longer queues at polling places in the 2016 federal election:
The Senate voting changes, the number of candidates, the size of the Senate ballot paper and the increased number of names on the certified lists, which meant it took longer to look up voters, appear to have made voting for the Senate a longer process than in the past.41
2.57
The Electoral Reform Society of South Australia noted the practical challenge electors face in completing a very large Senate ballot paper in a small voting booth:
With the small size of the voting booth and large size of the Senate ballot paper, it was very difficult physically to balance the ballot papers for voters to ensure they were voting for the candidates they wanted to give preferences to. If the current format on Senate ballot papers remains, then the AEC needs to at least double the size of these booths.42
2.58
Several options were suggested for reducing the size of the ballot paper:
raising party membership requirements;
introducing party deposit fees;
require locally enrolled nominators; and
reconfiguration of the ballot paper.
2.59
Mr Green made recommendations in his submission regarding the nomination procedures for the Senate:
JSCEM should re-examine the rules for party registration and consider lifting the membership requirement or introduce a deposit fee. An alternative proposal would be to bring back the requirement for Senate nominators.43
2.60
Mr Green added:
All Senate candidates should require locally enrolled nominators, putting Independent and Party candidates on the same footing. This should begin to cull the number of candidates nominating in Senate contests. If a party has little or no membership in a state, the re-introduction of nominator requirements would make it harder for the party to nominate in every state.44
2.61
Mr Michael Maley recommended 2 further changes to the Senate ballot paper for reducing the number of Senate groups:
First, the ballot paper could be slightly reconfigured so that instead of having a single column for all ungrouped candidates, there would be two columns of ungrouped candidates, the first listing those against whom a party affiliation was to be shown, and the second listing those who were to have no affiliation (or the word “Independent”) shown. These columns could bear labels such as “Ungrouped Party Candidates” and “Ungrouped Non-Party Candidates”. An attraction of this arrangement for the candidates in question is that it could actually make it easier for their supporters to find them on the ballot paper: rather than having to search through all the above the line groups, they could simply be directed to look for the penultimate column below the line.
Secondly, the deposit structure could be changed, so that candidates would all have to pay a basic deposit at about the current level, but candidates who wished to be grouped would be required to pay a substantial additional deposit (for example, a sum equivalent to the total of the basic deposits of all of the candidates of the group, a formula which would also tend to discourage groups from running an unnecessarily large number of a candidates).45
2.62
In its report on Senate voting practices, this Committee’s predecessor recommended changes to provide stronger requirements for party registration, aimed at ensuring the veracity of political parties. These recommendations would have also potentially reduced the number of parties able to run for the Senate.46 These recommendations were not accepted. However any changes may not have greatly impacted the size of the ballot paper, as between the 2013 and 2016 elections, despite the overall national increase of nearly 100 candidates, there was only an increase of three registered political parties.47
2.63
The Committee notes the difficulties experienced by many electors completing the very large Senate ballot papers in the 2016 federal election and the valuable suggestions put forward by submitters to reduce the size of the Senate ballot paper.
2.64
The Committee further notes that the double dissolution election significantly lowers the quota at which a Senator is elected and that this may have contributed to the increase in candidates at this election, with additional candidates seeking election on the basis of these increased odds.
2.65
Nonetheless, the Committee considers that it is timely to review party registration requirements. While the Committee does not wish to discourage people from forming political parties and engaging in our democratic processes, the Committee also does not want voters to be confronted with such a large ballot paper that they cannot find who they want to vote for.
2.66
Increasing political party membership requirements strikes an appropriate balance between these two aims. Therefore the Committee is recommending that party registration criteria be strengthened and all current parties be deregistered and required to re-register against the strengthened criteria.
2.67
In addition, the Committee questions the provisions in the Act that provides automatic political party status to any parliamentary party that has a member in the Parliament. If current Senators and Members have community support, meeting general party registration requirements should not be onerous.

Recommendation 4

2.68
The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 be amended to:
increase party membership requirement to a minimum 1,000 unique members who are not relied upon for any other party in order for a federally registered party to field candidates in a federal election; and
require that parliamentary parties not be exempt from party registration requirements by virtue of their Parliamentary representation.

Recommendation 5

2.69
The Committee recommends that all political parties be required to meet the new party registration criteria within three months of the legislation being enacted or the party shall be automatically deregistered.

Implementation of post-2013 reforms

2.70
The third key feature of the 2016 election was the full implementation of the post-2013 election reforms. Following the loss of ballots in the 2013 Western Australian Senate election, subsequent voiding of the 2013 WA Senate results, and rerun of that election, there were a range of reforms implemented as a result of the ‘Keelty Report’,48 ANAO reports49 and recommendations from this Committee’s predecessor.50
2.71
The JSCEM report looking at the events of the 2013 election found that the loss of 1 300 WA Senate ballot papers and subsequent investigations pointed to a ‘widespread systematic management and ballot accounting failures within the AEC that require systematic reform.’51
2.72
In its submission to this inquiry, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) stated:
The 2013 federal election will be remembered for the failure of the Western Australian Senate election. After the loss of ballot papers, the AEC committed to significant change to ensure the delivery of trusted, consistently reliable, high quality and high integrity electoral events and services.
This period saw comprehensive reforms to election planning, policies, procedures, and conduct, implementing the recommendations from external reports by Mr Mick Keelty AO APM and the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), and internally driven reforms.52
2.73
The AEC outlined the key policy and procedural changes put in place for this election, being:
national consistency through new and reviewed policies, standard operating procedures, election delivery planning and other templates, guidance and tools
improved contracting framework, logistics and materials management
improved recruitment and training to support the professionalism of the permanent and temporary workforce
new ballot paper handling processes from printing to authorised destruction
polling official training emphasising ballot paper principles, handling and security practices
clear identification of staff and scrutineers at polling places and scrutiny centres
character checks for selected and supervisory temporary election staff
improved waste management at polling centres and outposted centres.53
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The implementation of these changes was made public by the publication of the 2016 Federal Election Service Plan.54
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The Committee has engaged closely with the AEC in the implementation of these reforms. The Committee receives regular briefings from the AEC and briefings from the ANAO when appropriate. Through its inquiry into the AEC’s annual report, the Committee has formalised its oversight of the AEC and will be reporting regularly on relevant issues.

Workforce planning and management

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Management of the workforce for any electoral event is complex. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) noted that this is an issue of concern for electoral management bodies in general:
The AEC’s challenges in recruiting and training such a large number of workers for a short period of time are not unique. A working group of seven Commonwealth national election management bodies (EMBs) met in 2015 to discuss common challenges relating to very large temporary workforces delivering services in a time‑compressed, highly decentralised electoral process.55
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As acknowledged by the AEC, recruitment and training of staff was a key focus of the Keelty, ANAO and JSCEM reviews of the 2013 election. In response, the AEC submitted:
After the 2013 federal election the AEC undertook its largest ever workforce reform project for election staffing. This included:
a wholesale review of the approach to training for both temporary and APS staff
the development of an operational workforce planning model
a feasibility study into options regarding election recruitment
the introduction of character checks for senior polling staff.56
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However, the AEC further submitted that:
…to fully address the expectations outlined above [Keelty, ANAO and JSCEM reviews], fundamental change is also required to the methodologies underpinning recruitment, induction and performance management of temporary staff across the employment lifecycle, including its HR systems: to do so is outside the AEC’s current resources.57
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This view was supported by feedback on workforce experience–despite the improvements made by the AEC, some staff still felt under-prepared for the delivery of the election. The Community and Public Services Union (CPSU) submitted that staff raised concerns about the short time frame between the release and implementation of the new Standard Operating Procedures stating:
Members informed the CPSU that the Standard Operating Procedures produced were bogged down in electoral jargon and were far too complex to grasp in the extremely short time they were given to absorb them. The suite of Standard Operating Procedures for the election totalled 14, all in excess of 25 pages each, with 13 supporting guides for the procedures.
The procedures were also updated continually (sometimes a few hours prior the relevant event). For example, the ballot paper Standard Operating Procedures were updated the Friday before polling day. The CPSU has been informed that a large number of staff were not able to review the new policy prior to commencing the scrutiny of ballot papers. Most did not review the policy at all.58
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In its interim report on AEC modernisation, the Committee identified a series of urgent reforms required to be addressed, namely:
modernising the current paper-based system and integrating information technology systems;
new and enhanced training for temporary election staff; and
technical amendments to legislation.59
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The Government has not yet provided a final response to the Committee’s report but the AEC has provided the following progress update:
a business case is being developed in consultation with the Department of Finance, the Digital Transformation Agency and other electoral management bodies to replace the AEC’s legacy IT systems;
an app has been developed to assist voters with checking enrolment, polling places and waiting times and engage with the AEC;
Electronic Certified List (ECL) system use will be doubled at the next federal election and ‘ECL Lite’–involving lower cost devices–is being developed with an aim to be trialled at the next election; and
new training tools are being produced for both temporary and permanent staff.60
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While the Committee is strongly supportive of the need to adequately fund the AEC to undertake the transformation necessary to deliver Australia’s electoral system, it also encourages the AEC to continue to be innovative in how it recruits both temporary and permanent workforces.
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For example, People with Disability Australia called on a greater effort to be made to employ people with disabilities. They submitted that ‘the current commitment under [the AEC’s] disability plan has so far failed to increase the number of people with disability employed’.61
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The Committee notes that there are challenges unique to each state that need to be managed on a local level. For example, the AEC State Manager for Western Australia states that a significant feature of the Western Australian workforce is the fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workforce:
We again provided services at Perth Airport during the last two weeks of polling specifically to cater for the FIFO workforce, and collected 12,051 declaration votes. We visited five mine sites with remote mobile polling runs, and FIFO workers were also able to vote at other early voting centres across WA and by post. …
Polling hours were set to be in line with flight schedules. We worked with the airport corporation and FIFO groups to understand what the flight schedules were, and they were set to be in line with when the FIFO workers were at the airport and leaving for their workplaces. Hours of polling at all terminals were conducted over a two-week period of weekdays only and did not include polling day. Polling hours were split, with a separate morning and afternoon shift at Cobham, Skippers and T1, but it was a full-day shift at T2 and T3.
Security issues and space limitations required us to move all polling materials out of the airport each night and put them back into AEC premises. The staff arrived very early in the morning each morning to pick them up again and take them back out to the airport. So there was a fair amount of cooperation between us and the airport corporation in order to get around those security issues. We could not store there but we had to do polling there because we have such a big FIFO workforce. We just had to manage that.62
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These issues are not unique to federal elections and would also be an issue for state electoral management bodies. The Committee understands that electoral management bodies work closely together on a range of matters and would encourage greater cooperation on workforce management.


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