Australia has never been afraid to challenge the operation of our electoral system and modernise it in response to community expectations.
In the past, Australia has been a world leader in electoral reform–both the United States and Britain adopted the ‘Australian ballot’ after a secret ballot was guaranteed as a right in the Australian states in the 1800s, led by South Australian in 1856.
The 2016 election continued the modernisation of our system; introducing fundamental reforms to the method of voting for the Senate. This reform, a double dissolution election, and the events that occurred in the 2013 election leading to a rerun of the Western Australian Senate election, put particular pressures on the delivery of the 2016 election.
This report is the Committee’s assessment of the conduct of the 2016 election. The Committee has issued three prior interim report on matters related to the election which the Committee considered required urgent attention:
the authorisation of voter communications;
the extent and use of foreign donations; and
Australian Electoral Commission modernisation.
This report addresses the remainder of the issues from the 2016 election. It looks at the effects of the double dissolution election and the Senate voting reform. With the voting reform measures proving successful, the report considered the need for improvements to the count methodology for the Senate, based on advice by a number of electoral experts.
In this report the Committee also considers issues that occur in every election, such as voter enrolment and participation, access to polling places, pre-poll, remote and overseas voting, and voter turnout.
Two matters remain outstanding from this Committee’s predecessor’s report: electoral roll divergence and harmonisation, and the introduction of voter ID for federal elections. Addressing these serious issues of enfranchisement and surety of the electoral process are important to maintain a robust electoral system.
In total 31 recommendations are made to support better elections in the future. The use of technology is considered. Although there is a popular call for electronic voting, the Committee cannot support it without much greater confidence in the security of electronic voting options. Instead the Committee considers that other technological improvements to the electoral system will offer greater benefits, such as the national rollout of electronic certified lists and improvements in options provided to blind and low vision voters.
Finally, the report provides a lengthy discussion on political donations and areas for potential reform. Over the course of the 45th Parliament to date, the Committee has considered carefully the views put to it on reform to political donations. Many of the Committee’s views are expressed in its interim report on foreign donations and its reports on the Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill put to the Parliament. This report extends that work.
Free, fair and transparent elections are the foundation of our democracy. Without confidence in our elections, we cannot be confident in our Parliament. The Committee is proud of its role in contributing to continuously enhancing and strengthening Australia’s electoral system.