Parliamentary oversight of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) and policy matters relating to elections is a responsibility of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (the Committee). The Committee conducts this oversight through inquiries, briefings and the reference of matters to the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) for further review.
The Committee conducts a public inquiry into each federal election. In these inquiries, the Committee concurrently reviews the election, the AEC’s performance and other electoral policy matters. This results in lengthy inquiries with reports issued some time after the election was held.
Although the AEC’s performance is part of the election inquiry, there has been no consistent mechanism for formal oversight of the AEC and the progress of reforms recommended by the Committee.
Following the 2016 election, the then Special Minister of State took the unusual step of specifically requesting that the Committee investigate a range of policy issues alongside a general review of the election. This highlighted the need to develop a better mechanism for long-term oversight of the AEC and other electoral matters, outside of the conduct of election inquiries.
Accordingly, in October 2017 the Committee resolved to undertake an inquiry into the AEC annual report in order to have a clearly defined mechanism to assess the following focus areas:
AEC information technology systems;
temporary election workforce recruitment and training;
modernisation of paper-based electoral systems;
progress against recommendations made by the 2013 Keelty review and ANAO reports; and
addressing overly prescriptive parts of the Electoral Act and resolving other technical issues.
The Committee requested that the AEC provide bi-annual submissions on the focus areas, which were then published on the Committee’s webpage.
The Committee has conducted several private briefings with the AEC and the ANAO regarding the focus areas and has written to the Auditor-General to seek future cooperation from the ANAO in the Committee’s oversight of the AEC.
The Committee reported some of its findings on the above in its report on the 2016 federal election and considers that this inquiry continues with the self-reference of the AEC’s 2017-2018 annual report.
Due to the recent publication of the 2016 election report and the anticipated May 2019 election, the Committee has not requested an update against the above focus areas, choosing instead to focus on the issues outlined in Chapter 3.
The Committee thanks the AEC for its continued engagement with it in developing this formal oversight process. Like the Committee, the AEC has recognised the need for a formal ongoing oversight process, separate from an inquiry into immediate election issues.