Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Speech in Parliament: Electoral Matters Committee Report - 12 May 2015

Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (16:28): On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters I present the committee's report, incorporating dissenting reports, together with a corrigendum to the report on the conduct of the 2013 federal election and matters related there to.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

Mr TONY SMITH: by leaveā€”The loss of 1,370 Senate votes in Western Australia at the 2013 federal election was the greatest failure in the history of the Australian Electoral Commission. It was caused by multiple failures at multiple levels within the AEC. The consequences included the necessity for a re-run election at a cost of over $21 million and unprecedented damage to the reputation of and confidence in the Electoral Commission.

This report outlines the failings that contributed to the loss of votes. It assesses in detail the reforms that have already been or are in the process of being implemented within the AEC to rectify the failings and, critically, it makes a number of unanimous recommendations for further reforms aimed at delivering a more competent, accountable AEC in which Australians can have a high degree of confidence.

The committee has closely monitored and analysed the actions of the AEC in response to the Keelty report. This, together with an important body of audit work undertaken by the Australian National Audit Office and a range of issues raised in submissions, public hearings, site visits and private briefings, has been the committee's focus since it commenced its inquiry in December 2013.

The committee acknowledge the work already undertaken by the AEC; nevertheless, we have identified a number of areas where we believe further changes are necessary, including the accountability of state manager positions, the development of key performance indicators for senior service delivery staff and the commencement of a corporate culture, leadership and performance measurement reform program. The recommendations for these important additional reforms are unanimous.

If these recommendations, together with the other critical reforms that comprise new Electoral Commissioner Mr Tom Rogers's plan, are fully implemented and the AEC as an organisation comprehends and supports rather than resists the necessary changes, the committee believes there is a high probability that in the years ahead the disastrous events of 2013 will be seen as a turning point. This must be the AEC's positive ambition: to embrace reform and to undertake it in order to create the best electoral administration possible and regain the confidence of the Australian people. If it is achieved, in the future the 2013 federal election will be seen as a catalyst that shattered carelessness and complacency and put professionalism and accountability front and centre within the AEC.

Mr Rogers has consistently and candidly acknowledged the failures and the reasons for them. The committee has found Mr Rogers to be open, committed to major reform and determined to lead the required transformation within the AEC, but the government majority strongly believes that further measures are necessary to ensure the integrity of, and public confidence in, our Australian electoral system. Australians deserve to know that the electoral roll is as accurate as it can be and that those entitled to vote vote only once. The government majority recommends that the automatic enrolment provisions be amended to require confirmation by the individual that the information is accurate before they can be added to the roll or have their details updated.

The majority also recommends that voter identification requirements be introduced for the next federal election to help reduce multiple voting. At present our system of voting is essentially trust based. If a voter is prepared to be dishonest, there is nothing to stop them voting at other polling locations within an electoral division on the day either in their own name or in another elector's name. With voter identification it is obviously much harder to vote in someone else's name. For those who would seek to vote multiple times in their own name at different locations, voter identification is a major disincentive. It is an additional hurdle for voters to seek to vote more than once. The identification is provided and the traditional defence that a second or subsequent vote must have been cast by another person is diluted.

I want to place on record my thanks to the permanent members of the committee during the inquiry. I make particular mention of the members for Brand and Moore, who are here in the chamber this afternoon. I particularly want to thank the deputy chair, the member for Bruce, Mr Griffin, for his cooperation and hard work on a range of difficult and complex issues. We have worked together with the committee to reach agreement on a number of recommendations for critical electoral reform. We have not in this report agreed on every issue, as I have indicated, and we have some major differences of opinion on those issues, but let me say that our disagreements have been at all times civil and professional, as you would expect from the premier committee of the parliament.

I would like to thank all of the staff of the secretariat for their valuable work, particularly committee secretaries Glenn Worthington and Nicholas Horne and all the staff who travelled and worked directly with committee members: Siobhan Leyne, Rebecca Gordon, Jeff Norris, who was seconded from the AEC, and James Bunce. They have all provided a high level of support to the committee and their work is greatly appreciated. In the coming weeks I will advise the House on the committee's further work priorities for the year.

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