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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
Conduct of the 2016 federal election and matters related thereto
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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
CHAIR (Senator Reynolds)
Morton, Ben, MP
Giles, Andrew, MP
Macdonald, Sen Ian
Brown, Sen Carol
Rhiannon, Sen Lee
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Content WindowJoint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
Conduct of the 2016 federal election and matters related thereto
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CARPAY, Mr Pablo, First Assistant Commissioner, Australian Electoral» Commission
Committee met at 08:35
CHAIR ( Senator Reynolds ): I now declare open this public hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on «Electoral» «Matters» for the inquiry into the 2016 federal election. The committee has already gathered a great deal of evidence for this inquiry from state managers of the «electoral» commission and, on behalf of the committee, I would like to—through you, Mr Rogers—thank them all. The evidence was very high quality. It was informative. As a committee, we have certainly gained a lot from that. If you could pass on our thanks for their engagement.
Today we are further discussing the issues we have discovered with the «electoral» commission. In accordance with the committee's resolution of 21 September 2016, this hearing will be broadcast on the parliament's website and the proof and the official transcript proceedings will also be published on the parliament's website. Those present here today are advised that filming and recording are permitted during the hearing. I also remind members of the media who may be listening on the web of the need to fairly and accurately report the proceedings of the committee.
I now welcome representatives of the Australian «Electoral» Commission to give evidence here today. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has a same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. I now invite you make a brief opening statement, should you wish to do so, and then we will proceed to questions.
Mr Rogers : I have no opening statement.
Mr MORTON: On my travels, I found some quite differing views from within the AEC about what is and is not appropriate to maintain the political neutrality of AEC staff. It is a matter that I think we should inquire further into. The formal acknowledgement and declaration of preobligations upon engagement requires staff to raise with their manager where there may be a perception that the staff member may be involved in political activities. For example, the state manager in Victoria defined political activities as from being a member of a political party, and making that actively clear, all the way through to expressing political opinion and everything that fits in between those two ends of the spectrum. Other than the policy of political neutrality, is there ongoing training provided to staff on the issue of political neutrality? Can you provide the committee with any material that relates to that training?
Mr Rogers : I will stand to be corrected here, if I have got this wrong, but there is no ongoing training in terms of neutrality, but there is a requirement for staff to maintain their political neutrality. I think we have provided the committee the ADKO form. I think you might have just acknowledged that.
Mr MORTON: Yes.
Mr Rogers : All AEC staff are required to sign a political neutrality form as a condition of their employment. In terms of ongoing training, no. But if we ever become aware of anybody who is behaving in a way that we think is not politically neutral, we take action. I think you may have been given evidence on this. We have removed a couple of temporary staff over time—I think we may have spoken to the committee about that—as a result of activities that we have become aware of where, at the very least, there is a perception that they may not be politically neutral.
Mr MORTON: I am very interested in this issue of perception, because I think it is one where there is a whole breadth of understanding of what it could mean or be. Would you be concerned if a member of the public, using publicly available information, were able to identify the strong political affiliation of an AEC staff member?
Mr Rogers : I will choose my words carefully here. You have to explain what 'a strong political affiliation' is.
Mr MORTON: In your annual report, you listed senior management. Should I be able to identify using publicly available information the political preferences or allegiance of a senior manager at the director level in your organisation?
Mr Rogers : Maybe I will go back to my earlier evidence and say that we are required to be strictly neutral. If someone were not being neutral that would be a concern. But I am also concerned that it might be becoming a little Orwellian. I would be just a bit concerned about where we are heading with that.
Mr MORTON: Sure. I will provide you with some information. I do not want to identify any particular public servants because that would be wrong, but I will provide you some information to assist you. I have an example, as I just mentioned. Using publicly available information and information in the annual report I could identify an acting director of the AEC and former employee of a shadow minister attending a rally in the past—not while employed by the AEC, mind you—on behalf of the Labor left. They not only attended the rally but spoke at that rally against the government. I could be wrong on this next example, but I am very certain that there is one person currently describing themselves on their Facebook page as a member of a union group which describes itself as an activist group. I will provide you with that information after this meeting. I am keen to know what level of ongoing training or discussion there is about what is appropriate or not in relation to maintaining the perception of political neutrality.
CHAIR: Mr Morton, we clearly do not want to name any officers at all, but do you want to table that information?
Mr MORTON: I would prefer to provide it privately to the commissioner, if that is possible. I am keen not to table it and identify the individuals involved.
Mr GILES: Certainly we should not be identifying individuals, but it is very difficult if you are putting evidence to the commissioner that other members of this committee do not have before them.
Mr MORTON: Okay. I am happy to table it. I was just trying to avoid—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: A better way might be for Mr Morton to give it privately to the commissioner and then, at a later hearing, the commissioner could indicate the extent to which he is prepared to respond. The committee could then—
CHAIR: I am happy to do that, but I do take Mr Giles's point that we are now discussing this in committee and none of the other committee members, including the chair, have seen this material. But I certainly do not want anything that would—
Mr Rogers : Can I just endorse what Senator Macdonald was saying. From the perspective of the individual, I would prefer to be given the information and make a response and then perhaps for that information to be tabled because there may well be an explanation for that. If there is not, then—
Mr MORTON: Yes.
Mr GILES: I am content with that course of action because I think we do need to be mindful of the circumstances of these individuals, particularly as they clearly relate to their employment as well. But I should be very clear in saying that if other committee members wish to attach weight to this matter in their findings and the «matters» have not been properly put in evidence to the committee that is a matter they should be conscious of.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: The other way would be for Mr Morton to withdraw his question, to privately hand it over and to proceed as we suggest.
CHAIR: Thank you for everyone's input. We will do this. If you want to continue, Mr Morton, be very careful about ensuring that you do not—
Mr MORTON: That is fine.
CHAIR: And you can privately provide the information to Mr Rogers, who can come back formally to the committee on this information. We will make sure that what has been provided to Mr Rogers will be provided confidentially to the committee members.
Mr Rogers : Without prejudice, I can answer the generic rather than the specific. Political neutrality is critical for the AEC. It is not just political neutrality but also the perception of political neutrality. We go to pains. That is why we make people sign the ADKO form, for example. We have removed people when we have become aware of political activities. I just want to put on the record as well that, as you would understand, Mr Morton, we do not trawl through our staff's social media. It would be inappropriate—
Mr MORTON: Understood. I am not making any particular charge that anyone has done anything wrong. I am just making the observation that there is a broad understanding of what it means to remain politically neutral. I will provide you with some information to assist. In relation to third-party disclosures, Commissioner, a whole range of issues about transparency and disclosure has been discussed. I want to explore the difference between disclosure obligations of political parties and associated entities and third parties. On the expenditure side, would a political party or an associated entity required to report its total payments include in total costs wages, rent of campaign offices and other campaign expenditure, like accommodation and vehicles?
Mr Pirani : The short answer is no.
Mr MORTON: In their total payments, they would not have to include those items?
Mr Pirani : No, because section 314AEB sets out the actual—
Mr MORTON: If it is a political party, that is.
Mr Pirani : Political parties do because the total amounts in, total amounts out and total debts have to be disclosed by a political party. It is similar for an associated entity. That is section 314AB for a political party and section 314AEA for an associated entity.
Mr MORTON: You have started answering my next question, which is good.
Mr Pirani : For a third party, it is different because it is an annual return of political expenditure only that is disclosed by a third party. Some third parties, for example, that are caught by the legislation include universities, because they engage in polling and polling is one of the activities. When you look through section 314AEB, it is the public expression of views on a political party, any printing et cetera that would require authorisation—that is, «electoral» advertising. It is the same on TV, and carrying out an opinion poll or other research relating to the election or the voting intentions of electors.
Mr MORTON: Just on this point, a political party and an associated entity would have to include in its total payments the expenditure on campaign costs like wages, rent of campaign offices and other campaign expenditure like accommodation and vehicles—
Mr Pirani : Yes.
Mr MORTON: but a third party would not have to do include those amounts in the total?
Mr Pirani : That is correct.
Mr MORTON: Thanks, Mr Pirani.
Mr GILES: Mr Rogers, I extend my appreciation of the manner in which your staff around Australia have given evidence to this committee and reiterate my appreciation of the work they did in the conduct of the 2016 election and generally. I start with one of the «matters» that Mr Morton raised, going to the issue that he and other members of the committee have been exploring, going to the means by which the AEC ensures the neutrality and the perception of neutrality of AEC staff. Do you have any concerns about the impact of political activity by staff in the conduct of the 2016 election?
Mr Rogers : No, I do not. However, I am so conscious of the importance of the perception of political neutrality. It is the coin that we have. I appreciate the concerns being expressed by the committee. We take it very seriously and I have no specific concerns about what occurred in 2016.
Mr GILES: Thank you very much, Mr Rogers. One thing that I am very interested in is the very significant increase in cost at the last election. It seems to me that there are two issues that we need to explore a little bit as a committee. One is the extent to which we have a new and significantly higher baseline in terms of the cost of conducting federal elections in Australia. The other side of that coin is the extent to which the higher cost or the increase related to the unusual circumstances—the decision of the Prime Minister to have a very long election campaign and the changes to the Senate. Are you able to comment on the impact of the second group of factors—the extent to which the increase in cost relates to decisions of the moment as opposed to how much reflects a new baseline that we should be looking towards?
Mr Rogers : I will make some general comments and, if I do not answer the question, I am happy to elucidate. A whole range of factors went into the increase in costs in the 2016 election. I point out for a start that the AEC spent more in 2013 than we thought we were going to spend in any case. There have been some generic increases in a whole range of areas—for example, the Australia Post costs. I do not have those in front of me, but there was a significant increase in the cost of doing business. I visited the New South Wales «Electoral» Commission during the Orange by-election and they were talking about a phenomenal increase in the overall cost for that as a result of increases in postal charges. We had a million more people on the «electoral» roll. That carries with it a huge cost increase. There were the CPI increases as well. So there are a range of costs that are kind of sunk costs, just as a result of overall changes in society rather than what the AEC did. Then there are things that we needed to do differently, as a result of the 2013 election. There were a large range of costs that we incurred to make sure that the ballot was accountable and traceable et cetera. Then, changes to the Senate voting system obviously have an impact. A longer campaign, by definition, would cost more. It is difficult to quantify exactly how much more. The Senate changes certainly cost more. But I think—I am very cautious, Mr Giles, that probably every two elections, we seem to get about a million people more on the roll—
Mr Carpay : It is usually about three.
Mr Rogers : About a million people more on the roll. And every one of those individuals carries a cost, and therefore there are flow-on costs—additional printing and additional staffing. So the general cost of running elections is increasing. There are always local costs that have an impact on how we do business. For example, I am plucking here a bit but if it is a winter election and we provide polling services in ski fields, which we have done previously, it costs more money. If it is a school holiday election, there are more declaration votes; potentially, it costs more money. So there are local factors involved with each election that increase those costs.
Mr GILES: Indeed. I appreciate that. Certainly, when you look at the increased of electors, and if the metric we are looking at is the cost per elector of servicing it. Without drawing you into a prescriptive answer, I am just wondering if you can indicate to me whether or not a significant increase in the cost per elector resulted from those two significant changes: the length of the campaign and the Senate changes. Is that a fair analysis, from your perspective?
Mr Rogers : Certainly, as to the Senate changes. It is undeniable. As to the length of the campaign, a longer campaign costs more than shorter campaign time; I am happy to put that on the record. It has to, because every day you are involved in an activity it costs more money. But in terms of the quantum of those costs, from my perspective there are some—
Mr GILES: I am not asking you to say, for example, that the real cost per elector is not $1,424 per, it is $1,276—it is just to get the sense that there is some weight—
Mr Rogers : A longer campaign costs more, and the Senate changes certainly cost money.
Mr GILES: I want to ask about one last issue, although probably the biggest one: in your overview, you flag fundamental change to the model of operation. We in this committee are obviously going into a fairly big year. I just wonder whether at this stage, before we close off on our other business, having seen around the country how this election was delivered—and no doubt all committee members have some thoughts for practical improvements, and we await some technical advice from you—but you seem to have put to us and to the government a pretty fundamental challenge to rethink how the AEC is structured. What risks do we face if we do not grapple with that kind of fundamental structural challenge early in this term?
Mr Rogers : I think, when I gave my opening statement, and in the submission itself, we have indicated that it has become—we frequently say elections are possibly the largest peacetime logistic event that any country does, not just Australia. It is one of those rare events where every elector walks through the doors during a brief period of time, and most of them on the day of the election. We are relying on manual systems and manual processes, and on temporary staff who do a fantastic job but, even with the best will in the world, they have received a brief period of training. I think we have provided these statistics here—we have a 50 per cent turnover, or thereabouts, of staff at each election. So you have got 50 per cent new staff, some of them have never been in a polling place before—and it has become, in our view, more contested in any case. So things that, previously, were a little calmer now are a little more fraught in the polling place. And we are asking these temporary staff to be our eyes and ears. And, unlike with a couple of our state and territory colleagues, we have very limited communication with the staff in the polling place. I think I mentioned previously that the ACT, and I think the Northern Territory, both use the same software where, effectively, in the ACT they have given all of their OICs computers; they are able to track what is going on in the polling place. We do not have that. So in my view, we need to develop a more—I do not want to say a permanent part-time workforce, but a part-time workforce that we are in more constant contact with and providing more training to, and also have done more assessment of, before polling day.
That would not be everybody: that would not be people who are issuing officers on the day, but particularly staff who are going to be OICs, 2ICs, polling place liaison officers and possibly even declaration vote issuing officers. I would have preferred to have assessed them in detail well before election day. You need a pool of people that you have done that to. If there are 7,000 polling places, because we cannot predict the day of the election you cannot just have 7,000 people and they are your team. You would need a larger pool to pick from. So there is a model, but I will not mention it because it will prejudice. You need to have staff that you have trained in detail and assessed and even certified in those roles. That is not going to be inexpensive, because you have to stay in contact with them and you will have to put some support mechanisms around that. That is the first thing.
The second thing is the automation behind the scenes of the count and the issue of votes. I think this committee has had some evidence about electronic certified lists. I am a big supporter of electronic certified lists. That was an AEC initiative. We carved that out. We carved that out of our budget; we trialled it; we trialled it again in 2016. I do not think we necessarily need an ECL at every issuing point in Australia, because the numbers there would become self-defeating—it would be 30,000 or more—but what would be great is if, with every mobile team, every declaration vote was issued through an ECL in all of the capital cities and the large interstate voting centres. If they were ECL issued it would speed up the count, it would deal with many of the issues we are talking about with declaration votes and it would make that process far simpler. I do not have a number for you, Mr Giles, but instead of getting 30,000 or 40,000, a much smaller number would be far more doable and would pay huge dividends with how we conduct—
CHAIR: I think I can speak on behalf of the committee to say that the committee members have been quite convinced by that. I think Mr Kitson took it on notice to come back with some more information about what we could look at recommending for the next election based on exactly what you have just said, Mr Rogers. It does seem a practical extension.
Mr Rogers : Again, we will not achieve this, but one thing I was struck with, Mr Giles—and, again, because you have given me the platform for a minute—in the ACT election is that they gave each of the OICs a laptop. As I said, they reported back. The other thing they did was on the night, when polling finished, was the OIC turned the computer around and said: 'Right, now there's a five-minute video just to refresh us on what we have to do in terms of the count. Here is a 10-minute video on how we do this.' It was timely, on the spot and actually made a real difference to the speed of the count. You have probably been in polling places, and with the best will in the world some of our OICs are nervous and what they say is, 'Okay, everyone do nothing while I now reread this.' So then 15 minutes are gone while they go through that process. They do one task, one task, one task, and it takes forever. There are some other things with issuing of ECLs that may make a significant difference to the speed of the count, the accuracy of the count and a whole range of other issues.
Mr GILES: Thank you very much, Mr Rogers. I will say this as a comment, by way of a response to the comment: both of those suggestions are very helpful and, as the deputy chair, I note how high you have put the risk in your submission. And in light of the uncertainty of the date of the next election, but the fact that it is soon, I just put on the record that these are «matters» that we need to look at and correspond with government about in the relatively near future.
CHAIR: Yes; I totally endorse what Mr Giles has said. When we get further information back, we would be very keen to pursue this further with you and with the government.
Mr Rogers : Great, thank you, Chair. I am not putting on the table any criticism of our temporary staff—all of whom are terribly devoted and do a fantastic job within the framework that we provide.
Mr GILES: That is understood.
CHAIR: But there are ways of doing things to improve things.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thanks gentlemen for coming along. Mr Pirani, I think you have mentioned 227(7), about the failure of a team to make a visit to a hospital. You gave me a reference to that. I think you said it was an amendment. Do you have or can you tell me when the section was amended, and whether that section has ever been subject of any legal interpretation?
Mr Pirani : Senator, 226(8) was the provision. I said there was a similar one for mobile polling. But the hospital one is 226(8).
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I do not have that. I have—
Mr Pirani : It says:
… but any failure to take those votes in that manner does not invalidate the result of the election.
That is the one in the hospitals provision.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: 'In that manner'?
Mr Pirani : That is what it says.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Section 227(7) says:
Any failure by a team to make a visit in accordance with this section does not invalidate the result of the election.
Mr Pirani : Indeed. They are two similar sections. One is straight mobile polling—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: One is 'in the manner', you say?
Mr Pirani : That is correct.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: So not failing to make a visit but doing it in the manner specified?
Mr Pirani : That is correct.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I will have to have a look at that. When were those—
Mr Pirani : I would have to take that on notice.
Mr Rogers : In relation to the second part of the senator's question, do we know whether they have ever been—
Mr Pirani : I am not aware of it being subject to any judicial interpretation.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: The rest of my questions relate to things we talked about on Friday, but unfortunately the Hansard is not available. It was suggested to me that it might be better to ask these questions today. Paragraph 82 at page 33 of your submission refers to the South Sudan votes. You took a question on notice, but I wonder whether you would have that information for us now.
Mr Pirani : Is that where you are querying whether there were other ADF personnel serving overseas, and the South Sudan was just an example?
Senator IAN MACDONALD: South Sudan was given as an example. I was wondering whether there are others.
Mr Rogers : I am not aware of any. Which paragraph are you looking at?
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Paragraph 82 says that votes did not come back for places like South Sudan. It suggested there were more places than South Sudan.
Mr Rogers : I am not sure I have any additional information, but I will follow up straight after the meeting.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: There is no particular hurry. I suspect we will not be meeting again for a while. I am interested in South Sudan. I asked which states and which electorates were affected by the South Sudan votes.
Mr Rogers : We will find out.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Paragraph 130 on page 39 and paragraphs 87 and 88 on page 34 relate to the same issue, with some Army votes not being obtained. Paragraph 88 states:
Once alerted to the oversight, the ADF and AEC worked closely to resolve the issue. Personnel were transported to interstate voting centres near exercise locations at Kadina, Whyalla and Port Augusta.
Is there an update on that, or did we deal with it on Friday? Unfortunately, we do not have the transcript.
Mr Rogers : I think you dealt with that matter in some detail in South Australia.
Mr Kitson : We did. We covered some of it in Adelaide the week before last and then again—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: That is right. I was going to look at that. I beg your pardon; I had forgotten that. I think in Brisbane you said we should ask about double voting today. What were the 42 irregularities in double voting out of approximately 200? There were 42 that were so serious that the AEC decided to refer them to the police. What was the nature of the seriousness?
Mr Rogers : I might start off and then hand over to Mr Kitson. Whether 'serious' is the term or not, we go through a whole process, as you know, of going through every certified list after the election where we identify multiple marks. As I have said to this committee and to Senate estimates previously, the vast majority of those marks proved to be either operator error—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: When you talk about marks, you mean marks on the roll?
Mr Rogers : That is correct—on the certified list. So, as you have seen, there is a ruler and they mark the name off. Occasionally, they simply press too hard and—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: No, I had this, but I am interested in the 42 that someone thought were serious enough to refer to the police.
Mr Rogers : After we have been through that entire process, where it appears that we would like to look at those in more detail we will then work with the Australian Federal Police. At the end of the 2013 election, we referred a large number to the AFP. We came up with a list of 60 and the AFP took a closer look. I directed that we engage with the AFP early, because I wanted to make sure that there had been no conspiracy, if you like, in Herbert. We referred a number to the AFP.
Mr Kitson : Without the benefit of the Hansard transcript, I cannot be certain, but I would not have characterised them, I do not think, as being more serious, just that those were ones we were unable to resolve.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Sorry, that is my term, but you would not refer then to the coppers unless you thought there was something in it?
Mr Kitson : It was that we were unable to resolve them on a purely administrative basis and we could not exclude the possibility. As the commissioner just said, given the nature of the closeness of that seat at the time, he made that direction for the avoidance of doubt.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: What was it about those 42 that—
Mr Rogers : We had been unable to either identify that there had been an operator error or some other factor. That is why we wanted the AFP. I was concerned and particularly in a close seat we would always try and do something early to make sure there is no—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I appreciate that. It is very good that you did that. I am just interested in those 42, and I am interested in what investigations the police made. Now I think you said in Brisbane—I am not sure whether you said ask here or we would try and get the police along and ask them what the extent of their inquiries were. As I say, if they had come to me and said, 'Ian Macdonald, your name is crossed off twice. Did you vote twice?' I would say, 'No, I did not' but if I were going to, I would do it in Paul Pirani's name not in Ian Macdonald's name.
Mr Pirani : The issue is that, as the AFP have said in previous submissions to the JSCEM, without corroborative evidence, unless a person actually admits that they engaged in voting more than once, it is virtually impossible to prove.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: But you had 16 policemen and I assume they were sent specially? The AFP had 16 personnel on the ground in the division of Herbert and I do not think there are 16 AFP policemen in Herbert, so they must have been flown in?
Mr Pirani : They were.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am curious as to whether the AEC inquired as to the nature of their investigations or did the AEC just asked them if everything was okay and they said, 'There's not enough evidence,' and that was it?
Mr Rogers : I am thinking back, and I will correct myself here if I am proven to be wrong, but we did engage with the AFP. As you know, we have no investigative power at all. Once we refer those «matters» to them, we do rely on the investigator, and they conduct the investigation—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am wondering if they said to you when they came back to you call 'Look, we did this, that and the other; we went there, we did this and 16 of us'—
Mr Rogers : This is the bit I will correct. My understanding is that they contacted the electors involved—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: The persons whose names had been crossed off twice?
Mr Rogers : To be strictly accurate, that is absolutely correct. I am pretty sure that they would not have done much more than that. To be fair to the AFP, they are the names that we referred to the AFP.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Again, just for confirmation, I think you said to me that the AEC felt under no obligation before the time ended for reference to the court of disputed returns to tell either of the candidates or any of the political parties involved?
Mr Rogers : Nor have we ever, but if we ever came across an issue where we thought that that was the case, would absolutely do that. Also, that is one of the reasons why I brought the AFP in—to assure myself that there had been no broad conspiracy towards the vote.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I accept that. As I say, we really have to understand what the AFP investigation was. But if it is coming to Ian Macdonald saying, 'Your name is crossed off twice, did you vote twice?' you do not need the police to do that, you could have got a grade 7 schoolkid to go and ask that?
CHAIR: Senator Macdonald, your time has expired. We will come back to you.
Senator CAROL BROWN: On your website, do you have your information in an accessible format for blind or vision impaired voters?
Mr Kitson : Yes, we do.
Senator CAROL BROWN: All sections of it? All information?
Mr Kitson : The idea is that it is covered. I cannot put hand on heart and say that every single word of the website would be completely accessible, but I think we gave evidence previously that we applied this time around the ReadSpeaker system, which reads every single word that is on the website, including some of the metadata, unfortunately.
Mr Rogers : We have also produced some what are referred to as easy English guides in a range of areas, too.
Mr Kitson : There are audio files. There are various forms of accessibility. We endeavour as far as possible to comply with the WCAG 2.0 guidelines.
Senator CAROL BROWN: I have been on your website; I could not find it. Obviously, I have been on your website many times.
Mr Kitson : I know that when we had the disability advisory committee in June, the one that I referred to as being an advisory discussion to alert people to the services available, we actually played and displayed many of the services that are available to the lobby group representatives who were there. I am confident that some of the material, at the very least, is there.
Senator CAROL BROWN: Would you come back to the committee on that, because I cannot find any of it.
Mr Kitson : Sure.
Senator CAROL BROWN: Just for my benefit—I am sure you have given this information before—how much of your budget was spent on training temporary staff.
Mr Rogers : I think we have provided that before. I do not have that to hand at the moment, but I can re-dig that out and provide that to you.
Senator CAROL BROWN: And the number of temporary staff that were trained.
Mr Rogers : Sure.
Senator CAROL BROWN: The other issue I want to go to is the booths that were closed down. Can you quickly go through process. Is this a process you go through every election cycle?
Mr Rogers : It is. I will talk generally. We do an assessment of booths after every election. Sometimes that booths that were okay become not okay for a whole range of reasons: they have deteriorated or the standards have changed or there are WHS issues or there are security issues with a booth we might have been using for a long period of time. So we always go through a process of reviewing those in every «electoral» cycle.
After the 2013 election, the ANAO made a recommendation to us that they thought we had not used our own data sufficiently and that we simply had too many ordinary booths open, given the rise in pre-poll voting. They advised us to have another look at our data. I am being very clinical with my language here about the ANAO; I do not want to dump them in it. They made a recommendation about our data and the fact that they felt that we had misused our data, which I agreed with. The ANAO recommendation was that we:
abolish, replace or consolidate (as appropriate) static polling places that are expected to receive relatively few votes, or where the premises have been assessed as not suitable for voters and/or election officials;
In each state and territory, the AEO wrote to all the members of parliament where we were going to close down booths, advising the approach, and we asked MPs for feedback. That feedback was then considered as part of the approach to which booths we closed down and did not close down. Mr Carpay may correct me here, too, but the way that we worked that process is that where we received advice from an MP that that booth was important we did not close that booth down.
Mr Carpay : That is correct.
Senator CAROL BROWN: Not in all instances.
Mr Carpay : To the extent that we had feedback about specific booths, saying that there were concerns about closing them, my understanding is that we did not close them. If we received no response we proceeded as per what we had outlined that we were going to do. My understanding is in every instance where we had specific advice from an MP suggesting there was concern about a particular polling place we left it in situ for this election.
Mr Rogers : We got three sorts of response. Some people wrote back and said, 'Don’t close any of my booths, because they are all vital, and here are 50 reasons.' Some people wrote back and said, 'Good plan closing these ones down but don't close these, because they're important.' And some people did not respond at all. By the way, these were not hugely widespread. We targeted those booths that we thought were either going to take fewer votes or in fact were unsuitable, and then we closed those down after that process of writing out to everyone and consulting. I think the ANAO were correct; we had not trawled our data sufficiently. There had been a rapid increase in prepoll voting and we had the static, largely unchanged. We will go through that process again now—in fact, we have already started going through that process, looking at those booths, where we closed, what worked and what did not work.
Senator CAROL BROWN: What do you mean, that the booth was unsuitable?
Mr Rogers : It might simply be that it is insecure; there might not be any areas to secure ballots. It might be that because of the change to the WHS legislation over a number of years, it is simply not suitable for staff to work in for the day. It might be that there are health issues. It might also be that they are not available. As you would know, we do not know when the date of the election is and we rely on getting those booths on the day after the election is announced.
Senator CAROL BROWN: Where a booth is deemed unsuitable—not because there is not enough activity going on there on the day—do you look for booths close by or do you just close that down?
Mr Rogers : When we went through the process of closing down those booths, we looked at where else people were able to vote as part of the process of looking at the closure.
Mr Carpay : We looked at the number of people who had voted in that locality—and by locality, I do not mean specifically that booth in that area—and then distance required to travel. We would try to create circumstances where there was no more than, I think, about a 20-kilometre distance for people to travel to attend voting. So in a metro area that is easily achieved. If it is in a regional area, that is slightly more complex. But if we closed it because of physical safety issues then we would seek to find one in close proximity, where available.
Senator CAROL BROWN: I think we were given evidence before by Mr Kitson that the closing of booths did not add to the wait times—is that correct? Is that the evidence that you have?
Mr Rogers : At this stage, yes.
Senator CAROL BROWN: I have to say I find it surprising, having worked all day on election day and seen people waiting to vote for extended periods in long lines. I have never seen that before.
Mr Rogers : As I say, we are reviewing it again. I think I have given evidence to this committee previously that, in my view, there are a number of factors behind queuing and one of the big factors was simply the amount of time people were taking to fill out the Senate ballot paper, and the queue was occurring not just at the issuing point. Normally, when you see a large queue at a polling place, it just exists at the issuing point. When you go inside, there will be vacant polling positions. This time, when you went in the queues were at the issuing point and every polling point within the polling place was also full.
Senator CAROL BROWN: If a member writes to you and asks for a polling booth to be reinstated, can they do that?
Mr Rogers : There is no process in the act.to prevent that from occurring We would be happy to consider input—as we do, by the way, from members of the community—about where polling services can be improved. So, yes, we would be happy to receive that.
Senator CAROL BROWN: Most members of the community would not know; in fact, the vast majority would not know that a booth was being closed.
Mr Kitson : Can I point you to our website, and if I expand it, you will see here the indication to the listening device—the ReadSpeaker format—and then at the bottom of the same website is a wider range of accessibilities through a link.
Senator CAROL BROWN: I have a letter that indicated support for a booth that was subsequently closed. I might pass that to the secretariat.
Mr Kitson : Please do.
Senator RHIANNON: I apologise I have to leave shortly to go to my party room meeting. I want to revisit differences in the «electoral» rolls at a state and federal level. Could you update the committee on what the differences are in the voting numbers and what work you are undertaking with your state counterparts to resolve these differences?
Mr Rogers : I will talk generically and then I will get Mr Gately, who is the head of the Roll Management branch, to talk. Essentially, there were significant levels of divergence in three states, Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. The Western Australia issue with divergence was largely solved by the passage of legislation through the Western Australian state government. The divergence—Mr Gately will go through those figures in a moment—has been largely solved in Western Australia. The divergence, I think, at the start of this year with New South Wales and Victoria was relatively high—in fact, I am going to use a number like 800,000 or something like that—and now we have cut that down significantly through focusing on that and working closely with our state colleagues. So I might get Mr Gately to talk through those numbers for a moment.
Mr Gately : Prior to 31 May following the close of rolls for the federal election, the overall roll divergence numbers were an aggregate of 561,000. As Mr Rogers just spoke about, that was a mixture of New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. In divergence context, we have some issues around entitlement under the respective laws where some people—particular categories of electors—are entitled to be enrolled for federal purposes and not state, and vice versa. Then we have differences in elector compliance or different approaches from the different commissions that contribute to levels of divergence. The most recent data I have is for 7 November, and that aggregate roll divergence is 289,000. That is substantially less than both at 31 May and significantly less than it was at the start of the—
Senator RHIANNON: So is that for Victoria and New South Wales?
Mr Gately : That is in aggregate for the national figures. Yes. Mr Rogers mentioned that passage of legislation in Western Australia meant we were able to align the vast majority of the enrolment in Western Australia. New South Wales and Victoria then are the most significant contributors to differences in roll at the moment. In Victoria, in aggregate, about 177,000 enrolments are impacted, and New South Wales is just 97,000 at the moment.
Senator RHIANNON: Mr Rogers, can you update us: is the intent to resolve the differences so that federal and state rolls will automatically be the same? Or will we periodically have the divergence going up and down?
Mr Rogers : To start with I might point out—one of the parts of your earlier question was about our work with our state colleagues, and I did want to put on the table that particularly at the moment we have a very productive working relationship. I am a member of a group called the «Electoral» Council of Australia and New Zealand, which consists of all the state commissioners and me and the New Zealand commissioner, and that group is working very closely on «matters» such as this. Our relationship with New South Wales and Victoria is particularly good at the moment. In fact, we have corresponded with them over the last month about changes to roll processes, and we are trying to get to the stage where there is zero divergence. But, given that they are separate organisations and they still run their separate processes, there will always be the potential for some sort of gap or lag. We will work to minimise that and we will work to minimise the duration of that gap or lag. But there will always be some issues, given that they are running their own processes. Mr Gately, you might have a view on that.
Mr Gately : I guess, historically there is a range of different legislative changes that have occurred at the federal and state levels in the various jurisdictions which has meant that divergence has varied over time and each jurisdiction has leapfrogged the other at different points in time in terms of legislative requirements. And it has been, I guess, dependent on the will of the government of the day and those respective jurisdictions as to how they tackle those differences.
Mr Rogers : Just to be candid—and there is no criticism of anyone involved here—there have been times when the relationship has been quite fraught. And the divergence was at one point—probably its worst was—
Mr Gately : The highest was in the 800,000—
Mr Rogers : The 800,000 mark. So we have managed to get that down. I think there is a bright new future looming with our relationship with the states. And we continue to work on the issue of the divergence, because we know that many Australians are utterly confused by those divisions. Not only that, and quite rightly, they do not know that there are two «electoral» commissions—two rolls. They do not know any of that. So if they get a letter from the Australian «Electoral» Commission on one day and a state «electoral» body on the next day telling them different things, they are completely confused. So we are trying to work on that as quickly as we can.
Senator RHIANNON: Particularly when elections are close—which they could be next time with the Victorian, New South Wales and federal elections—people think, 'I voted in the state election,' and they just rock along thinking that they are on the rolls to vote in the federal election. So it is good that there are good relationships, but life changes, politics changes and people change. Can it get to a point where the system is the same—how it is done is the same? It seems as though we are still relying on two different system, and you, within that, are managing it. But it seems as though that could change overnight.
Mr Rogers : Again, I am very conscious not to criticise anyone, particularly my state colleagues who do such a great job and who with we have such a great relationship. But I am very conscious that they are separate entities—entirely separate entities—and that they still do their own processing in whatever way. So there is always the potential for divergence to occur.
When the divergence was at its worse, that was as a result, in my view, of the unilateral action of a commissioner. That created grief, and we have moved beyond that. As I say, the relationship is great. The states are doing great work. We are trying to view this as an opportunity rather than a threat. If we are all involved in enrolment activities we will actually get more people on the roll. We just have to streamline that processing to make sure that there is no doubt. And we are getting there, but we are a way away from that at the moment.
Senator RHIANNON: Going back to the bit that you said about 'a commissioner', were you not happy where—and I think you are referring to New South Wales—they were taking the data from? Is that what your concern was—that you did not feel comfortable with where the data was taken from?
Mr Rogers : Initially. Initially there were some decisions made with the initial datasets that were being used that we were not comfortable with, but that—
Senator RHIANNON: Is that resolved now?
Mr Rogers : Absolutely. Again, I am so conscious that I do not want to complicate my work in other areas by making it seem like I am criticising our state colleagues, which I am absolutely not doing. We enjoy great relationships with them and we are trying to work on that issue as best we can. I do not think I can give you a guarantee that we are going to get to a day where there will be no gap at all ever because there are different entitlements occasionally. But we are doing our best to knock that on the head.
Senator RHIANNON: So just to sum up: is it fair to say that you cannot take the data from the same sources but you are relying on good relationships in terms of how it is managed?
Mr Rogers : Some of the data is exactly the same data.
Senator RHIANNON: Right—but not all?
Mr Rogers : Increasingly, it is the same data. Initially, it was not. So we use a range of sources. As you know, Senator, everything from births, deaths and marriages through to license registration data and citizenship data. We are sourcing now the same data. How and when we apply it is currently the issue. Mr Gately, you might like to—
Mr Gately : That is correct. There are common data sources that all the three jurisdictions are using. There are some variations still. Senator, remember that we have spoken in the past—also the scheme started at different points in times. So we have had some challenges associated with timing and ensuring that the data we use is current, as distinct from being several years old.
As an example, there is a fundamental difference in each of those jurisdictions in terms of the amount of time that we are required to provide notice to an elector. It is 28 days minimum for the Commonwealth before we can apply direct enrolment, for example, whereas in New South Wales it is seven days and in Victoria it is 14 days. Those, in and of themselves, are legislative and mechanical. And they do make a difference in terms of outcome.
Senator RHIANNON: I did not know that. That is useful to know.
Mr Rogers : To expand on one other area that is of interest, Chair: over the last few years we have been applying federal direct enrolment. Federal direct enrolment has been working. We still write to people and do a range of things. But federal direct enrolment does not work in every area. There are still, particularly, Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory where this is a problem. Clearly, the processes we have in place—we are working with the Northern Territory «Electoral» Commission, but the direct enrolment process is much less effective in the Northern Territory for a whole range of reasons.
CHAIR: Yes. That evidence has certainly been presented to us—last week. Thank you. Just on this issue of divergence, I have now come to realise that, while it is a very neutral bureaucratic word, it actually means disenfranchisement. I just want to flag this with you further. I know we have got a series of questions on notice. We would be very keen to get those back as soon as possible, because the committee is very concerned that at least 100,000 people, if not more, went to the polling booth in good faith—mostly in Victoria and New South Wales—believing they had cast a valid vote. Their votes were invalid, and they have also got no idea that their votes were never counted. We are not talking about in ones and twos; we are talking about 100,000 people. We do take that very seriously and would like to make some recommendations to government on how to address this. While we do appreciate the hard work the AEC has done to reduce the numbers down, we still think one is too many.
Mr Rogers : I absolutely agree with you, Chair, and I think part of my opening statement and in our submission is the fact that actually, as a result of the work of the AEC, the roll is in the best shape it has ever been in.
CHAIR: Again, that is no criticism—and you have got the details here—
Mr Rogers : I say that we take it extremely seriously as well. That is why we have focused so much energy on this during the last period and why we have got the divergence down to where we are, and the fact that I have been working pretty consistently with both the Victorian and New South Wales «electoral» commissioners to try and resolve this totally.
CHAIR: The committee does appreciate the work that you have done and continue to do, but I am reinforcing our desire to highlight this further with government because 100,000 people—
Mr Rogers : Is a lot.
CHAIR: is appalling. I know it is through no fault of your own, but we will definitely focus on this further.
Mr MORTON: Just moving on from when we were talking about donations and income, and the differences between third-party disclosures and political party disclosures, is it possible for an organisation like GetUp! as a third party to receive donations, say, linked to administrative purposes or linked to non-disclosable campaign related expenditure and then not declare that income or donation?
Mr Pirani : The answer to your question is yes.
Mr MORTON: And political parties—they have to disclose all income?
Mr Pirani : They have to disclose all income. Political parties and associated entities have to disclose all money in, all money out and all debts. A third party only needs to disclose money that is spent on the items that are listed in 314AEB and any gifts that they have received that have directly been used to incur the expenses listed in 314AEB.
Mr MORTON: The reason I have to ask these questions is that it is quite strange that in GetUp!'s submission called 'Dark Money' they do not mention any of this ability for them to receive donations and not declare them, which is the point I am interested in.
I am interested in one particular donation—a $39,000 foreign donation from GetUp!—which they disclose online. It was in the 2015-16 financial year and was from a US-based company called Purpose. It has vanished from their website, so it will be interesting to see what GetUp!'s explanation is for that—there is probably a very reasonable explanation, mind you. But, if that foreign donation of $39,000 from Purpose, which was on their own website and has now disappeared, relates to other than those other purposes—if it related to administrative purposes—that would not need to be declared either, would it?
Mr Pirani : No.
Mr MORTON: So they could receive—you have answered that question very well. In relation to donors to political parties, if I am a donor to a political party and I give a political party $40,000, that donor has to fill in a donor return?
Mr Pirani : That is correct.
Mr MORTON: If that donor has received funds through other sources, does that donor have to disclose those other sources?
Mr Pirani : If the other source has intended the money to go through to be used in an election campaign, then the answer is yes.
Mr MORTON: So if I am a third party and I am out there raising some money and I say, 'Give me some money, because I'm going to give it to a political party,' I would fill in my donor return and then reveal the people who gave me that money in order to make the donation—that is right?
Mr Pirani : That is correct.
Mr MORTON: Do donors to third parties have to fill out a donor return?
Mr Pirani : No.
Mr MORTON: So a third party like GetUp! could receive a donation under the name of Campact, Purpose—it is very unlikely but they could receive a donation from Ben Morton for $50,000; it will not happen—and I and all those organisations could go around and collect $20,000 here and $20,000 there, and I would never have to declare the ultimate source of those donations?
Mr Rogers : And you are a third party?
Mr MORTON: Yes, and I am a third party.
Mr Pirani : Sorry, the third party disclosure return of political expenditure—I have the 2014-15 GetUp! one here; the 2015-16 is not available yet. It will be disclosed on 1 February. In this they disclose five gifts totalling $319,685 that they received and that was used for one of those purposes for which they say they incurred $10,570,345 in expenditure in the 2014-15 financial year.
Mr MORTON: That was GetUp! was it?
Mr Pirani : That is GetUp!, yes.
Mr MORTON: If I want to go and collect a whole range of money as the 'Ben Morton Foundation'—no such thing exists, mind you—and, as the Ben Morton Foundation, I want to give $50,000 to GetUp! If I collect $20,000 from one person, $15,000 from another and $15,000 from another, will the Ben Morton Foundation have to reveal in any way the ultimate source of the income?
Mr Pirani : Probably not.
Mr MORTON: 'Probably not' or not?
Mr Pirani : It depends on how the money is being used and the intention of the donors at the time it was collected.
Mr MORTON: Right, but there is not a donor return though.
Mr Pirani : No, there is not.
Mr MORTON: So there is no return I would fill in as the Ben Morton Foundation.
Mr Pirani : No.
Mr Rogers : Just to be clear: if they said to you, 'Here's this money because we trust you and you just do what you want', then there is no requirement for a third party to then declare that later on.
Mr MORTON: Okay.
Mr Pirani : The donor declaration is limited to money that goes to a political party or to a candidate.
Mr MORTON: That has answered my question.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Even if it knew the Ben Morton Foundation was an avid supporter of the Callithumpian party?
Mr Pirani : That is correct.
Mr MORTON: At the JSCEM hearing in Sydney, it was put to the GetUp! national director, Paul Oosting, that in the past George Soros had donated money to Avaaz via ResPublica, and that Avaaz was now giving money—almost $200,000—to GetUp! Mr Oosting suggested that it was a conspiracy theory and he was satisfied that GetUp! had integrity measures in place to ensure these gifts were ethical. I have here, and I would like to table it, Chair, two Soros Open Society Foundations returns to the US IRS, which clearly show that in 2008 ResPublica received $250,000 from Soros's Open Society Foundations, earmarked for Avaaz; $150,000 for general support; and $100,000 for work on climate change. And it shows that in 2009 the Soros Open Society Foundations gave Avaaz $600,000, of which $300,000 was for general support and an additional $300,000 for climate campaigning, also via ResPublica. Commissioner, is it the case that despite the $200,000 that GetUp! got from Avaaz, it could have come from a whole range of sources but we do not know who because Avaaz is not required to fill in a donor return?
Mr Pirani : That is correct.
CHAIR: Are you going to table that?
Mr MORTON: Sorry, I will. I have learnt that there is a big divergence between third parties: there is the Australian Automobile Association and then there is GetUp!, and they operate extremely differently. I know the AEC did a review of GetUp! in 2010. In evidence on Friday we heard how Thor Prohaska, who was actually a member of GetUp!, ran as an independent candidate in the seat of Dickson and yet GetUp! decided not to issue a how-to-vote card in his favour, advocating a vote for one of their own members, but instead advocated a vote for Labor and the Greens. The issue I am dealing with in my mind is: do we need to have stricter regulations for third parties, or do we need to move some third parties into being associated entities? Mr Prohaska raised concerns that GetUp! had moved from giving out score sheets on political parties to now handing out how-to-vote cards for political parties. On that point, I would like to table a whole range of how-to-vote cards from GetUp! that support only Labor and the Greens. Were how-to-vote cards part of the consideration in 2010, or is that new?
Mr Pirani : Yes. The reason why GetUp! changed is because at the 2007 election we threatened them with an injunction because we felt that the how-to-vote cards they were generating with the score cards were actually misleading. They did not include any responses from members of the Liberal Party or the National Party, for example.
Mr Rogers : You might remember that there was a website—
Mr MORTON: Yes, but, sorry, I want to just go to the difference between a scorecard and a how-to-vote card. A scorecard says, 'We've ranked political parties on this topic, this topic and this topic'—
Mr Rogers : Several criteria.
Mr MORTON: on several criteria, as opposed to a how-to-vote card, which replicates a ballot paper and issues a how-to-vote card. Mr Prohaska was concerned that GetUp! had moved from this scorecard mechanism to a how-to-vote card mechanism.
Mr Pirani : In our view there is no difference, because the definition of a how-to-vote card in section 4(1) can include anything 'that otherwise directs or encourages the casting of votes in an election in a particular way, other than a card, handbill or pamphlet,' that only relates to first preferences or that only relates to the last preference. And you have to remember: in 2007, we did not have the how-to-vote-card legislation; it was only introduced just before 2010, but it only came into operation for the 2013 election. So GetUp! had been using these. 'How to generate your own how-to-vote card' was essentially how it was marketed in 2007, with these scorecards. And the AEC's concern was: the actual methodology that was being used by GetUp! did not disclose that they virtually had no responses from any of the conservative candidates.
Mr MORTON: I understand this: this is not a noble way of individuals being able to generate their own how-to-vote card. There is no choice for the individuals. This is GetUp! distributing how-to-vote cards that issue a first preference for only two parties and, in the case of Dickson, not even for a member of their own organisation.
Mr Pirani : There is nothing in the act that prevents any third party from generating a how-to-vote card.
Mr MORTON: But what I am asking is this. What they had done previously was to issue scorecards, and you could generate your own scorecard. You considered whether GetUp! was an associated entity or not, on the basis that an associated entity needs to operate wholly or partly for the benefit of one or two or more registered parties. As to the activity of issuing how-to-vote cards for only two registered parties, I would like to table, also, a letter sent by GetUp! to its members after the election, where they actually talk about their success in the campaign, a campaign where they took up the fight in relation to certain members of parliament, all of whom are members of the coalition. Was any of this kind of information considered back in 2010 when you did the review, or is this information new?
Mr Rogers : I am just reading section 287(1)(b)—and you might remember, Mr Morton, that this particular clause has been trawled over by this committee, particularly with the issue of GetUp! over a number of years—but it says that an 'associated entity' means that 'an entity … operates wholly, or to a significant extent, for the benefit of one or more registered political parties'.
Mr MORTON: Sorry—and I will correct what I said previously; I said 'partly'. And you are right; yes, that is a correct reading of the act. My question is: when you did the review, were there how-to-vote cards like that generated prior to when you did the review previously? In that review you said that you were relying on the evidence and information available to you at the time, and I am just wondering: is there new evidence that has come out of this last election?
Mr Pirani : Clearly those how-to-vote cards were not there at the time, because the legislation did not provide for it. However, I doubt that it would change the outcome.
Mr Rogers : However, we will examine that, Mr Morton, and we might come back to you with that.
CHAIR: Thank you. In relation to the documents that Mr Morton has tabled, the committee will initially accept them as exhibits; we are happy with that. So they will be tabled as exhibits.
Mr GILES: Just on Mr Morton's line of questioning: as to the how-to-vote cards that have just been received as exhibits, there is no suggestion that they do not conform with any of the requirements of the act?
Mr Rogers : We have not seen them or I certainly have not seen them.
Mr Pirani : No, no—
Mr Rogers : It would appear not.
Mr GILES: I am just getting that into evidence, if I may. When you talk about the resourcing constraints I do not think you are suggesting putting in place a wide-ranging inspectorate into the activities of third parties as one of the big risks to the AEC's capacity to conduct elections. Is that right?
Mr Rogers : Were we to do something else with that we would talking to the Department of Finance.
Mr GILES: Indeed. Perhaps I will ask the question in a more fair manner! The consideration by JSCEM leading up to the 2010 report did not aver to any «matters» of principle about the distribution of how-to-vote material such as this—that is my understanding.
Mr Pirani : That is my recollection.
Mr Rogers : I do not recollect. Let's rely on Mr Pirani. He has a very good memory for such things.
Mr GILES: I guess we can have an opportunity to have a conversation around this table again on that. But that is my understanding, too.
Mr MORTON: If I could clarify, just to assist other members: my concern is not at all whether or not the how-to-vote card was within the legislation or whether it be handed out. My concern is whether the issuing of a how-to-vote card in this nature is a movement towards whether or not this third party is or is not an associated entity, which would bring it into a more transparent and vigorous disclosure regime.
Mr Rogers : That is the question we have noted and we will come back to you with it.
Mr GILES: Thank you. Mr Pirani, your evidence about the activities of the universities, as one example of a third party going to the question of how an appropriate disclosure regime should be set out for non-registered political party actors, was something that was of great significance to me and probably something that requires some exploration. It occurs to me that there are a couple of «matters of principle. One, it has been said in other areas by members of the committee probably on all sides, or at least both major sides, that political actors ought to be treated equally in terms of authorisation regimes et cetera. But it seems to me also that there are different considerations that apply to large organisations that may be involved, as a small fraction of the activities, in terms of the sort of regulatory burden it might be imposed upon them, in terms of implying like for like. I think that is what you are saying with regard to universities. It may well be true of other entities. Is that fair comment?
Mr Pirani : That is a fair comment.
Mr GILES: It also strikes me as a matter of real high-level principle that when we talk about donations, whether they are to be restricted and, if so, how—the disclosure requirements—the principal ill we are looking to remedy is the influence of external actors on the democratic process, in particular the distribution of the benefits of state power. That is right, isn't it?
Mr Pirani : It is generally described as the improper—
Mr GILES: Improper use. The point I am making is that there is a clear distinction between registered political parties who are seeking the benefits of the state and actors who are seeking to engage in the political process but do not seek to exercise state power.
Mr Pirani : There is certainly the basis on which the original 1984 scheme was introduced in 1983.
Mr Rogers : The third part of that is always, though, the broad issue of transparency, underpinning all of that.
Mr GILES: Indeed. I accept that that is a very high principle and one that I am supportive of movements to increase. But I think there was a distinction acknowledge 30-odd years ago between actors who are interested in using state power and those that are not. That strikes me as a very important issue in this debate. This may be better as a question on notice: going back to Senator Brown's questions on polling places, I note the evidence we have had today about the communication with members of parliament about changes and removal. But it would be useful to get some further information about the process the commission went through in reducing a very significant number of polling places in the context of election where we had one million more electors. So, perhaps that is a matter on notice.
CHAIR: On the issue that have started exploring in a bit more detail, this is clearly something that we will continue to explore further in terms of associated entities and third parties, because clearly campaigning has moved on.
Mr Rogers : Evolved.
CHAIR: Mindful one of the issues that Mr Giles raised and also 'if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck'—you just have to look at the experience in the United States with PACs and Super PACs. If people are actually campaigning on behalf of another political party and doing things that the political party would otherwise have done, in terms of the campaign, it is finding that balance, I think. If you have got more thoughts, we will be pursuing that further next year.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I wonder, either Mr Kitson or Mr Pirani, whether you have given any other thought to the exchange we had in Brisbane, where you told me that in Julia Creek they had not run out of declaration envelopes but then you told me also that the polling official had taken, I think you said, five names, three of which were from Herbert. I raised the question of how it could be that they would take the names, so they would not be fined, if there was an availability to have a vote. Have either of you given that any more thought?
Mr Kitson : I am inclined to think it was Mr Ryan who might have given you that information on Friday.
Mr Pirani : There is an issue about, again, our training of polling place officials in relation to the processes that are applied. The act says, under section 233, what the actual process is for casting a vote, so I do have a concern about a polling official advising a person, 'We'll mark your name off,' and somehow that is excusing them from the act of voting, but I think it is an issue of our training.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: My information is that there was no ability to give those persons a vote, and that is why they took their names.
Mr Rogers : Just before we go, if we have got Mr Ryan looking at that issue, which I am sure we have, can we come back to you on that with the actual details?
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I did get the information. I was just wondering if anyone had had a weekend rethink about it, because it seems quite unusual.
Mr MORTON: Chair, I have just one quick thing just to clarify, noting that—
CHAIR: Very quick, Mr Morton. We do have time, but—
Mr MORTON: there are 10 minutes to go. Can I clarify, in relation to the issue of foreign donations to GetUp! and donors to third parties not having to fill out donor returns, that where there are foreign foundations that make a foreign donation to a third party there is no way of knowing the sources of them, if they are linked? We do not actually ask that information of those donors?
Mr Pirani : There is no requirement to disclose it. The other issue that we have is that the act does not have extraterritorial operation, so even a foreign donation to a political party or a candidate—
Mr Rogers : The only difference is that it will be declared. It may well be that we do not get a donor return.
Mr Pirani : It will be declared by the recipient but not by the donor.
Mr MORTON: So, in relation to those donations that went via the Soros Open Society, you will never know from an AEC perspective, and therefore the Australian public will never know, whether or not George Soros was behind those particular donations? You have no information?
Mr Rogers : That is correct.
CHAIR: Commissioner, thank you very much for your attendance at what is the ninth public hearing that this committee has had to date. I reiterate our great appreciation for your and all of your staff's engagement with the committee. No doubt there will be extensive engagement next year as we move through the many issues that we are working with you on.
You have been asked to provide some additional information, so if we could have it to the secretary by Friday, 16 December we would be grateful. As always, you will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and you will have an opportunity to request corrections to transcription errors. I now declare this public hearing closed. Thanks again to Broadcasting and to the secretariat, who are doing a fantastic job keeping on top of all of these hearings.
Committee adjourned at 09:53