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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
14/11/2016
Conduct of the 2016 federal election and matters related thereto

LEITCH, Mrs Sue, Chief Executive Officer, Council on the Ageing Tasmania

[12:02]

CHAIR: I welcome the state representative of the Council on the Ageing Tasmania. 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 the 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 does attract parliamentary privilege. I now invite you to make an opening statement before I open it up to questions and discussion with the committee members.

Mrs Leitch : Following on from the previous witnesses, certainly, accessibility is a major concern for older people. COTA is particularly interested in access issues for older people. We are trying to progress some of the principles around the WHO age-friendly communities principles, which have accessibility as a major core of those. Also, as part of the age-friendly communities principles, is rights to civic engagement. I think those two things link quite closely together, in this context.

It is important for older people to be able to engage civically, as much as possible. Naturally, being able to vote and vote on the day, particularly in light of recent elections, is an important thing, given that things can change so quickly during an election process.

That would be our major consideration about booths, for example, but we also have a little concern about proceeding to online voting, for a number of reasons. Again, it is about accessibility. We have done research, in this state, about people's accessibility to computers and their level of engagement in the online medium. We know that particularly in the older olds—we would say from the age of 85 plus—that that level of engagement online is quite reduced. In fact, it is around the 40 per cent level of engagement, compared to the rest of the community. Telstra have just released a report about digital inclusion in the states, and Tasmania is at the lowest level of digital inclusion. Over-65s are one of the major reasons for that.

CHAIR: Have you had any formal feedback from members?

Mrs Leitch : No, given the time frame for announcing this committee, we have not. This is a report, which I can table and which is a condensed part of our research on information needs. It goes to digital accessibility. I have copies available for the committee. Some informal feedback included: that traditional booths were not available this year when people went to vote and that booths are a fair way away from carparks. If there is any mobility issue, that is a challenge. Waiting in queues is also an issue. In fact, when we are talking to businesses about making their businesses age-friendly, that is one thing that we do recommend—that they have seating available for people with mobility issues or who have difficulty in standing for any period of time. That does not necessarily mean older people. It can be anyone with connective tissue problems such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis—being the common ones—where standing for long periods of time is not ideal.

Mr GILES: You have outlined the principal issue of accessing suitable polling places, which is one side of the equation. The other side is the information that is provided to your members and citizens more generally, particularly in circumstances where there have been significant changes to polling places, as there was between the 2013 election and this one. Are you able to comment on the capacity of your members to obtain appropriate information about polling places?

Mrs Leitch : The majority of our constituents—we represent all older Tasmanians—would tend to access information more through newspapers or radio or TV. It is not something they would go to online. I have heard of an instance about a polling booth for interstate visitors in Rosny that was hard to identify online, because the Google map did not give clear details of where it was. We do not actually get any notification from the Electoral Commission about that sort of information, which is probably a little disappointing because we could help to facilitate the transfer of information in that area. With the Census this year, we did have some unusual consultation with the ABS on the running of the Census. That was early on, but later on that tended to disappear. From our point of view, that was disappointing. If we have an opportunity to get some key messages out, that is an ideal situation.

Mr GILES: We heard some evidence earlier from the AEC and other witnesses about the existence of some sort of consultative body within the AEC which deals with disability matters. Is there a similar body or process in the AEC that reflects the concerns of older Australians?

Mrs Leitch : Not that I am aware of. It would probably be best to check with our national body on that. I have not had an opportunity to catch up with them on that.

Mr GILES: I will do that. Could you perhaps comment more generally about the capacity you have had to engage with the AEC on some of these issues that concern you?

Mrs Leitch : No, I have not had an opportunity.

Mr GILES: We have spent a little bit of time discussing electronic voting, and it would be fair to say that our consideration has been dealing with some technical objections, but I think you have made a really important point, if we are concerned to ensure that all Australians are equally able to participate in elections, that many older Australians feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar with that sort of process. Thank you for that evidence.

Mrs Leitch : We do know that there is still a reluctance to participate even in online banking, for example, so I think there would be a hesitation around online voting.

Mr GILES: That was very useful for me.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Has that been discussed at the national level in your organisation?

Mrs Leitch : Not that I am aware of. Our National Policy Council is actually meeting this week, so I can put that forward for discussion and get some feedback for you.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I may have missed it, but were you able to provide us with any figures on your members' access to computers?

Mrs Leitch : It is in this thing that I am tabling today.

CHAIR: We will accept it.

Senator CAROL BROWN: We heard some evidence from the previous people that there were some waiting time issues, and they had a suggestion. When the AEC were here earlier, they indicated that the average wait time was 30 minutes in some major polling booths. I received information that there were wait times slightly longer than that, but also it was spread throughout Tassie. Do you have any feedback on that from your members?

Mrs Leitch : Not specifically from members, but if that was the level, that would be concerning for anyone with a physical disability. It could result in a level of pain and discomfort.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I have recently had some feedback from the day of the poll that there were some older people there that just gave up waiting and said they would come back, or risk a fine—

Mrs Leitch : Yes, or maybe not vote. That is disappointing from my organisation's point of view.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Where there are those long periods of wait times, do you have any suggestions about what the AEC may be able to implement?

Mrs Leitch : If there were some sort of preferential queueing system that involved some seating, that would be ideal and would be able to cover off on that situation.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Were there any issues for your members once they got inside the polling booth? Can you go back to them and ask for some feedback about that?

Mrs Leitch : Not that I am aware of, but it is something that we could go back out to members on.

Mr DICK: Thank you for coming along today. I want to ask you about font size. Perhaps this could be another issue to raise at your national council meeting. We are all interested in the Senate ballot paper, and we heard from the state commissioner today about the size of the ballot. I think it is 21 grouped parties on the Senate ballot paper, but on a smaller ballot paper. I think he gave evidence this morning about the dimensions; we would have to check the record on that. In light of the fact that we are talking about moving towards electronic voting in some parts, and the difficulties of computer connectivity, but also the complexities in the change of the Senate voting, is that an issue that you could raise, or that you have any evidence about?

Mrs Leitch : Yes, certainly. I can give you some general feedback about font sizes, for example. We at COTA try to keep our font sizes to at least point 14 and to not go lower than that. There is a general degradation in vision in people from about the age of 50 that can cause issues around that. We try to put all our in-print publications in at least a 14-point font, if we can, for visibility. So, whilst a larger ballot paper to fit all the candidates in is unwieldy, any minimisation of that font size would be of concern.

Mr DICK: I think that is an issue for probably all of us in our electorates, in all of our constituencies, as we have a whole range of—

CHAIR: And not just with the elderly, either!

Mr DICK: publications and whatnot. So I think it is certainly something that all House of Representatives members and senators could be interested in and would be keen to have a look at, given the new Senate voting situation, and also the facts that, across a whole range of government agencies now, we are moving towards different font sizes, and people from non-English-speaking backgrounds and aged people from a whole range of backgrounds have those issues as well. So I would be really keen if you could raise that at your council meeting.

CHAIR: So there is font size, but also there is feedback that the names of the parties can be quite confusing. My own mother almost did not vote for me just in case she got the name wrong on the ballot paper. That is perhaps embarrassing! But it is a real issue when there are so many and you are just trying to work out who is who. Have you had any feedback on that—on anything related to comprehensibility, in terms of font size or logo or name?

Mrs Leitch : I will certainly take that on notice and feed back.

Senator CAROL BROWN: And, as to colour, whether they prefer their logos in colour?

CHAIR: Anything like that. That would be great, thank you.

Mrs Leitch : Yes, certainly.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Talking of electronic voting, has COTA turned their mind to what, if that were to proceed, they would like to be put in place as an alternative for those who cannot access a computer or are unable to use a computer?

Mrs Leitch : Not that I am aware of. Again, I would need to check with my national policy people on that. I know that it was raised in light of the census. There was a high degree of concern about that. Hence, the ABS did come to us for some early discussions about that. But what ultimately happened was a little confusing given what they had originally told us. So I think an ongoing conversation as to how that is developed is important to have. But I will certainly look into that. One insight that I can provide is that there has been a level of concern amongst low-vision people. We are currently doing a big consultation with the Tasmanian government. The new Commonwealth Bank point-of-sale, EFTPOS, machines have been raised as a matter of concern because they are very difficult to use for people with very low vision, whereas the traditional machine at least has some cues in it for people to be able to feel. But the new format has proven to be very challenging, and those people are voting with their feet and not shopping at those businesses. So whatever is developed they need to have good consultation with people with varying degrees of sight—this is one of the issues: to be able to see that it is a suitable format.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I would just say to COTA again: if you want to go away and talk to your members and feed back to Rebecca—

Mrs Leitch : Yes, certainly.

Senator CAROL BROWN: we would really welcome that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thanks very much for your evidence. I think you have been talking about this before, but do you have any statistics or anecdotal evidence on how many older people missed out on a vote simply because of their age? Do you have that sort of feel—

Mrs Leitch : No, sorry, I do not have that data as such. But again I can try to seek some counsel on that, if we have heard of any information.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: My only other comment is that I like your poster—it is great—and I like the solutions. The only solution you have missed out, of course, is that, where you talk about how important older people are in political polling, you should be saying, 'Make sure you vote for older candidates'—and I declare a personal interest in that!

Mrs Leitch : Thank you for that.

CHAIR: Are there any more questions for this witness?

Senator CAROL BROWN: If you could, when you seek feedback from your members, could you also ask them about their experience with the officials—

Mrs Leitch : In the booth?

Senator CAROL BROWN: yes—

Mrs Leitch : Yes, certainly.

Senator CAROL BROWN: because I have had some feedback that was not very pleasant, which I can talk to you about. But I would just like to see what their view is.

Mrs Leitch : Yes, certainly.

CHAIR: Mrs Leitch, thank you very much for your attendance here today—and at very short notice. We have found your testimony very informative. Thank you very much for taking a number of questions on notice. We look forward to receiving those. If possible, can you get them back to us by 25 November. On behalf of the committee, I will also be writing now to the peak body because obviously you have raised some issues that we would like to explore nationally, so thank you very much for that. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence, and you will have the opportunity to request corrections to transcription errors.

Mrs Leitch : Great.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.

Committee adjourned at 12:21