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JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON ELECTORAL MATTERS - 17/10/2008 - Conduct of the 2007 federal election and matters related thereto

Mr Dacey —Thank you, Chair, I have a fairly brief opening statement. I should point out that the number of staff we have here from the AEC are more here for interest than as witnesses.

CHAIR —That is good.

Mr Dacey —We do not want to appear to be outnumbering the committee. However—

CHAIR —They could all slip me a note if they want me to cross-examine you.

Mr Dacey —I am sure that if we need their assistance, they will come forward. I thank the committee for the chance to appear again today, and on behalf of my colleagues around Australia I also thank the committee for taking the time to hear the different experiences we face in delivering what we consider to be an excellent electoral service in each state and territory. As you just referred to, this morning you saw a presentation of the electronic voting systems that were trialled for the 2007 election. As we discussed a little bit earlier, I expect that you and other committee members may have some further questions on these systems, and we are quite happy to take those this morning or, as we referred to earlier this morning, we could provide you with additional submissions.

CHAIR —Thanks.

Mr Dacey —The AEC sees extending the availability of these systems as one way of providing a more equitable means of access to Australia’s electoral processes by particular groups with special needs.

I would just like to outline a couple of the recommendations that the AEC has made to this inquiry that we believe would deliver a better electoral service for all stakeholders in the process, both at the next election and into the future. First, at your request, we have provided some additional initial thinking on how a system of directly updating already enrolled electors addresses from other government data would work. We see this as a key step in enabling us to maintain an accurate and complete electoral roll across the electoral cycle. It would also be a much simpler process for electors than that which currently exists and would more than likely provide an avenue to more effectively keep the electoral roll growing at the rate we want the electoral roll to grow. Such a change could further be enhanced by further amendments that would enable already enrolled electors to update their personal details with the AEC online. As outlined in our submission, the AEC is of the view that such changes would need to be implemented in hand with the processes necessary to ensure that the accuracy and integrity of the roll is not compromised. Of course, if such a change were to occur, the committee would also need to accept the AEC’s recommendation that proof of identity for enrolment would be mandatory only for those electors enrolling for the first time.

Secondly, we have outlined the pressure placed on the electoral administration caused by the need to offer a variety of voting channels to meet the changing needs of society. We have discussed at length the postal voting system, and we have also recommended that pre-poll votes cast in an elector’s home division be cast as ordinary votes. This change would provide a more convenient and accessible service to electors. It would also eliminate the need for AEC staff to undertake the laborious and time-consuming enrolment checks for a rapidly increasing number of own division pre-poll voters—that was in excess of 600,000 in the 2007 election—thereby significantly speeding up the counting process by allowing the inclusion of at least another five per cent of the total votes in election night counts. This, of course, would assist in the provision of speedy results and a change that I am sure would be welcomed not just by the AEC but particularly by candidates and particularly those candidates in close seats. Electors in several states and territories are already able to vote in this manner, and some of my staff have told me that electors have cast a pre-poll vote as an ordinary vote in Saturday’s ACT election and they have commented how easy, quick and efficient that process was.

Thirdly, we have suggested that to facilitate the best role possible for an election more emphasis needs to be placed on enrolment stimulation in the nine to 12 months leading up to an election. Such a concentrated effort will require additional funding for the AEC to support more field work, and we would also ask that that field work be supported by an enhanced information campaign to raise awareness of the importance of keeping information on the roll up to date.

Thank you, Chair. That is my opening statement, and we would happy to now respond to any particular issues the committee may now wish to raise with us.

CHAIR —I have one about a question I have asked before in relation to pre-poll votes and postal votes. It is something I am floating on a personal level, so I am not saying it has any standing with other members of the committee or anywhere else. If we are going to have those votes as ordinary votes—and I have asked questions about this before—should we not also just acknowledge that our voters are a lot more mobile than they have been in the past and loosen the qualifications for pre-poll and postal votes to anyone who is outside the electorate on the day in question being eligible to have a pre-poll or postal vote?

Mr Dacey —Within their own electorate?

CHAIR —Within that electorate. Does that create a problem? I know it is a bit more work, but if you are going to count them as ordinary votes, it is not going to delay an election result. It seems to me that there are some advantages to it instead of absentee votes on the day within the state. I am just looking at the pros and cons of that.

Mr Dacey —I guess there are always advantages when what is currently a declaration vote can be cast as an ordinary vote. We did do some research into the issue of absent votes, which, from memory, I think we did provide to the committee. From the figures that we have, it appears that a lot of absent votes are not planned absent votes, that a lot of absent votes occur around the boundary of existing divisions or for particular needs electors are somewhere near their division on polling day, whether it is shopping or a sporting event. But for people who do plan to be absent from their own division on polling day, such as on holidays, yes, administratively that would be workable, if they were ordinary votes.

CHAIR —You do not see any deficiencies in extending it? It actually avoids the current situation where there is a wink and nod-type situation. I think we said before in our discussions that in the old days officials were a lot harder on people in terms of examining them on a pre-poll vote or a postal vote.

Mr Dacey —That is correct. Provided the person has satisfied the criteria for a pre-poll or an absent vote, whether that is an ordinary vote or a declaration vote, we can cope. And, obviously, as we have pointed out in various submissions, the more ordinary votes we have the less the burden on us and the more streamlined the process is.

CHAIR —So that instead of saying you have to be, say, over eight kilometres from a polling place, the provision is that you are outside your electorate on polling day. You do not see a problem with that, do you?

Mr Dacey —Not a major problem at all.

CHAIR —Okay. Again, I want to thank the commission for the trial this morning, because there is nothing like seeing something in action to crystallise it.

Mr Dacey —You get an understanding of how it works.

CHAIR —You get an understanding of it. I am trying again to be devil’s advocate here. Both the blind voting and the defence forces are very expensive exercises, especially if they are to be expanded. I am a lot more sympathetic to the blind because I do not think there are other options; you are actually dealing with people with a disability. I am sympathetic to the Defence Force on one hand, but it was a trial, so how effective is it in increasing the votes from the defence forces, or can we garnishee the same votes by other means?

Mr Dacey —Perhaps Mr Orr and Mr Pickering could respond, as they have done some work on looking at that in relation to postal voting as well for defence forces.

Mr Orr —Just a bit of history first to set the scene from 2007 going back. Whilst the AEC has had ongoing relationships with Defence, in 2001 we had special arrangements for polling in East Timor, where we had a large contingent at that time, and that involved training military staff as pre-poll voting officers. They went around East Timor issuing votes. Apart from that, the emphasis was just on postal vote applications to defence forces.

In 2004 we put more effort into trying to coordinate with Defence to get postal vote applications in as early as possible. Of course a postal vote application cannot be completed until the election had been announced, so there was a short window to get people who were either overseas or travelling overseas shortly to complete postal vote applications. In the 2004 election we issued only 470 postal votes in response to postal vote applications from the defence forces, so it is quite a small number. At that time our understanding was there were about 2,000 people with the defence forces serving overseas so about 20 per cent applied for votes. Of those, we received 219. Some of those people were ultimately able to vote at pre-poll locations overseas, but 161 of those were not able to vote, so only about 300 were able to vote at the 2004 election.

CHAIR —Did that have anything to do with the nature of the deployment at that time overseas?

Mr Orr —It would have had something to do with that but also, to be fair, there was a big effort in 2007 to try to implement both the changes to GPV registration, and also electronic voting would have been greater between two agencies. Particularly in Defence there was a much greater effort around e-voting. After 2004, in the lead-up to 2007, the legislation changed to allow a general postal voter category for defence forces serving overseas as well as electronic voting for services overseas.

In 2007 a total of 3,390 postal votes were issued to ADF personnel who were registered as GPVs, and some of those were the same people who had been registered as remote electronic voters. Two thousand and twelve of the ADF personnel were registered as remote electronic voters, and, of those, 1,511 voted electronically. Of the remaining 1,879 postal votes, 906 were returned, so less than 50 per cent, and of those, 20 per cent were rejected because they were received too late. To recap, 75 per cent of the people who were registered voted electronically, and their votes were all in time, and a much smaller proportion of those who voted by post voted and then 20 per cent of those were received late.

CHAIR —What about the Federal Police who received postal vote services?

Mr Orr —I actually do not have statistics on that at the moment. That was a much smaller contingent though.

CHAIR —I am suggesting that if we were to put a big effort in, better than we had done for instance in 2004, could we achieve reasonable results without having to expand or go down the electronic voting line?

Mr Dacey —In relation to postal voting rather than electronic voting?

CHAIR —Yes.

Mr Dacey —I guess in consultation and cooperation with Defence we can up the effort, but the figures that Mr Orr has just read out indicate that certainly more people chose to take up the electronic voting arrangements and had a successful vote or a vote that counted than those that relied on the postal voting system. This was because of either not picking it up or votes received too late because of the postal system. Certainly, we can work closely with Defence to try our best to improve that take-up.

CHAIR —I am being a devil’s advocate here because we hear all the time that a lot of ordinary voters do not take up search options or whatever.

Mr Dacey —That is right.

CHAIR —Electronic voting might be sexy but it can be expensive and it can have ramifications as to what it means to organising those who have been deployed. That is obviously why I want to test it with you, as well as Defence.

Mr Dacey —And you will be hearing from Defence this afternoon.

CHAIR —Yes.

Mr Dacey —I am not wishing to speak for them, but I am sure that it did not proceed without its—

CHAIR —Hiccups.

Mr Dacey —hiccups and its difficulties. It was not an easy process to put in place, but once it was in place we were fairly comforted, I suppose, by the 75 per cent take-up.

CHAIR —As you should.

Mr Dacey —Yes, it is an expensive per vote operation, but of course, once you have systems in place the more people who take up that option the cheaper it becomes.

CHAIR —All I am asking is that if we had some systems in place for alternative options, if we had to make some special provisions in relation to postal voting, is that an option to look at as well?

Mr Dacey —Yes, that is always an option.

CHAIR —I do not know what the level of voter deployment is going to be overseas compared to what it was in 2004, which in 2007 could have led to a higher—

Mr Orr —From the numbers I am aware of, there was about a 50 per cent higher deployment in 2007 compared to 2004. The experience with postal voting over the last three elections has been that having them registered as GPVs is a step forward, because we can get them in the first available production run and get them overseas. But, to get them overseas to the soldier, get the soldier to vote and get the vote back in time is certainly problematic as it is subject to a whole range of operational issues that could impact on things connecting up.

Mr MORRISON —Can I thank the commission for the detail it has provided in its response, and particularly can I thank you for the great work which has been done on the comparison of all the various jurisdictions. Hopefully that will give COAG a lot of work over the next while to try to resolve some of that. I just had some observations, I suppose, more than questions so feel free to comment on those observations.

My reaction to the information on page 4 regarding the differing enrolments by state—and there is also commentary in your submission about your target enrolment practices and the role of field officers—is that it seemed to be a reasonably effective campaign. I hear what you are saying in terms of trying to get more of these people on the ground. I note that the total enrolment movement between 2004 and 2007 went from 13 million up to 13.6 million, and that is roughly in line with population movements over that period of time. Once reinstatements have been put in place—I understand these figures reflect those who have been put back on the roll, et cetera—when all is said and done, the total number of people who were enrolled to vote at the 2007 election track the movements in population and, based on those figures, I cannot see any great irregularity of people missing out.

Mr Dacey —No. However, earlier in the calendar year of 2007 we became very aware that the roll had started to climb in terms of the participation rate. So that 13.6 million came at the expense of a lot of field work, advertising and also awareness, of course, in the electorate that an election was coming that year.

Mr MORRISON —That an election was coming on, yes. But that is it. I agree with that; I think that the mechanisms put in place and followed through by the commission bore fruit. So, at the end of the day, when we got to the election, we had a roll that had grown, in fact, a little bit over the population growth. There were swings and roundabouts by states in terms of overall population growth. The population growth figures I am looking at are total. I have not broken that down for the population aged over 18. I would be interested in any views that the AEC had about how the roll has moved in comparison directly to the voting age population, but my take out of what you have presented to us is that the roll moved in line with population trends, and those who were entitled to vote and turn up largely increased in line with what was happening across the country. I look at those figures and I do not see any great omission in what the AEC undertook between elections in getting people on the roll. I think the AEC has done a very good job on getting people on the roll, and at the end of the day I do not think people missed out, based on those figures in comparison to previous elections and in comparison to movements in population. Is that a fair assessment?

Mr Dacey —I might get Ms Mitchell to talk a bit more in depth about the statistics of the roll growth as well, sir.

Ms Davis —One of the things we would probably also like to point out I suppose is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to get people on the roll. Whilst we might have been able to achieve the rates we have, the strategies that we have employed over the years are becoming increasingly difficult and we have to look at new and more innovative ways of continuing to maintain that growth.

CHAIR —When you say it is becoming increasingly difficult, they are resistant?

Ms Davis —Not necessarily. It is the simple things like people not wanting to answer the door, people not—

Mr Dacey —Not responding to mail.

Ms Davis —People not responding to mail, that mode of communication.

CHAIR —If they do that under the current rules they lose their entitlement to vote. They would have to get reinstated. That is not being offensive.

Mr Dacey —I know. Whilst we were happy—and Ms Mitchell can perhaps talk more about the figures—with the enrolment at the close of rolls, we are now, once again, because we are 12 months out from the election, seeing it decline again.

Mr MORRISON —Just to cover off that point, the figures you have presented here today I think indicate that the measures you employed were effective and ensured that, while there may have been some concerns expressed about various changes to the Electoral Act 1918, at the end of the day the roll moved in line with population and you were able to maintain those proportions between electorates.

Mr Dacey —In fact, we were asked at Senate estimates some months before the election to give an estimate of what we thought the enrolment might be for close of rolls, and we, in fact, exceeded that. But, a lot of work and effort went into getting those figures up.

Mr MORRISON —I think that highlights for the committee the need to ensure that you are able to continue to do that work and highlights the success of your communication strategies as well. But, as you say, we may well be 12 months out from another one. The chair may know more about that than I do, but it is timely that—

CHAIR —You can rest assured I have never been in the loop and never will be. I am an outsider.

Mr Dacey —One point I would reinforce—and we have made it before in submissions—is that it is not just one strategy that we need to put in place. Communication is fine, but communication is expensive. Field work is also an excellent strategy, but if that is combined with communication it is also a reminder to people as we are knocking on the door—‘Oh, I was expecting you from the AEC, so here is my form.’

Mr MORRISON —Yes. I understand you have to have many elements to your package of communication—

Mr Dacey —And, of course, if there was—

Mr MORRISON —and field work is an important part of that.

Mr Dacey —a lifting of the burden, I suppose, in having to complete a new enrolment form on paper every time an elector moves and looking at some other systems or methods, that would also assist us greatly in keeping those numbers up.

Mr MORRISON —So just to be more specific about that, how do you see that resolving itself?

Mr Dacey —Obviously we would need legislative change, and we certainly would not go into this starry-eyed and not look at the risks and do trials. What we are suggesting is that, once a person has proved their identity and they are on the roll, rather than them having to re-enrol again every time they change—which is what they currently have to do; they have to complete a totally new form—if we got information from a trusted agency that a person had changed their address with that agency and that person agreed in changing their address with that agency to pass that information on to the AEC, and we have given examples of the sorts of agencies, we could test that data and update their enrolment details. But it is not quite as simple as that.

Mr MORRISON —I certainly do not want to make the AEC’s job any harder with this, but on this debate about enrolment and re-enrolment, I recently moved house back in July. I filled out the form. I sent it in. It did not take me very long. I also had to fill out forms to change where my electricity bill went and those sorts of things. It is a fairly standard sort of practice that you do when you move house, whether you are renting or buying or whatever, and there are now services that can actually do all of that for you. Basically, the pack turns up at your door and they change everything from your telephone bill to whatever. I just wonder whether there are ways that the AEC could also engage with that, because at the end of the day I do wonder whether, if someone has this precious franchise, which is what your campaign said, we really do want them to value it. I am just puzzled why filling out a form saying, ‘I have moved address’ is proving to be such an impediment for something that you would hope people would value.

Mr Dacey —I guess it puzzles us in some ways as well, but certainly you are right that when people move house their priority is to change their utility bills and all those sorts of things. It seems to be that enrolment with us is always their last priority.

CHAIR —They need more inspiration.

Mr Dacey —Perhaps more inspiration.

Mr MORRISON —The point of my question is this: does the AEC engage in trying to market to those people when they are moving house?

Mr Dacey —We do.

Mr MORRISON —You do?

Mr Dacey —Yes, because we get information from, for example, Australia Post of recent movers, people who have changed address, and we immediately mail out to those people and include an enrolment form.

CHAIR —We are dealing with real people who are currently unenrolled.

Mr Dacey —That is correct.

CHAIR —Would it not be better for all concerned it there was a simplified way of updating those people’s enrolments rather than disenfranchising them? They are not first-time electors we are talking about; they are not new people; they are real people. This is affecting people moving within divisions.

Mr Dacey —And they are real people whose identity we have proved through the first enrolment process.

CHAIR —That is what I am trying to say.

Mr MORRISON —I suppose I am more relaxed when we are talking about those types of fast-track schemes for people who are within the same division. When you get people moving between divisions then I think that starts to be a separate issue. But, within divisions, people with proof of identity, who are part of that community, who are known within that community and have not moved outside their electoral division, may have the view, for whatever reason, that they do not have to do that because they are still living in the same electorate.

Mr Dacey —That is right.

Mr MORRISON —That is one issue, but if you are moving from Banks to Cook, which is probably a good idea. If those people who live in Banks want to move to Cook—

CHAIR —You have to get a visa to cross the shire.

Mr MORRISON —That is true.

CHAIR —We went there to swim once.

Mr Pickering —Mr Morrison, I might just have a few comments on Mr Dacey’s remarks, too. The issue of enrolment forms is something that has been vexed as far as the requirement under the current legislation for a completely new enrolment. It also requires a signature. There has been a trend over recent years for interaction with government to try to simplify it, and whether or not that was via the Electronic Transactions Act 1999 or whether or not it was just by organisations and agencies wanting to simplify the process of keeping their records up to date, a number of agencies are now only requiring telephone calls to update their details, whether it is a change of name or a change of address. There is also a growing expectation for people to be able to change those details, once they have proven their identity with an agency, via the internet as well. Of course, that will not work whilst we require a signature by the elector. They can fill it out on screen, but we require them to print it out and sign it and then send that paper into the AEC. So there is a range of opportunities for modernising the process but it moves away from the requirement for an enrolment form as we currently know it.

CHAIR —What I am interested in is maintaining the integrity of it.

Mr Dacey —Absolutely, and so are we.

CHAIR —As long as there is something. So we are not talking of new electors—

Mr Dacey —Not at all.

CHAIR —which you mentioned earlier.

Mr Dacey —This person is already POI’d and on the roll. We acknowledge that such a system is not risk free. As I said, we would not just rush straight into it. There is a lot of testing on the things we have to do.

CHAIR —But they cannot multiple vote because they will be removed from one address and placed at another—

Mr Dacey —That is correct.

CHAIR —so it is not an issue of multiple voting.

Mr Dacey —If such a system were in place, we would also follow up that elector by mail and, of course, bells would start to ring if that mail came back to us ‘return to sender’.

CHAIR —I suppose what concerns me is that we want to go out of our way in terms of overseas people, as we probably should, to try to encourage them. There is an argument for them as well and we will do it under the existing system, but here it is a recognition that the culture has changed in terms of society. What it is about is integrity of the roll, proper identification and not having multiple rolls and not being stuck in the past. You just said, Ms Davis, that you are finding trouble in getting people opening the door to you.

Ms Davis —Yes.

CHAIR —If they saw me, they would slam it in my face, which is why I have never done a home invasion through doorknocking. I will just get Mr Morrison and then Mr Sullivan—

Mr Dacey —If I could just add one more point to that—and we do not have empirical evidence for this. More and more anecdotally we are hearing that one of the reasons that people are not responding to our mail is that they want an easier way to do it. We can contact people or ring people up and say, ‘You have not filled out your enrolment form,’ and the answer we often get is, ‘But you know I’ve moved. Why don’t you just change me? Can’t I tell you now that I’m living here?’ It may be one of the reasons for some of the disengagement, I suppose, and decline in the roll. We certainly cannot prove that.

CHAIR —No, I understand that.

Mr MORRISON —I will move on to page 27.

CHAIR —Just hang on. Mr Sullivan?

Mr SULLIVAN —On the same topic, if you do not mind. Mr Dacey, in your evidence just a moment ago you indicated that you already get advice of change of address from Australia Post—

Mr Dacey —We do.

Mr SULLIVAN —and you write to those people.

Mr Dacey —We do.

Mr SULLIVAN —Could I put it to you that unfortunately people do not take their enrolment as seriously as some of us in this business would like them to. You already get that information; you write them a letter and a proportion does not respond.

Mr Dacey —Some we write to more than once.

Mr SULLIVAN —So there is an administrative cost for you there. A proportion do not respond and then a good proportion of those turn up on election day to go through the most time-consuming and, I guess, costly process of trying to claim a vote on the day. I imagine you do not have figures that actually track people in that fashion. Would that be a fair representation of what happens?

Mr Dacey —To a certain extent, yes. If people do not respond through our various means of communication, whether it be correspondence or telephone or doorknocking, but still feel they have an entitlement to vote and front up to vote on polling day, if they have been removed from the roll they will have to have a provisional vote. We can give you figures on the number of provisional voters but we cannot say that that number relates to those people who did not respond.

Mr SULLIVAN —So you are already receiving advice from Australia Post—

Mr Dacey —And other agencies.

Mr SULLIVAN —And other agencies, which you act upon?

Mr Dacey —Yes.

Mr SULLIVAN —And your proposal to us is that the person filling in the form with those agencies has the option to tick a box.

Mr Dacey —An opt-in option—

Mr SULLIVAN —An opt-in option.

Mr Dacey —to pass that information—

Mr SULLIVAN —To tick a box to pass that information to the AEC.

Mr Dacey —to allow the AEC to update their enrolment details.

Mr SULLIVAN —Okay, so I have got that clear. My head has just lost the one that I was going to ask you so maybe we will get back to that afterwards.

CHAIR —Can I just ask you about some enrolment participation rates? I think at table 2.2, which is in submission 169, page 9, you advised the number of enrolled electors as a percentage of the estimated eligible enrolled population. Then you went through that, and it runs at 91.5 in September 2004 through to 92.3 in October 2007. I just want to take you to an inconsistency in terms of those figures compared to the ones published in the AEC annual returns for the respective years, and these are figures drawn from the AEC annual report. In 2003-04 it was 95, then 96.3, 93.6, 93.9, 92.3. I am just interested as to whether you can explain why there are differences between the enrolment participation results shown in the annual reports and those shown in the first submission. Is there a different statistical basis?

Mr Dacey —Yes, I can give you an overview, and more detail Ms Mitchell might be able to give.

CHAIR —Yes, that is okay.

Mr Dacey —In terms of the annual report figures, the participation rate used in the annual report figures was based on results of Newspoll surveys, which we have been conducting for many years. In relation to the figures in our submission, which ranged from the 91.5 to the 92.3, we re-based participation by using a more statistically valid method using information from ABS.

CHAIR —The ones that you submitted to us were a couple of per cent lower.

Mr Dacey —That is correct.

CHAIR —There were some substantial differences.

Mr Dacey —That is right.

Ms Mitchell —Originally, the only means that we had for calculating the participation rate was to use the Newspoll survey that we undertook, and it was giving us a participation rate of about 97 to 98 per cent. However as a methodology it had issues, because it was really sampling a population that had a telephone, answered their telephone and were willing to respond to surveys. So we chose to try to look at other methods for discerning the participation rate. The first methodology we used, and we started using this in our 2004-05 annual report, was to take data that we had gained when we were conducting sample audit fieldwork, and during that we were sampling a larger proportion of the population.

CHAIR —More representative.

Ms Mitchell —What we sampled in sample audit fieldwork was the population that we contact through the mail review component of our continuous roll update program. Depending on what we are mailing at any point in time, that can represent somewhere around two-thirds of the eligible population. However, whilst we were undertaking sample audit fieldwork, we were also working with ABS on developing a methodology for calculating a participation rate that was drawn from census data, which is about the entire population. We then, of course, have to undertake calculations to translate that back to the eligible-to-enrol population. So, first of all, we started using 2001 census data, and that is what is published in the 2006-07 annual report. What you have in the submission is a re-base of those figures using 2006 census data and calculating backwards. What that then shows is that using 2001 census data and calculating forward there was about a one per cent overestimate for those few years that we did that.

Mr MORRISON —If we go to page 27 or 28 of your submission, previously I had asked if you could provide some information on the comparison of informal voting between federal and state elections. I think there are some interesting results in there and, again, I will just comment on them and I am interested in your views. My reading of these figures shows that the non-sequential informal voting has been declining now from election to election. The areas of greatest concern are particularly in New South Wales and Queensland—and the most recent figures bear this out—followed not too far behind by South Australia, in states where we have optional preferential voting running at a state level. We have very high levels of informality for people following those same voting practices.

The next highest other than ‘blank’ then falls to non-sequential, but also I note there ticks and crosses, which can also be a consequence of the differences in the system. In New South Wales, for example, you have almost 50 per cent of informal voting due to people following a ‘1-only’ approach. I suppose I just reflect on the question again: given that that is how a lot of people seem to be voting in those states, isn’t it time that we actually started considering optional preferential at a federal level?

I also note more generally, though, that the rate of informality was significantly below what it was at the last election, when it was down to 3.95 per cent, which was even less than what it was back in the 2001 federal election. So just generally, I think we have some discrete problems in a couple of states based on differences between voting systems and that the non-sequential issue is actually declining. We still have a major problem with the ‘just vote 1’ but overall the level of informality at the last election seems to be below at least most recent experience.

Mr Dacey —We were certainly very aware of the trend in New South Wales and Queensland, and we did a lot of extra work in those two states in 2007 to try to resolve the ‘1-only’ issue. The figures show that we were successful. However, there is still some way to go. We will continue to work on those processes and try to improve. Just for the interest of the committee, we do a fairly substantial informal vote survey following every election. That is in the process now of being finalised, so we will be able to provide that to the committee probably within the next four or five weeks.

Mr MORRISON —I think you are right about the success you had in Queensland. I think that is shown. But in New South Wales I cannot see that. If it is success, it is very modest.

Mr Dacey —Yes.

Mr MORRISON —Why do you think in Queensland you have had greater success? It is coming off a higher position in Queensland than it is in New South Wales. Any thoughts on that?

Mr Dacey —I really would not like to comment on that until we look more at the full survey we are doing.

Mr MORRISON —Okay.

Mr Dacey —It is difficult to make those assumptions without looking at the whole range of data.

Mr SULLIVAN —The question that I would ask is: when did New South Wales go to an optional preferential system?

Mr Dacey —In 1999, I think.

Mr SULLIVAN —Yes, Queensland has been out since 1992.

CHAIR —It was in the Wran era, when they had the referendum ‘choose the first option’.

Mr Pickering —1981, Chair.

Mr SULLIVAN —1981 in New South Wales!

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —But I think the political parties have not been as active as they have in Queensland about promoting, ’You can just vote 1.’

Mr Dacey —Right.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —The political parties have got a bit of a campaign.

Mr Dacey —Mr Morrison, one of the factors may be that the New South Wales state election was not that long before the federal elections, where people had the option to vote 1 only, whereas in 2004 the Queensland state election and the federal election were close by, but in 2007 they were not.

CHAIR —And when you had the Auburn state by-election preceding the federal election for Reid there was a massive increase in informal votes in Reid, which is consistent with what you are saying.

Mr Dacey —And, interestingly, your other comment about New South Wales, from my earlier looking at the data, I think the 10 electoral divisions with the highest informal vote are inner western Sydney divisions, which may be another factor which is not optional preferential voting, but it could be culturally and linguistically diverse or language problems in particular.

Mr MORRISON —Is it fair to say based on these figures, though, that the overall level of informal voting when you look at all of it at the last election was certainly not outside the band.

Mr Dacey —It certainly was not as disturbing to us as the trends had been in the last election.

CHAIR —I suppose coming to that and given these tables, we had nationally at the last election 510,951 informal votes, and I am looking at the non-sequential figures you have given us. It seems to me that if we had the system in place pre-1998, which was the savings provisions, that almost 100,000 people would have been added to the count, a number of whom would have intentionally gone 1, 2 to 2, but most of whom had made mistakes in their ballot papers.

Mr Dacey —We are providing you with some information on that, I think, Chair. I guess one of our concerns—not a major concern—is that it is the problem of what sanctions you might then have in place for people who advocate that way of voting.

CHAIR —It is called gaol, Mr Dacey.

Mr Dacey —It is a difficult issue, I guess, for electoral administrators to be saying, ’Well, okay, let’s do that.’

CHAIR —If we send people to gaol for breaking and entering, we can send them to gaol for trying to subvert the democratic process, but that is just my personal view as a defender. As a former public defender, I am hard line on democracy. People are dying for the right to vote. They are entitled to have it and not be subverted by ratbags.

Mr MORRISON —But to pick up the point about a 3.95 per cent informal rate at this most recent election, and given that that has declined from the previous one and was less than in the 2001 election, I am struggling a bit here to find a great area of concern or mischief in terms of the current level of informal voting. If you go to the figures, obviously the biggest confusion sits around the issue of ‘just vote 1’. I have argued not over non-sequential, because non-sequential has been falling over three successive elections. What has not been resolved is the issue of ‘just vote 1’. If people are concerned about it, then there is a very simple remedy; it is called optional preferential. But as I look at these figures, maybe a remedy is overstated in the current context and you seem to be getting on top of it.

Mr Dacey —Yes, but in getting on top of it we will not be complacent about informal voting. It is still important, I think that we do everything we can.

Mr MORRISON —But these figures themselves would not suggest that there needs to be a massive change. I cannot see that on these figures.

CHAIR —The figures suggest, if there was a reversion of the old policy, just short of 100,000 votes might be included in the count, irrespective of which way they vote—when we are spending millions of dollars saying, ‘Well, let’s pick up 1,500 Defence Force votes,’ because they do not want to fill out a postal vote application. I just put that on the record.

Mr MORRISON —And, equally, Chair, the optional preferential system would completely solve this set of numbers in a heartbeat.

Mr SULLIVAN —Oh, no, I do not believe so. I believe optional preferential voting would cause trouble in state jurisdictions that do not have optional preferential voting.

CHAIR —Neither of the major political parties is going there. Let us be honest about it. Senator Minchin has backed off it. I am sure Mr Morrison will not take on.

Mr Dacey —And the AEC certainly does not have a position on it.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Are you still on this issue? I am changing to postal votes and—

CHAIR —No, I am done.

Mr MORRISON —Are you done?

Mr SULLIVAN —I am going to follow you because I have got a solution.

CHAIR —Okay. Then I just want to know before we go about the review of informality procedures and manuals arising from the McEwen by-election. I am just wondering where that is at and whether we will get the results of that review.

Mr Dacey —You will. I received from Mr Henderson his report on his investigation into the McEwen case last week. Our senior group are currently considering that report and the recommendations, and we would hope by very early next week to have correspondence to you as chair—

CHAIR —Fantastic!

Mr Dacey —and also to the major parties and the minister and the opposition on the results of that and how the AEC will be going forward with the recommendations.

CHAIR —Thank you. You are still looking at some questions I asked about possible mechanisms in terms of—

Mr Dacey —Consensual arbitration is the term that was used.

CHAIR —Yes, and the responses.

Mr Dacey —Yes, we will get to you very soon on that.

CHAIR —That is okay. I have had some informal discussions.

Mr Dacey —Because we wanted that to be informed by what we had about the Henderson review as well.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Mr Dacey, I take you to your response in relation to postal votes, which is something that goes back to, I think, our hearings in Brisbane. Looking at these figures here, two of the largest ‘received late’ electorates by a long way were Flynn and Kennedy, very large rural constituencies, and it just says ’received late’. Now, that obviously means they are in the system somewhere. I know you cannot break it down obviously to the letter to whether they were—well, ‘cast late’ is quite separated out, but these are just ’received late’. All of those votes could have been in the system—

Mr Dacey —That is correct.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —but are not able to be counted. They could have been sitting in a post office. It is a real concern to me. It raises the issue of postal voters and how we deal with this and timeliness and recognising probably in some cases the unique circumstance of where some of these votes might be coming from or where they are being delivered to—perhaps a small post office which is run as a business. In the case of Flynn, 144 votes were received late, and yet 135 votes would have changed that outcome. So I have very real concerns about this issue. I am not blaming you—

Mr Dacey —No, we have concerns as well.

—but I am really concerned about the system. Most of those could have been counted. I do not know; we will never know now. It is the same in Kennedy. When you get this large number, I wonder whether when we are getting back on to the issue of electronic voting. We saw those trials this morning, and we were talking about the visually impaired and whether we do it for the troops and maybe the AFP, depending on the recommendations here. But I really believe we have to look beyond that for a lot of people in these really remote parts of Australia, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. We have seen the trials. To me they look like they are working and the integrity of the whole system looks good. I just wonder whether we should not be looking at rural and remote Australia in relation to this as well because you have got a situation here where we may have had a different outcome in a seat, and we were never able to challenge it because they were received late.

Mr Dacey —It is certainly one aspect of remote electronic voting that perhaps needs to be considered, but I will point out a difference between what you saw this morning and what might apply for rural and remote Australia. That is that the system that was used by the Defence Force overseas was hosted on their very secure intranet or internal system. If you extend an open system across the Internet so that people in remote areas can avail themselves of an electronic vote, it raises all sorts of not insurmountable but certainly other security and integrity issues that a lot of electoral administrations—not just in the AEC; internationally as well—are scratching their heads about at the moment. The potential for corruption, data manipulation, hacking or whatever across the Internet is much greater than using the very secure defence system that was used for the military.

CHAIR —But, Mr Dacey, we changed the rules some years ago when I was on the committee in relation to remote voters, allowing them to become registered postal voters.

Mr Dacey —That is correct.

CHAIR —Rather than an electronic system, surely if there are particular problems we can look at improving the quality of having remote people on the registered voting list. If we need to make some definitional changes, of course, they are the things—

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —So those people then in a geographic situation could be registered for electronic voting as opposed to postal voting.

Mr Dacey —And that is certainly an option.

CHAIR —No, registered for a postal vote.

Mr Dacey —As opposed to a general postal vote.

CHAIR —Yes.

Mr Dacey —I think, Mr Scott, if you look at the general postal voting take-up figures for Maranoa, which I did have somewhere, there are 4,219 electors who have already chosen. I think it is the largest number of electors in any division in Australia who have chosen to register as general postal voters. That means those electors get automatically sent ballot papers, as you know.

CHAIR —They do not have to apply.

Mr Dacey —They do not have to apply. If that were extended or more people took that option, perhaps fewer people would be in the ’received too late’ category, because they are relying on one less step in the postal system.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —What you are suggesting is that those who are automatically receiving this information were not in that 144 in Flynn. We really do not have any evidence of that.

Mr Dacey —We could probably do some further analysis—I am not sure if it is possible—to see how many of those 4,219 GPVs, for example, in Maranoa were received too late.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —I thought Flynn was a late one, was it not?

Mr Dacey —Flynn had 2,700, and Kennedy has about 3,000.

CHAIR —And it is not accidental that of the highest ones are in Queensland. In terms of your supplementary submission Flynn was 146 and Kennedy was 132. But what I am suggesting, Mr Scott, is that it can be overcome not by electronic voting but by a concerted campaign to get some of the people on to the registered postal voter list.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —But one of the problems here, though, Daryl, is the state and federal rolls for postal voting are not complementary, or have not been, and that is ‘Am I or am I not?’

CHAIR —I was once on an inquiry in relation to that. I can remember the Liberal Party when it was a state based party wanting to give everything over to the states.

Mr Dacey —I remember it well.

Ms Davis —We should probably also point out that we already do have a form of alternative voting for people in remote areas by way of our provisions for voters in the Antarctic. We classify them by definition as remote. Perhaps, Doug, you can explain how we actually facilitate that.

Mr Orr —The issue with Antarctic voters is that it is not compulsory to vote because the secrecy of the vote is compromised, if you like, because the votes are read through to the Australian Electoral Office in Tasmania.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —As a block.

Mr Orr —Yes. So that is how that is catered for. You have mentioned remote Australia. There is also the same issue, Mr Scott, for voters overseas who are not in one of our consulates, which has a huge potential.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —You keep coming back to the electronic thing as maybe a part solution. If you have, say, 3,000 or 4,000 in an electorate that are automatically going to be receiving a postal vote why—let us go back a bit here: I had a discussion with a delegation from. I think,  Estonia, which has electronic voting, and he suggested there is real trouble about getting integrity and avoiding any corruption in the system. Now, there is a very small country that—

Mr Dacey —The Estonians may not be as concerned as us but they may have a system in place that is much more secure. I am not sure.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —I would be interested in whether you have looked at the Estonian electronic—

Mr Dacey —We have not particularly or specifically looked at that.

CHAIR —Is that National Party policy?

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —No, I am trying to be constructive here, Mr Chair, I think with electronics and the way it is—maybe Estonia is a small territory. We had this discussion, and that is what prompted me to think of it with all these postal votes that are coming into rural Australia. The other reason, of course, is that sometimes the Electoral Commission is closing down small polling booths where there are only 50 or 60 voters, so they end up on the postal voting system. That is an issue of finance rather than what might be best serving the people, if we have got to go back that way. I am trying to tease out some ideas.

Mr Dacey —Mr Scott, just for your interests and the interests of the committee, New Zealand, which is heading to an election very soon, at their last election and for this coming election implemented a system whereby New Zealand electors overseas, rather than relying on the postal voting system, could, if they chose for the secrecy of their ballot to be somewhat compromised by faxing it back to the returning officer, choose to fax back their ballot paper. The returning officer could see that but the people choosing to take that option were comfortable with that. It was not going to the wider public; it was faxed back to a dedicated number in the returning officer’s office.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —But you have got to cross off that person—

Mr Dacey —That is right.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —on the roll.

Mr Dacey —So that is one option that perhaps also could be considered, which is an electronic means of getting a vote back to the Electoral Commission without relying on the whims of the postal service.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Why would they have to read that, because it is coming back and it is a valid ballot paper.

Mr Dacey —It is not that they have to read it; it is that they can. Because it comes out of a fax machine it is not in an envelope like a normal postal vote. I am sure the returning officer is not sitting there reading every vote that comes through.

Mr SULLIVAN —No—they are marking people off the roll.

Mr Dacey —That is right.

Mr Pickering —And, Mr Scott, they can do the reverse as well. In New Zealand they can also download the ballot paper from the New Zealand elections website and then post it back.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Now, there is a system.

Mr Orr —They also have to download a declaration like the front of our declaration envelope as well for their identity so that, as you said, it can be marked off. But that is an option that they use.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —And, of course, there are not as many pre-polling booths in these electorates out here in the bush.

Mr Dacey —Certainly more in the last election than there were in previous elections.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —But not as many as the state elections would have. They will have them in nearly all their courthouses or post offices. Whereas people may have been in town and said, ‘Oh, I can’t vote because there is not a pre-poll here,’ so they have applied for a postal vote, and it comes, and it ends up in this bucket of ’received too late’. There are all sorts of reasons.

Mr Dacey —We are very aware of the problems and, of course, we do our best every election to improve those services.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —What would stop you having it available at all post offices?

Mr Dacey —We would need to negotiate with Australia Post. Cost could be an issue. I am not sure.

CHAIR —Post office?

Mr Dacey —Having them issuing pre-poll votes.  We certainly extended it last time to courthouses in rural Queensland for the first time.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —But if they get shut, of course, we lose votes.

Mr Dacey —We are looking at all we can do to try to improve the service. One of the things that we can do, and do occasionally, is write to people living in those areas who have had a postal vote and point out the advantages of being a general postal voter so that they do get that first mailing once the ballot papers are available.

Mr SULLIVAN —There are two very quick things before I go on to following that. Going back to my question earlier, is it possible to get a figure of the number of people who you have written to because you have been made aware that they have changed their address, who have not responded and have subsequently gone on to the roll, who then turned up at an election, claimed a vote and lodged an enrolment form? I do not expect you to give it to me now, but is it possible that that level of information is available?

Mr Dacey —I will have to take that on notice, Mr Sullivan. I am not sure if we have that level of detail and what resources it would require.

Mr SULLIVAN —The other one that left my head earlier followed on from what Mr Morrison was talking about, and that is completing the entire enrolment form. When they do that, people who have not been born in Australia actually have to again lodge their proof of citizenship. If they have been on the roll before, surely that is overkill.

Mr Dacey —It may be overkill, but it is not overkill in terms of the current way the legislation is structured.

Mr SULLIVAN —I understand. Okay. So now if I can just go from there to what Mr Scott was talking about, in the documents that we have here is a proposal worked up by the commission and some consultants in relation to electronic enrolment, remote election voting and electronic voting. It is a proposal for the AEC from Edentiti and eVACS.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —What is it?

Mr SULLIVAN —You do not know about it?

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —No.

CHAIR —Jon, could you hang on for one second. I understand that we have a confidential submission as an attachment.

Mr SULLIVAN —All right. Sorry. I did not understand that, sorry.

CHAIR —So we will do that.

Mr SULLIVAN —I want to talk about remote area voting in relation to what Mr Scott has talked about but also about late lodgement. McEwen had 98 votes lodged late, from the information you gave us, which could mean that they arrived but without a date stamp, so they are gone, which could have changed that—

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —It is on the declaration, not on the postal vote?

Mr SULLIVAN —On the declaration. Okay. Yes, all right. Could the two electronic—

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Is that right? It was the declaration?

Mr SULLIVAN —Well, I do not know. I do not care much. It is just a number. Could the two electronic systems that were trialled actually be married? The point was made when we were there this morning that people are comfortable with the telephone keypad; lots of people are not comfortable with the computer keyboard. Could people use their telephone to ring into your secure server and lodge a vote using the audio system that is available for the blind? That seems to me to be a reasonably easy solution to remote area voting.

Mr Dacey —Certainly telephone voting trials have occurred internationally. Quite a few local areas in the UK undertook trials of telephone voting, and I understand they were reasonably successful. I guess the thing to bear in mind with telephone voting in the UK is that it is first past the post and you only have to vote ‘1’ for one person. When you have a House of Reps electorate with, say, 10 candidates without any visual aids in front of you whilst you are telephone voting, it could be a little confusing and complex for people. I am not suggesting it is not possible. Technologically, anything is possible. But I think in voting for the House of Representatives and, particularly if people chose to vote below the line for the Senate—I think to have a telephone vote below the line for the Senate in New South Wales would be just about impossible for anyone to manage.

Mr SULLIVAN —I understand it is difficult, but it is also difficult for people who cannot see the screen—that is, the people who the telephone system was devised for.

Mr Dacey —But they are getting audio aids.

Mr SULLIVAN —So would this person. They would be getting it. You would just have that system playing through the telephone to the voter at the other end.

Mr Orr —I think one issue would be security of that process over phone lines. I am certainly not qualified to comment, but security would be an issue.

Mr SULLIVAN —No greater an issue than the internet.

Mr Dacey —Probably no greater an issue.

Mr SULLIVAN —Probably less.

Mr Orr —Except for the party line, if they still have them.

Mr Dacey —These sorts of things are possible. It is whether there would be confidence in those systems, whether people would pick up and use those systems and how hackable they are or how much integrity the systems have.

Mr SULLIVAN —My feeling is that a lot of the postal votes that come in and are rejected because of the postal issue would be actually shown to be valid votes if people had a phone number to ring and lodge their vote. Is that of any assistance?

Mr Dacey —Or if they took up the New Zealand model of being able to fax their vote back, for example.

Mr SULLIVAN —I am conscious that a lot of people, even of my age, and I am no great technological whiz, are not comfortable with computers. That may or may not be reflected in rural areas, but I suspect that it is.

CHAIR —The position is that whenever you have a deadline, people are going to go past the deadline.

Mr Dacey —People are always going to miss out.

CHAIR —That is the nature of it.

Mr Dacey —Our job is to try to minimise that—

CHAIR —Yes.

Mr Dacey —in conjunction with Australia Post.

CHAIR —And that is where I see our role. If people facilitate a process that is as user friendly as possible, I do not mind picking some of these things up. But I just made the comment privately to Mr Morrison that we cannot cater for 100 per cent of people in 100 per cent of scenarios. But if we were prepared to give the Electoral Commission more money, they could do a better job.

Mr SULLIVAN —We have compulsory voting; that has an obligation.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Chair, the largest numbers where people were denied their democratic right because of the system were in rural Australia.

CHAIR —I do not accept that.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —They were in Flynn, Leichhardt and Kennedy.

CHAIR —I do not accept that.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Well, they are the numbers here. Are you rejecting the numbers?

CHAIR —People did not return. No, it is for a different reason.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —No.

CHAIR —Something about it alarmed me, and it is what I actually want to get some answers on, Mr Scott, which I think are legitimate. I am not saying this is not legitimate, but I do not believe you will ever get 100 per cent return on postal votes. I was alarmed that people were lodging their ballot paper before the election and it was not being stamped until after the election—that is the evidence that we received on one occasion—and those people who had complied were excluded from the vote. The other thing that alarmed me was that if there was no stamp and the date of witnessing was pre the election, they were included. If the date of witnessing was pre the election and there was a stamp post the election, they were excluded. Things like that—

Mr SULLIVAN —These are the numbers that Mr Scott is talking about, though.

CHAIR —I would like to—

Mr SULLIVAN —That is where those people are—

CHAIR —I would like to pursue.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Chair, can I ask, though, just back on this postal vote thing: would it be possible—and we might have to wait until after the New Zealand election—to have some idea of the past experience of how many people have taken up the postal vote option?

Mr Dacey —The faxing option?

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Yes.

Mr Dacey —I am sure we could get that information from our colleagues.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —It would be interesting to see what happens there.

Mr Dacey —Given, of course, that they have a much smaller population, but it will be an indication of how many people have taken that option up.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —And they do not have the computer model; they have the fax spot. And they can apply on fax? No?

Ms Birkenhead —No, they just download the form.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Oh, they download the form?

Mr Dacey —They can download the ballot paper and fax it back.

Ms Birkenhead —With their ID.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —And they can download it because it is on the internet?

Ms Birkenhead —Yes.

Mr Dacey —Yes.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Everyone is on the internet?

Mr Pickering —If they want to keep it secret and private they can download it, fill it out and post it back. They have the option. With the fax facility they lose the total secrecy, but it is going to a trusted agent, or you can post it back.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Then when they get back to the returning officer they are checked off, because otherwise someone could have voted half a dozen times on the ballot paper.

Mr Dacey —Oh no, there is an integrity system behind it.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —In where?

Mr Dacey —An integrity system behind it. It has integrity.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —The ballot paper or the return of the ballot paper?

Mr Dacey —Both would have integrity in them, but we can get copies of the procedures from our colleagues in New Zealand as well.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —That would be very useful.

Mr SULLIVAN —In essence, that sounds to me like a postal vote system without the requirement in certain circumstances at least of actually applying for a postal vote. So we have to actually apply, get a ballot paper sent, send the ballot paper back. This one is that you get your own ballot paper and declaration and send them back without the application.

Mr Dacey —We will follow it up and get whatever we can for the committee.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —They do fax back their application for a postal vote.

Mr Dacey —You can now fax your application.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Yes, you can fax back the application but we do not take it the next step.

Mr SULLIVAN —You cannot fax the ballot paper to them.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —No. If you are interested in New Zealand—

CHAIR —I am interested in existing models overseas. I am interested in the full procedures as to how they operate—

Mr Dacey —We will gather those.

CHAIR —I am not a paranoid person, but I do know that people value the secrecy in the vote.

Mr Pickering —Chair, are you interested in our providing the committee with a summary of the UK valuations in relation to that?

CHAIR —Absolutely; all that stuff.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —In relation to? I have got no—

Mr Pickering —Electronic voting, telephone voting. They did a number of trials.

CHAIR —I am interested in anything that is out there, that is in existence, that has been trialled or whatever. Certainly, I think everyone on the committee wants to improve the franchise and the ability for people to register their preference but in a way that has got integrity, that retains the secrecy of the vote, I would have thought.

Mr Pickering —And we believe there is also a report in existence in relation to the Estonian electronic voting election, so we will find that and forward it to the committee.

CHAIR —I think the thing that needs to be put on the record is that the British way of voting is a little bit different in terms of their eligibility to vote certain ways. To run around and pull out a particular system does not recognise the fact that the old Brits do not have pre-poll voting. We have a number of options. I just want to put that on the record in case—

Mr Dacey —That does not recognise the fact that we have preferential as well and first past the post.

CHAIR —And all that sort of stuff. The more we get, the better informed we will be. I just want to ask a few questions before we move on, and then I have to talk to some of my colleagues who have to leave. I am interested, going back to the electronic voting, if you could establish counting centres overseas to count postal votes and transmit results to Australia. Would that make a difference?

Mr Orr —If we did do that—

Mr Dacey —Allegedly. You would probably need to look at the law and change the law to be able to do that.

CHAIR —Yes.

Mr Dacey —Yes, you could count, particularly at the larger posts, like the Londons and Hong Kongs and whatever. It would certainly speed up some of the processing.

CHAIR —I am not necessarily talking about them, even. I am talking about defence—for example, if we changed things over there and had allocated officers performing certain duties. I am just trying to think outside the box.

Mr Dacey —Yes. There would certainly be a logistics and training issue internally. Because they would not in the main be ordinary votes—they would be declaration votes—there would have to be training through scrutineers and those sorts of people. I am not trying to throw up barriers, but anything is possible, I guess, within bounds.

CHAIR —But what about that position? In a large place like London or Hong Kong, would it be of benefit to make those areas centres where you are able to count and then transmit the votes?

Mr Pickering —Would there be an issue in relation to scrutineers being able to be present?

CHAIR —Well, I assume the parties would be advised and would be given opportunities. In London—

Mr Dacey —But the parties are there in London anyway.

CHAIR —They are there in London. I am just looking at options to overcome—

Mr Dacey —The difficulty is, because in the main they would be declaration votes, having the systems in place to be able to check back their entitlement against the roll before those votes were opened.

CHAIR —That is okay. They are the things I would like us to know. I am just floating a view.

Mr Dacey —I am not saying it is impossible, but it would be probably more difficult than—

CHAIR —And do not assume it is necessary. I am just testing some propositions. In your submissions you do note the success of electronic voting trials for the visually impaired and defence personnel overseas. I am just wondering, if we do recommend and support electronic voting for these groups over the longer term, what the resource implications are for the commission. It can only go up, can it not, in terms of cost?

Mr Orr —I guess there are a range of costs. If it becomes implemented on an ongoing basis, we would be looking at getting licence arrangements. After the software was established for the next elections, we would enter into licence arrangements, which would lower the costs, I would expect, for subsequent elections in that area. In terms of the blind and vision impaired voting, of course, there are a range of fixed costs which will always apply, and that will be the physical equipment, the transport of that equipment, the training of staff and things such as that. So there will be costs that will go up—inflation, et cetera—and it also depends on the expansion. At the last election there were only 29 locations. There is a cost for each additional site that may be used, and if we expanded it to include, for example, languages as opposed to English for instructional purposes there would be some costs initially. However, once again, that would be part of the development. That would not be passed on at subsequent elections.

CHAIR —Have there been any discussions or indications as to how many extra places in terms of blind voting we might need to look at? Paul, can I just get you—

Mr Orr —It is probably small—not that many more probably, but—

CHAIR —Perhaps you can come back to us on that. I am just interested in whether you have already formed a view that, if we want to recommend this, we can also recommend a modest expansion, and it is on the record as to where we are looking at. Obviously, if you have been in contact with various organisations and they say, ’Look, this is no good,’ we do not need to continue with this. But, if we continued with this one, who is to say the current 29 should be continued?

Mr Dacey —We will get back to you.

CHAIR —If you cannot, you cannot. I just want to be in a position—

Mr Dacey —No, we will have a look at it.

CHAIR —to indicate to the government that we have a view that, yes, people want this to be maintained.

Mr Orr —Just one comment, Chair, if I could, and that is that at the demonstration before we talked one of the options for the future was expanding it to people who are on a trip or who speak other languages. Mr Dacey mentioned earlier that south-west Sydney had the top 10 highest level of informality.

CHAIR —I have a way to get rid of at least 20 per cent of that informality.

Mr Orr —The combination of electronic voting in terms of expanding the application with possible languages has the impact of at least the voter knowing that they may be about to cast an informal vote.

CHAIR —That was going to be my next question—whether there is a natural limit to extending it across the community.

Mr Dacey —I guess the natural limit is the limit of funds.

CHAIR —Yes, that is exactly it.

Mr Dacey —It just gets to the stage where it would not be effective.

CHAIR —I know that in the previous government there were recommendations in terms of the informality where there was an attempt to educate and advertise, and there were some positive results.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —I have a question about that. We may have in our offices registered postal voters on an electorate-by-electorate basis. I notice you have a list there. I do not think it is in there. I am not sure of the day, but would it be possible just to provide it?

Mr Dacey —The numbers of registered postal voters by electorate?

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Yes.

Mr Dacey —We could do that, yes.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Not now but after, if you wouldn’t mind.

Mr Orr —It is by state only at the moment in the submissions, I think.

Mr Dacey —In the submission you have it.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —We have it by state there.

Mr Dacey —I have it by state.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —No, you had it by division.

Mr Dacey —Sorry, by division. Yes, I have it by division.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —We may have it in our offices, and I have lost the material, but I would be interested to follow this through.

CHAIR —What about the greater use of magnifiers? Are you happy for that in Electoral Commission offices?

Mr Orr —There is a practical issue, and that is that at election times, whilst there are pre-poll voting centres often off-site from the divisional office, people still come to those offices. When we site the pre-poll voting centre it is looked at for accessibility et cetera. Many of our offices now have relatively small voting areas with a potential in their foyer areas, and to establish a closed circuit or a magnifying machine does take a little bit of space because of the positioning of that.

CHAIR —I am not suggesting it go in every office. What I am suggesting is that if you survey your offices and at least give us an indication—

Mr Dacey —If the office is capable of—

CHAIR —Not just capable.

Mr Dacey —deploying that equipment size-wise, I imagine?

CHAIR —Size-wise, but if it is an area of need. Not every office is going to need it. You are developing your contacts. All I am saying is that, if we can get an indication, we can work it out.

Mr Orr —Can I just comment that the number of GPVs by division is actually in submission No. 2 from the AEC, annex 3.

CHAIR —Annex 3?

Mr Orr —GPVs by division is in submission 2 of the AEC. So you will have that in your documentation.

CHAIR —Which one?

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —If you would not mind just resending it?

Mr Orr —The secretariat has it here. That is okay.

CHAIR —I just want to get a few things on the record. If electronic voting is supported into the future, is it your view that the AEC is well positioned to manage your service delivery?

Mr Dacey —Subject to funding, yes.

CHAIR —Subject to funding. So, in effect—

Mr Dacey —Yes.

CHAIR —the funding is the problem for you?

Mr Dacey —And subject to the timeliness. I think Ms Birkenhead was saying this morning that, if we have to go to an open tender process, we need quite a bit of lead time before an event before we can get something out.

CHAIR —That is why we are, if we are going to make recommendations, trying to quantify what we are looking at. In terms of the government and funding, it is all interlinked. That is why I am asking those questions.

Mr SULLIVAN —There were 29 vision impaired sites at the most recent election. If there were to be 33 at the next, would that require you to go to open tender for the process?

Mr Orr —The need for tender is not tied up with the number of locations; it is tied up with the actual software. Because it was a once-off, no licences were bought for the software. It was a once-off thing and it was for a trial. If it was to become an ongoing process, in accordance with the procurement guidelines, we would probably have to go to an open tender.

Mr Dacey —So whether we had 15 or 35, it does not matter—

Mr Orr —That is an administrative overhead to manage that.

Mr Dacey —we would still need to go to an open tender.

Mr Orr —It is the system itself where the tenders are involved.

Mr SULLIVAN —So if we went to another trial that increased the last trial by four, till we have trialled 150. Okay, I understand. Thank you.

CHAIR —I am just interested if you can foresee any changes that would be made to the electronic voting systems if they were continued in terms of—

Mr Dacey —I think Mr Orr and Ms Birkenhead flagged the possibility of languages, translations, for example.

CHAIR —Yes.

Mr Orr —Yes, there is the issue I guess Mr Scott raised today where. We had the referendum wording. In terms of our reviews of the voting process at the last election it raised a number of issues. Some of those related to the legislation that was in place, and we have some comments in our submissions or in the review process about that. In terms of the actual systems themselves—

Ms Birkenhead —If sighted voters were allowed to use the system we would have it so that they could choose not to print out in a barcode but print out their actual ballot paper so they can see it, but otherwise we probably would not change the blind system that much. With the Defence system we really only want to go to electronic distribution of PINs and registration to save that three-week paper trail backwards and forwards to Europe.

CHAIR —Back to the general postal voters, at the moment there is a restriction as to how far they live from a polling place. Do you see any advantages with tinkering with that?

Mr Dacey —We have looked at Queensland, where it is 15 kilometres rather than 20 kilometres. Interestingly, there are 38,000 GPVs in Queensland and only 70 of those are outside 15 kilometres, between 15 and 20.

CHAIR —In other words, they have already done the deed?

Mr Dacey —They have done it, yes. So between 15 and 20 does not seem to make a great difference when it is 70 over 38,000.

CHAIR —No. But I am interested in that figure so that we can put it in a report.

Mr Dacey —For example—Mr Scott has gone—there are 4,219 GPVs in Maranoa and only 33 of those meet the 15-kilometre rule; the rest meet the 20-kilometre rule. So it is 33 out of 4,200. It is very small.

CHAIR —So there is nothing else that needs to be looked at?

Mr SULLIVAN —Mr Chairman, in postal voters generally, not just the registered ones, health reasons are a reason why somebody can apply for a postal vote, but that is not broken down in any way, is it?

Mr Orr —We do not know.

Mr SULLIVAN —In the context of—

Mr Dacey —For approaching maternity or caring for someone.

Mr SULLIVAN —In the context of what is an expensive system of proceeding voting opportunities for vision impaired people or blind people, what would be required to actually have a tick box on the postal vote application form that mentions vision impairment? That would require a change of legislation, would it not?

Mr Orr —Yes. In the postal sense what would that achieve, Mr Sullivan? I am not quite sure.

Mr SULLIVAN —It would start to tell you the number of blind people who were actually voting. I know I have two on Bribie Island who live within a couple of kilometres of a polling booth who get a postal vote because they are blind. Somebody can come and help them. They do not necessarily have to go and do that. But I also know in the hospitals and the nursing homes elderly people actually like to be involved in the process of going to the polling booth and casting their vote. They feel that they have participated in the election, whereas a postal vote does not feel like they are participating, and I am just wondering how many vision impaired people might use a system were it there and more general and get to feel like they are participating.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Can I speak quickly, Mr Chair?

Mr Dacey —That raises issues of privacy, but it is something we can have a look at.

CHAIR —Yes.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —It could be the numbers here. I notice the general postal voters in Maranoa. They would be the registered postal voters?

CHAIR —What page?

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —This is at page 33 in the—

Mr SULLIVAN —We just said the number while you were out of the room.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Yes. But I think that in the last election or, if not, the one before there were something like 10,000 to 12,000 people in Maranoa who voted postal. You get an enormous influx of people going away for holidays and all that sort of thing. The question really is, whether it is that or any other seat: of the number of postal votes registered and issued, do you have any figures as to how many were returned? Do we get a good return of them or not?

CHAIR —It is usually around the 90 per cent mark.

Mr Orr —You have got it.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Yes, we do somewhere.

CHAIR —I would have to check it. There are some figures here we have got in one of these supplementaries.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —It is just a general question.

CHAIR —It is usually around the 90 per cent mark, but 36 was the late—

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Yes, but that is the ones that were received late. This is those that have—

Mr Dacey —Having a returned—

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —In other words, it becomes an informal vote. They really end up as an informal vote.

Ms Birkenhead —Not returned.

Mr Dacey —No, not returned.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —How do they show on the returns of every particular division?

Mr Orr —They could not return their postal vote. If they vote by post they are a non-voter. Often people who might return a postal vote might vote by other means. So the fact—

Ms Davis —They might actually turn up to the polling booth. They change their mind.

Mr Orr —So the fact that there is a gap does not mean they did not actually vote. There is always a group of those people who do not return it who vote.

Mr Dacey —Or they could have gone into town.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —It would be a very hard figure to really find.

Mr Dacey —They could have into town the week before and had a prepoll vote, for example.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Okay. Yes, it looks like we have got a fair number. I think we have 10,000 or 12,000—

Mr Orr —Yes, that number rings a bell.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —with 14,000 one year.

CHAIR —The supplementary submission on 16 October, where you have got rejected postal votes cast or received late, cast late, received late, there are a lot of zeros there. I just assume that the other number, just incorporating those, is by the divisional returning officer?

Mr Orr —How those numbers have come about is that in our system where rejected declaration votes are processed they are required to record the reason why they were rejected—

CHAIR —Yes.

Mr Orr —because there is a letter which then matches that type of rejection code that is then sent to that person. There are about 30 different types of rejection codes. So the operator is required to select the reason for rejection. So where there are some zeros there and others, it may be they have not been clearly defined in how they have interpreted that.

CHAIR —There are an awful lot of zeros—

Mr Orr —That is right.

CHAIR —in a lot of divisions. I am not being critical. It just seems to me that the only explanation I can offer is that in some of the divisional offices they just put them into either ‘cast late’ or ‘received late’.

Mr Orr —To me it looks like that could have happened, yes.

Mr Dacey —It could; it is possible.

CHAIR —I am not critical. I just want to try to get an explanation.

Mr Orr —It is unusual to have that breakdown.

CHAIR —Very few have broken them up into ‘cast late’ or ‘received’. I think it is six of one and half a dozen of the other.

If there are no further questions, I thank you all for your attendance and the evidence that you have given. As usual, it is of the highest standard. I will now adjourn very briefly and we will get the Australian Electoral Officer for the Northern Territory.

Proceedings suspended from 11.47 am to 11.57 am