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Monday, 11 November 2002
Page: 5927

Senator FERRIS (4:02 PM) —On behalf of Senator Mason, I present the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters entitled Integrity of the electoral roll: report on the review of Audit Report No. 42 and seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.

Senator FERRIS —I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I seek leave to incorporate the tabling statement in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows

Mr President, the Report I have just tabled on behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters presents the Committee's findings and recommendations arising out of a review of an Auditor-General's Report on the Integrity of the Electoral Roll. The Audit Report, Audit Report No. 42, 2001-02, Integrity of the Electoral Roll, was tabled in April this year.

The integrity of the Electoral Roll is of fundamental importance to the integrity of our system of representative democracy. It has been the subject of a number of previous inquiries. Audit Report No. 42 analysed the key components of Electoral Roll integrity—namely accuracy, completeness, validity and security—and also reviewed the effectiveness of the Australian Electoral Commission's management of the Electoral Roll in ensuring the Roll's integrity.

The Australian National Audit Office—the ANAO—made 12 recommendations, all of which the Australian Electoral Commission—the AEC—agreed with. The Committee also broadly agrees with the ANAO's recommendations, and has made 10 recommendations itself. These recommendations are made with a view to enhancing the integrity of the Electoral Roll and improving aspects of the Electoral Commission's management of the Roll, and, ultimately, elevating public confidence in this critical component of Australia's democratic system.

The Committee considers that the components of integrity—accuracy, completeness, validity and security—should be tested and reported on regularly. The testing and reporting should be comprehensive, rigorous and transparent. In addition, the AEC should set targets for the accuracy, completeness and validity of the Electoral Roll where such targets do not already exist, and the targets should be used as performance indicators for the AEC.

Key features of an Electoral Roll with high integrity are accuracy and validity—that is, that it contains correct and up-to-date information on individuals who are eligible to be enrolled. These elements are important because they provide a level of assurance that the risk of electoral fraud occurring in our electoral system is minimal.

A stand-out feature of the Audit Report was the finding that the Roll was 96 percent accurate. It has to be said that a figure like this inspires great confidence.

However, on closer examination it became apparent that the independent data matching by the Audit Office only established that the Electoral Roll was accurate to 96 percent as to names and dates of birth. The ANAO did not establish that people defined by name and date of birth were correctly enrolled in the State, the Division or at the address at which they resided. In the absence of such matching, the Committee considers that the Audit conclusion of 96 percent accuracy is not proven.

However, the Committee also notes that the finding of 96 percent accuracy as to names and dates of birth on the Roll does not necessarily imply that there is 4 percent inaccuracy. More testing may in fact establish that the Roll is more than 96 percent accurate.

In seeking to test accuracy, the ANAO found that 4.4 percent of people on the Electoral Roll did not appear on the Medicare records. The ANAO attempted to match these people to the motor vehicle registry records the AEC had access to, namely those of South Australia, Queensland, the ACT and the Northern Territory.

The ANAO did not seek to match addresses. Nevertheless, the ANAO concluded that 15 percent of the electors who were matched to motor vehicle records, had vehicles registered in a State other than the State in which they were enrolled to vote. The ANAO stated that this occurred because the matching process identified instances where individuals had cross-border transactions with motor transport agencies. The ANAO explained that it understood that this was generally due to people being correctly entered on the Electoral Roll in their state of residence, but having their motor vehicles registered in another state. Subsequently the ANAO indicated that it did not have any independent evidence of this, but had accepted AEC data analysis. In response to the Committee's inquiries, the AEC indicated that it had not conducted analysis that would support such a conclusion.

Mr President, the AEC maintains the accuracy of the Electoral Roll using a process called Continuous Roll Update or CRU. The CRU process involves the Electoral Commission conducting processes described as data-matching and data-mining, using its own data and data obtained from external sources, to identify addresses on the Electoral Roll where residents have moved. Using addresses identified in this way, the Electoral Commission sends letters and enrolment forms to individuals inviting them to enrol or update their details on the Roll.

The Audit Office considered “that the CRU methodology is an effective means of managing the electoral roll and is capable of providing a roll that is highly accurate, complete and valid.”

However, the ANAO also found that to date, CRU has been developed and implemented in an ad hoc manner, without strategic planning to achieve a consistent national approach. The ANAO made a number of recommendations that were directed at addressing these defects. The Committee has made two further recommendations on this point.

The first recommendation is that the Electoral Commission develop and implement national standards for updating the Electoral Roll, and also a timetable for implementing a consistent national CRU program.

The second recommendation is that the AEC centralise its negotiations with State and Territory agencies for access to data sources.

CRU has replaced good old-fashioned habitation reviews—going door-to-door to check enrolment details—as the means of maintaining the Electoral Roll. However, the Committee considers that habitation reviews are not obsolete. Periodic, random spot checks of enrolment details at a sample of addresses should be conducted to test the effectiveness of CRU in achieving accuracy. Moreover, a total habitation review of an electoral division should be conducted in order to test by sample the accuracy of individual enrolments at the correct address.

Mr President, the ANAO also considered AEC management issues in so far as those issues affect Electoral Roll integrity. It its inquiry, the Committee has come to the view that the AEC must implement more effective management information systems. The enhanced management information systems should be capable of providing the AEC with accurate estimates of the costs of, and the timetable for, implementing enrolment activities. They should also provide adequate data to enable the AEC to properly analyse and report on its activities.

The Audit Report commented that more performance indicators could be established to better reflect the accuracy of enrolment information on the Electoral Roll. The Committee agrees with this and has recommended that the AEC use targets as performance indicators, and report on these performance indicators in its Portfolio Budget Statements and in annual reports.

Mr President, in relation to questions about the implementation of the Audit Office's recommendations, the Electoral Commission advised the Committee that this might require additional resources. The Committee recommends that the AEC report to it on its funding requirements for this task. However, the AEC should also develop and implement a pricing regime to charge for use of Electoral Roll data, and should review its pricing arrangements for CRU data exchange.

I note in passing that the AEC's funding has also arisen as an issue in the Committee's current Inquiry into the conduct of the 2001 Federal Election.

Finally, Mr President, the Committee believes that the Audit Report recommendations should be implemented expeditiously, and it will observe the AEC's progress with interest. Further to this, we recommend that the Audit Office conduct a follow-up audit to its 2001-02 audit of the integrity of the Electoral Roll. This will enable the Committee to review the progress of the Electoral Commission in implementing the Audit Office's recommendations. We consider that both of these follow-up reviews should be completed well in advance of the next Federal Election.

Mr President, in concluding my remarks I wish to thank both the Australian Electoral Commission and Australian National Audit Office for their various contributions to this review.

I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of my Committee colleagues. Like me, they have a real interest in the work of the Electoral Matters Committee and a desire through our work to continually improve our electoral system.

Finally, I would also like to thank the secretariat staff who assisted the Committee in this review.

I commend the report to the Senate.