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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
30/05/2013
Estimates
FINANCE AND DEREGULATION PORTFOLIO
Australian Electoral Commission

Australian Electoral Commission

[14:20]

CHAIR: I would like to welcome back to estimates the Australian Electoral Commission, Mr Ed Killesteyn, the Electoral Commissioner, and other officers. Do you have an opening statement?

Mr Killesteyn : No, Madam Chair.

CHAIR: We will go to Senator Faulkner.

Senator FAULKNER: I do not know if you have noticed, Mr Killesteyn, but there has been a little bit of debate in the parliament here, and more broadly, around some proposed electoral funding legislation. I appreciate that it is likely that you may not be able to help me at the table. First of all, I ask whether it would be possible for the AEC to provide the committee with some information in relation to either raw numbers or proportions of donations that appeared in four categories: from up to $1,000, from $1,000 to $5,000, from $5,000 to the current indexed amount, which I think is a little over $12,000—you might be able to provide that precise figure to us—and above that limit. I do not necessarily expect you to carry that information in your back pocket, but I am asking you first of all whether it would be possible for the AEC, in one or other jurisdictions, to provide that sort of information to the committee? I am not interested in a massive make-work exercise; I am interested, in the first instance, to understand whether that sort of information might be available.

Mr Killesteyn : We have a number of systems that have been used to record donations over the last 10 years or so. We have done some work previously to try and estimate donations according to various ranges. But what I might do, if you will allow me, is ask a subsequent question back to you so that I can refine the search criteria, so to speak.

Senator FAULKNER: I have not asked you to do it. I am merely asking whether it is possible.

Mr Killesteyn : And I am saying that we can do it but it will be subject to some of the system requirements that we have. For example, we did not have any electronic systems that recorded donations prior to 1999. We microfiched all of those. So, to go back prior to 1999 would require a much heavier exercise to go through those electronic records.

Senator FAULKNER: I would only be interested in the current or recent patterns.

Mr Killesteyn : I think it is possible for us to do that. As I said, we have done some work previously, a number of years ago, to try and make some estimates about those ranges. Mr Pirani may have some further information on that, but I think we can do something for you.

Mr Pirani : Yes, Senator Faulkner, we do have some information available. We have been taking it from the forms and entering it into our computer system. If it is only of, say, the past two or three financial years, we should be able to extract that for you.

Senator FAULKNER: Can you or the Australian Electoral Commissioner say whether this is a major make-work exercise or is this something that would be comparatively easily gleaned?

Mr Pirani : I will take that on notice. I am assuming that it is probably relatively easy because we do our section 17(2) report, which is the election funding report after each election, and an analysis is done in those reports. Hopefully it will not be a major task, but we will take that on notice and respond to you.

Senator FAULKNER: The reason I say that is, if it is a major make-work exercise, I would be more than happy for you to come back and take that on further advice. I do not actually want to ask a question that is a major make-work exercise, particularly at this time of the electoral cycle. I know there is a considerable amount of pressure on the AEC.

Mr Pirani : Thank you. We will come back to you.

Senator FAULKNER: I am certainly happy to be flexible in that. As you would be aware, some of these matters of proportionality of donations have been in the public arena, in comparatively recent times, from figures provided by the AEC, so I thought it might be possible. My next question is: what was the question you wished to ask me?

Mr Killesteyn : It was more about the year's range of information and if we have established that it is—

Senator FAULKNER: That might be a little bit out of order.

Mr Killesteyn : If it is just the last few financial years then that is not a problem.

Senator FAULKNER: I am just interested in understanding the pattern, if that is possible. I think the only thing of relevance here is recent electoral behaviour. As I say, I am trying to limit an exercise that would have unfair or undue resource implications on the AEC, particularly as we are right at the coalface in terms of the electoral cycle and the AEC's work.

Senator RHIANNON: Just further to Senator Faulkner's question, could that data be provided from 1999 on a yearly basis? It would be helpful to analyse if there is any change in the pattern over time and just get a sense of the quantitative data.

Mr Killesteyn : As I responded to Senator Faulkner, we will have a look at what the resource requirements are to produce that data. Our systems have changed over the last decade. Indeed, we have had a couple of different computer systems. We will go back and have a look at that. I have started on the basis of the last few financial years, but, if you have extended that for the last decade, we will see what we can do over the last decade.

Senator FAULKNER: Just through the chair to Senator Rhiannon, I think we have got to be a little sensitive here about the sort of pressure the AEC is under with just literally a couple of months until an election. It may be possible for some work to be done in terms of the recent period, and perhaps that could be concluded after the election, after the electoral event. I think we ought to be a little sensitive. I am not suggesting that you are not, but we need to be a little sensitive and flexible to the time of the electoral cycle we have and the work that the AEC has with just literally a couple of months to go until an election.

Senator RHIANNON: Very much so. I would agree with you. As we do not know the level of work, we should be mindful of it. We have talked before about how sometimes you do not have all the resources that you need. If it came down that you are not able to do it from 1999, I would then be requesting that there be some years before 2006 and some years after 2006. That would be very useful in helping us to analyse any trends.

Mr Killesteyn : We will do our best.

Senator RHIANNON: We have spoken before about online returns. I am interested in how that is going. Previously you said that it was going quite well; there was a good take-up from both donors and recipients. I would appreciate an update on that.

Mr Pirani : I do not have the exact figures with me. In the election report, my recollection is that we had a very good uptake from the political parties but we had less of an uptake from donors. I will take it on notice and give you the exact figures for this financial year compared to last financial year.

Senator RHIANNON: It was at the beginning of 2012—so more than a year ago—that you said that most of the political parties are now using it and a number of donors, particularly large corporations. Has there been any shift? Have people dropped off? It is obviously a great advantage. I am really interested in how it is going.

Mr Pirani : We totally agree with you. Having it done online means that we have to use fewer resources in transposing it to make it available to the public. Rather than having to search the PDF documents themselves, we are able to extract the information and put it up on the website. If it is lodged online, that extraction process is very, very simple. Certainly, we advocate the use of the online lodgement facility and, with most of the new parties who apply for registration, it is something that we actively advocate for them to do.

Senator RHIANNON: Staying with the issue of disclosure, I move to the issue that I think we have talked about before—it has certainly come up in different forums—of discrepancy between donor disclosures and party disclosures. Could you give us an update on whether you are still finding a high level of disclosure and whether you are coming up with recommendations on what needs to happen about this?

Mr Pirani : There are two issues on what you have raised. One issue is in relation to the fundamentals and a provision in the act itself. We have a provision in the act whereby the political parties' disclosure obligations do not require them to cumulate to us donations below the threshold, while for a donor the act does require them to cumulate donations below the threshold. Under the current legislation you will never be able to fully match a donor declaration form with a recipient declaration form, because of the provisions in the act. That is issue 1. Issue 2 is that, yes, we now have an IT system that enables us to quite quickly identify apparent discrepancies, but the last time we did this—we ran through it in January and February—I think we ended up with 24 discrepancies out of all the returns. The number was extremely small. Of that number, the last advice I had was that, except for one matter, to my recollection, they had all been resolved—that we had pursued the persons with the reporting obligation as well as with the parties, and we were satisfied with the information that was provided to us. There is one matter, as far as I am aware, that we have not resolved. I will take on notice the numbers of discrepancies that remain outstanding from the 2011-12 financial year, to ensure that I am not misleading the committee.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. In recent days there has been discussion within this parliament, within the wider community and within the media about possible changes to electoral funding laws. Were you asked by the government for any advice on this?

Mr Killesteyn : We provided recommendations to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters that looked at various aspects of the funding and disclosure laws. You might recall that we put forward 17 suggestions for change. Beyond that we have not been involved in any of the matters that have been discussed between the government and the coalition in reaching the position that they reached in the bill. Obviously we have been involved in drafting, but, as to the contents and the final policy matters, that was not for the AEC, and nor have we been involved in those discussions.

Senator RHIANNON: In recent times, with the latest possible changes, your involvement only went as far as assisting in drafting?

Mr Killesteyn : That is correct. We made 17 recommendations for change. Some of those were in the draft bill; some were not. What got in and what got out is not a matter that the AEC was involved in.

Senator RHIANNON: If you have concerns about draft legislation, does a point come where you convey that to the government?

Mr Killesteyn : We convey it through the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters as we have done on many, many occasions. In fact, the 17 measures that I have referred to were part of the submission we made to the joint standing committee on aspects of the current legislation that we thought were of concern, including the issue you just discussed in relation to the differences in accumulating donations between political parties and donors. That was one of the issues that we pointed to. So, yes, we will continue to point to areas of the law that we think need further consideration by parliament.

Senator RHIANNON: So all your feedback goes through JSCEM? Is that the process?

Mr Killesteyn : It is the primary vehicle by which we make recommendations to parliament to effect change. That does not mean we do not provide advice to the minister from time to time about the particular interpretation of existing legislation. It also does not mean that we have not suggested to the minister that there are particular aspects. But I do not think you will find that any of the submissions we have made through the joint standing committee are in any way different from what we are saying in other fora. That is the primary vehicle that we use and continue to use.

Senator RHIANNON: Apart from the primary vehicle, have you given any advice in recent days, weeks or months about the possible changes to the electoral funding laws?

Mr Killesteyn : Only in the context of drafting the measures that were agreed by government.

Senator RHIANNON: So only in terms of drafting what was requested of you.

Mr Killesteyn : About understanding what was being asked of us; that is all.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I would like to move on to the associated entities. We have spoken about this a few times. I would first like to get an update of whether you think there is a need to rewrite the definition of 'associated entities' and this is still something you view as a shortcoming within the legislation. What weighting of urgency or seriousness would you give it in the required changes? What is your judgement?

Mr Killesteyn : The clarification of the definition of 'associated entities' was one of the 17 measures that we submitted to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. We have a view that the current interpretation is difficult. It is the subject of considerable discussion at almost every estimates in relation to particular organisations that may or may not be associated entities. I think the recommendation we have made was to find a more objective test for associated entities, and that will still be our view if the legislation as it is currently enacted continues.

Senator RHIANNON: Do you know of any other jurisdiction where this has been successfully dealt with?

Mr Pirani : Our actual recommendations have been that we would like to abolish the definition of 'associated entity' and to adopt the processes similar to what they have in Canada, the UK and the US, where any third party who gets involved in incurring electoral expenditure above a certain threshold is required to register with the relevant electoral authority before they engage in that activity. Our difficulty at the moment with the current definition—we have been through this with Get Up!, Coastal Voice and various other organisations—is that the definition of 'substantially acting for the benefit of a particular political party' is a test that is imprecise and causes difficulties. The way the overseas jurisdictions have dealt with this matter is by not having a concept of associated entity. They have a concept of third parties engaged in incurring electoral expenditure and they have a threshold where, if you incur expenditure above that threshold, you are required to be registered. That is a process the AEC has previously recommended to JSCEM that in our view would alleviate some of the current difficulties with the definition of 'associated entity'.

Mr Killesteyn : It was recommendation No. 5 of the 17 measures that we made to the joint standing committee.

Senator RHIANNON: Did you define the activity? Does 'electoral activity' mean saying 'vote 1'? How do you define what that is?

Mr Pirani : It is electoral expenditure. 'Electoral expenditure' is currently defined in section 308 of the Electoral Act. It lists things like advertising that requires authorisation. There are a whole range of things that are listed there in section 308 of the act for electoral expenditure. It is similar to what currently applies for that other category that we have in the act in section 314(a)(e)(b) of the act, which is 'third parties who incur electoral expenditure'. We just do not see the necessity for distinction between a third party who incurs electoral expenditure and an associated entity who incurs electoral expenditure.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

Senator FAULKNER: It is true, isn't it, Mr Killesteyn, that is has been a very long time since the AEC made a recommendation or gave a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in relation to a dollar amount for a donation threshold?

Mr Killesteyn : Yes, it is. We have tended to adopt a view that, for the AEC to set a particular amount for a disclosure threshold—

Senator FAULKNER: It would not be the AEC setting it; it would be the AEC recommending it.

Mr Killesteyn : Certainly. Thank you for that correction. It would not be appropriate for us. There is no fundamental law that establishes exactly the right level of disclosure. If you look around jurisdictions right across the world, the disclosure threshold varies all over the place. Coming up with a particular view about the right amount of disclosure threshold would be difficult for us. What we would say, of course, is that disclosure is an important principle, that a lower threshold facilitates disclosure and that the lower, the better. However, against that you have to balance the imposition on organisations as well as the AEC. If you have an extraordinarily low threshold then the workload associated with that and the practicalities of it becomes unwieldy. So it is finding the right balance between disclosure and the reality of what you can practically do.

Senator FAULKNER: You can correct me if I am wrong, but my recollection is that 1998 was the last year the Australian Electoral Commission actually proposed or recommended in submissions or in writing a disclosure threshold with a dollar limit. Can you confirm that?

Mr Killesteyn : I cannot confirm it. I will take it on notice unless Mr Pirani has a view on it.

Mr Pirani : No.

Senator FAULKNER: You do not think that is right?

Mr Pirani : No, I cannot confirm that either, but I say that, if we have changed our position, it is probably because we have been exposed to the international experience. In one of our submissions to the JSCEM inquiry into political donations we went through all the jurisdictions in the United States to give details of what the disclosure thresholds, reporting obligations et cetera were there. We did the same in Canada, the UK and the relevant Australian states so that JSCEM was fully informed that here was what the disclosure thresholds were in comparative jurisdictions in Australia and around the world. We remained of the view that the actual setting of that threshold was a political decision that should be made by the parliament.

Senator FAULKNER: My recollection is that the AEC's funding and disclosure report of 1998 recommendations 1, 9 and 10 were the last time we saw a precise figure. Could you please check that on notice. I am quietly confident that that is correct. I acknowledge what you say, Mr Killesteyn, about the principles that the AEC has argued for being consistent over time. But I have wondered why the change of policy at that time. I think I might have previously suggested in this and other forums that I might have been because of the then government's hike in the disclosure threshold. However, why do you think it is not appropriate for an electoral commission, given the importance of your role in our electoral system, to have a view beyond principles given that the Electoral Commission is in the unique position of being able to make an assessment of the number of donations with the constraints which exist—which I appreciate—and the amount of donations and trying to balance those issues of transparency and reasonable administration logistics, which you point out as being the balance we have to take account of? Surely the AEC is in the best position to make that judgement.

Mr Killesteyn : I think in some ways you have answered the question for me. As I said, when you look around jurisdictions not only in Australia but across the world, you see quite differing levels of threshold, from some that are comparatively high such as Australia and the UK through to those in Canada and the US, which are comparatively low. All of those thresholds have been developed through a political process that exists in those countries. Ultimately, it is the political process that determines what the final disclosure threshold would be. However, it does not mean that we will not say that the lower the threshold, the better, because that aids transparency and disclosure.

Senator FAULKNER: I understand that and appreciate the principles and that they have not changed. I accept and acknowledge that, but there are a whole lot of areas where the AEC is willing to really nail its colours to the mast with more confidence than it has been since 1998 on the disclosure threshold. Some might think that is a little perplexing. You know there are plenty of areas where the AEC is very strong in its recommendations. There are very strong and consistent positions it has taken in some critical areas—not always, by the way, embraced by government of any political persuasion.

Mr Killesteyn : Indeed, and often that gets us into an argument about whether or not we are partisan. But I would have to take on notice going back to the 1998 position and trying to understand what it was that led to the AEC at that time expressing a view on what the appropriate disclosure threshold was. I can imagine an argument that says, 'Wouldn't it be good if all jurisdictions in Australia had the same disclosure threshold?' and that might drive a particular view simply because it would be easier for all donors and political parties to have a consistent threshold right across all their operations.

Senator FAULKNER: Do you think the different thresholds across different jurisdictions—state, territory and Commonwealth—leads to particular administrative problems, perhaps not for the AEC but maybe for the participants in the electoral process itself?

Mr Killesteyn : At first blush I would think that is a reasonable proposition to start with. Differing amounts may cause additional administrative burden on political parties.

Senator FAULKNER: Are you able to say what the lowest is in terms of state and territory jurisdictions?

Mr Killesteyn : I might ask Mr Pirani if he knows that detail.

Mr Pirani : These were listed in an attachment to the JSCEM report on funding of political parties and election campaigns. I do not have it with me but they go through reporting things within Australia. I have New Zealand, Canada, US, UK.

Senator FAULKNER: But you have, for example, a major jurisdiction like New South Wales. You could say what the limit is there.

Mr Killesteyn : We can if we can find it.

Senator FAULKNER: It is what?

Mr Pirani : It is $1,000 for New South Wales, $1,000 for Queensland, $2,100 for Western Australia, $1,000 for the ACT.

Senator FAULKNER: Let us go through it slowly. It is $1,000 in New South Wales.

Mr Pirani : Sorry, this is as at the date. I cannot confirm in relation to this.

Senator FAULKNER: For the completeness of the red. I appreciate that. What date are we speaking about?

Mr Pirani : This report was November 2011.

Senator FAULKNER: So as of November 2011—

Mr Pirani : It was $1,000 for New South Wales, $1,000 for Queensland, $2,100 for Western Australia, $1,000 in the ACT, $1,500 in the Northern Territory and no thresholds in the other two jurisdictions.

Senator ABETZ: Were they flat or indexed by any chance?

Mr Pirani : They appear to be flat but I would have to take that on notice.

Senator FAULKNER: My recollection, if it assists, is that I think in these cases they are non-indexed. That represents a pretty substantial slice, obviously, of the jurisdictions in the Commonwealth.

Mr Pirani : Sorry, I will just correct one. Western Australia does appear to be indexed.

Senator FAULKNER: Perhaps that is why it is $2,100. For the completeness of the record, the other states of Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia do not have a threshold? That is correct, isn't it?

Mr Pirani : That is correct.

Senator FAULKNER: And the Commonwealth threshold is $10,000 indexed. Can you give us the current figure?

Mr Pirani : The current figure for this financial year is $12,100 and for the next financial year it will be $12,400.

Senator FAULKNER: When is that worked out?

Mr Pirani : It is worked out on a CPI figure. It is section 3201 of our act and it is worked out once every 12 months as opposed to some of the other amounts that are worked out every six months.

Senator FAULKNER: That was a when question.

Mr Pirani : It is based on the CPI figures for—I am not sure—March over September. There is a formula in section 321.

Senator FAULKNER: Do you make a public announcement about it?

Mr Pirani : We do. We make a public announcement. It appears on our web site.

Senator FAULKNER: So when was that announced?

Mr Pirani : I would have to take that on notice but it would have been after the CPI figures came out for March.

Senator FAULKNER: It is comparatively recent though, isn't it?

Mr Pirani : It is comparatively recent.

Senator FAULKNER: And you put that on the web site. I appreciate you put so many of these things on your web site which is always difficult for people like me who are so hopeless with web sites. But do you formally communicate with registered parties and others in relation to this or is this an accepted process?

Mr Pirani : We do not send out formal letters as such. We do it on our web site, we do it in our guides. Every financial year we produce documents such as the overview of the Commonwealth financial disclosures scheme, the financial disclosure guide for political parties. That is on the web site and we direct all political parties to that because it has all the relevant details of what the threshold is and the relevant obligations. This gets updated every 12 months and gets put up on our web site.

Senator FAULKNER: Right.

Mr Pirani : When we send out the returns we also draw their attention to this information.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, because I suspect there is a very small number of donations that might fall between $12,100 and $12,400, but nevertheless if there is it needs to be captured.

Mr Pirani : That is correct.

Senator FAULKNER: Or not captured, which I suspect might be more accurate.

Mr Pirani : We give out that information when we update the forms every financial year for the returns. The information is actually on the returns.

Senator FAULKNER: I thank Mr Pirani and Mr Killesteyn for that and apologise for interrupting.

Senator ABETZ: Voting more than once at a particular election is against the law. Is that seen as a civil or a criminal penalty?

Mr Pirani : There are two offences in section 339 of the act that relate to voting more than once. There is an offence in section 339(1A) where a person is guilty of an offence if the person votes more than once in the same election. The penalty for that is 10 penalty units. A penalty unit at the moment is $170. There is a further offence in section 339(1C) where a person is guilty of an offence if the person intentionally votes more than once in the same election. The penalty for that is 60 penalty units or imprisonment for 12 months or both. Under the Crimes Act, both of those amounts, because they involve either a fine or imprisonment of less than 12 months, are regarded as a summary offence not an indictable offence.

Senator ABETZ: Nevertheless it is a serious matter, you would agree. What advertising or communication does the Australian Electoral Commission engage in to warn people against multiple voting?

Mr Killesteyn : That is part of our electoral advertisement suite that operates at election time. We go into a three-phase process. The first phase is around the enrolment phase, as we call it, to encourage people to enrol. The second phase is around the day of voting and where they can vote. The third phase is around voting itself. In that suite we alert people to the fact that it is only one vote.

Senator ABETZ: It is never on a radio, TV or newspaper ad, that I have seen or heard, is it?

Mr Killesteyn : That is probably correct.

Senator ABETZ: So how can you say it is part of your suite when it is not reaching the community?

Mr Killesteyn : That would be in the householder guide that goes to every household.

Senator ABETZ: Does the householder guide go to every—

Mr Killesteyn : Household.

Senator ABETZ: These days, regrettably.

Mr Killesteyn : That is why it is called a householder guide.

Senator ABETZ: As opposed to an elector guide.

Mr Killesteyn : That is correct.

Senator ABETZ: Which is a matter of regret, but that is by the by. If all these important matters are in the householder guide, why do we bother with radio, TV and other advertisements?

Mr Killesteyn : It is a question of focusing on the primary message. The primary message is around, in that case, a formal ballot and how to conduct your ballot correctly in accordance with the full preference system.

Senator ABETZ: Can you remind me how many cases of multiple voting were suspected after the last election.

Mr Killesteyn : We have run through this before. In terms of the number of electors who admitted to voting—

Senator ABETZ: No, not admitted because if you are wise, why would you admit it? If you are of a mind to vote more than once and you are asked by an official if you are so minded, it would be highly unlikely that you would say, 'Yeah, I voted'.

Mr Killesteyn : We did have a number of people who, when they were asked, did admit to voting twice.

Senator ABETZ: And they were still not prosecuted and I regret that.

Mr Killesteyn : I can run through what we did in relation to taking action against them.

Senator ABETZ: We have been through them, but I think you are dealing with the smallest number first.

Mr Killesteyn : Yes.

Senator ABETZ: How about the biggest number first of the actual occasions where we might suspect multiple voting actually did take place?

Mr Killesteyn : What I will give you is the number of people where we found that there was more than one mark against their name—16,107 were marked twice, 77 were marked three times, 16 were marked four times, six were marked five times, one was marked six times, one was marked eight times, one was marked nine times and one was marked 10 times. With all of those cases, as we have explained before, we go through a process to determine whether it is a multiple vote in the terms that Mr Pirani has explained—that is, an intentional multiple vote—or whether it was a circumstance where a person accidentally multiple voted.

Senator ABETZ: Or indeed an electoral official accidentally crossed off the wrong name. I accept that chances are that might possibly even explain 50 per cent of them, but we do not know.

Mr Killesteyn : I can also then give you, of the number that we finally determined were multiple voting, there were 676 that were male, 782 that were female and, of the 1,458 who admitted to multiple voting, I can give you an age demographic as well.

Senator ABETZ: So women have really taken to the vote after they were granted the vote!

Senator Wong: That was a long time ago, Senator.

Senator ABETZ: I know it was, Senator Wong.

Mr Killesteyn : If you want the statistics—and I give these statistics for a reason, if you will just bear with me—19 were aged 18, 23 were aged 19, 12 were aged 20 and so forth. But by far the majority were in the age brackets of 56 to 65 where there were 147; in 66 to 75 there were 141; and 343 of those multiple votes were from people aged 76 and over.

Senator ABETZ: I accept there is quite possibly a genuine and innocent explanation such as a mobile polling booth rolls past an aged-care facility and then a citizen who is civilly minded thinks they should be taking mum and dad to the polling booth on election day and the communication is not that the mobile polling booth had been past during the week. So, unwittingly, a parent votes twice. I understand all that, but it just seems to me that, if a bit more publicity were given to the importance not to vote twice, it might encourage the son or daughter who is thinking of taking mum or dad out to vote on polling day to actually check up as to these issues and also that people cannot claim after the event, 'Nobody told me that it was against the law. I didn't know that you weren't allowed to vote ...' I know that polling officers ask you: 'Have you previously voted?' et cetera, but it clearly did not discourage the fellow that went round 10 times.

Mr Killesteyn : In that particular case, it was one of a number of cases that we referred to the Australian Federal Police for action. I guess I am trying to assure you that the AEC does take multiple voting seriously. We prevailed upon the Australian Federal Police to have what they called a 'day of action'. All of those cases that we thought were potentially grievous or egregious instances of multiple voting were referred to the AFP. In their day of action they visited, I think, all but one of the 19 cases—including that case where, allegedly, there were 10 multiple votes—and, on the basis of their report of that day of action, there was no prosecution action that was available to them. There was publicity around that issue. Regrettably, it was not taken up as much as we would like, but that was important and it also illustrated some of the difficulties around mounting a successful prosecution for multiple voting.

Senator ABETZ: I suppose that remains to be seen. Especially in circumstances where people have admitted to doing it, one wonders why police warnings were issued—because, as I understand it, that is how some of them were resolved—rather than the cases actually prosecuted.

Mr Killesteyn : There were some police warnings, yes.

Senator ABETZ: For democracy to survive, it actually relies on a huge degree of trust and goodwill between the citizenry and all the authorities that exist. Unless attempts to undermine it are stamped out quickly and forcefully, people can start to lose faith in the democratic system. I have never been much good at maths, but when you divide 16,107 by 150 electorates, I dare say, whatever the figure is, that some people have got into the parliament by a smaller margin than might have been the multiple votes in their particular electorate. I recall the celebrated case of Fran Bailey in the seat of McEwen. Chances are that this multiple voting has once or twice changed the make-up of a seat—chances are never the make-up of a government—but nevertheless we do have to be careful. I accept the AEC does what it can, it is just a pity that the AFP have not done more. I am just wondering whether raising it in the public consciousness might be a good idea. I will leave you with that thought, if I may, and turn to that wonderful topic of associated entities or not and, my favourite topic, GetUp! You will recall that I put a number of factual circumstances to the AEC about the activities of GetUp! and we are always told that it is not really an associated entity; it is an independent operator et cetera. In 2009, we were even told that to try to distance GetUp! from the Labor Party—to remove the ALP taint for good—they appointed as their director Simon Sheik, who we now know had been a member of the Labor Party for four years and was a member of the Labor Party at the time of his appointment.

Senator Wong: And is now a Greens candidate, Senator.

Senator ABETZ: Yes. Sometimes you lose them on the way through, don't you, Senator Wong!

Senator Wong: I just think that you are not going to get very far saying that demonstrates Labor bias.

Senator ABETZ: No, but a left-wing bias—which we have always asserted—in favour of the Greens and the ALP. We are told, even by the AEC, that this is an independent body et cetera. The ALP's Mr Evan Thornley—who, I think, was in the Upper House in Victoria, is now no longer so—had been on the board of GetUp! and was trying to remove the ALP taint on GetUp! for good, but Mr Sheik was appointed. How cynical can you get when it is thrown out there into the public domain when, at all relevant times, Mr Sheik was actually a member of the ALP? I am just wondering whether it might interest the Electoral Commission and they might have another look at this organisation, which always has one-way traffic. In case that of itself does not make you too interested, let me say that I have always thought that there was a close relationship between GetUp! and the ALP. It is now even closer than I had ever thought, given what has now been revealed by Mr Sheik's membership disclosure.

Senator Wong: I assume that, at some point, you are coming to a question. I would make the point that if you have a look at the campaigning by GetUp! any inference or accusation that it is somehow just a pro ALP organisation is really a long way from the facts.

Senator ABETZ: I never said that. Pro left wing.

Senator Wong: I have been very aware of a range of—and it is entirely their right—highly critical campaigns of the government as well.

Senator ABETZ: Against Labor and then in favour of the Greens. We have always asserted that it is not one-party political, but two-party political, and they wax and wane on whether the Greens or the ALP are flavour of the month but are more than happy with a Green/ALP majority that has so far guillotined 161 bills through the Senate. If we have a look at the GetUp! campaign, they are now having local 'get togethers' as they call them—your local event. We have got a GetUp! Event, in Nott Street, Canberra, where they were promoting Simon Sheik as the Green Senate candidate. How much more evidence do we need that GetUp! is pushing a partisan political barrow for electoral benefit for the Green-Labor alliance that, in fact, after the 2010 election, formed a formal alliance. There is this one under GetUp! from hosts Bob and Rosemary Douglas: 'So we can plot strategy for the local MHR and Senate candidates,' after having said that they were deeply disturbed at the failure—in this case, Senator Wong, you would be pleased to note—of both major political parties.

Senator Wong: I do not know if I would be pleased about that.

Senator ABETZ: Once again, you can read Green in this, and GetUp! is using all its facilities for this purpose. But there is still no interest by the AEC to say the one-way traffic, the personnel and the hiding of the fact that one very important person was actually a member of the ALP, none of this evidence indicates that they might be an associated entity?

Senator Wong: Of the ALP? With a bloke who ran it, who is running against the Labor Party?

Senator ABETZ: No, not of the ALP. I have said of left-wing politics.

Senator Wong: Because we are all the same. It is a bit like the reds under the chair thing, isn't it?

Mr Pirani : The AEC monitors all the media reports. When the article came out about Mr Sheik's membership of the ALP we reviewed the matter again, but as you are aware we have two difficulties: the first difficulty is that the only relevant part of the definition of an associated entity that could apply to GetUp! is that it operates wholly or for a significant extent for the benefit of either the ALP or the Greens. That is issue No. 1. We have to look at what the activities of GetUp! are, not who are the personnel who make up GetUp! GetUp! is an incorporated body. It is separate from its members, as we know from Corporations Law, so the fact that—

Senator PRATT: So the fact that they campaign against us rather than for us a lot of the time would be an illustrative factor.

Senator ABETZ: If you are 50 per cent left wing, it is not good enough. You have got to be 75 per cent or 80 per cent left wing.

Senator Wong: So is the IPA an associated entity? Given that their people appear on television backing you all the time. Is The Australian?

Senator FAULKNER: You said, Mr Pirani, that we had—I think I am quoting you correctly—two difficulties and then you went on to say two issues. They are issues, are they not? I think that is a better word to use than 'difficulties.'

Mr Pirani : Yes, Senator. I accept that. We have two issues.

Senator FAULKNER: I do not want anyone to misinterpret why I say that. You mentioned the first issue—and I think it would be appropriate to mention the second issue—but I am just concerned that the record says 'difficulties'. I know it is just a use of language, but someone, if it is not pointed out, will misinterpret it and it will mean that you will be left with an agony into the future.

Mr Pirani : The first issue, of course, is that definition of associated entity. The second issue is that a corporate entity is separate from the persons who are employed in various offices within that corporate entity. The question for the AEC to resolve is: do the activities of the corporate entity known as GetUp! fall within the definition of 'operates wholly or for a significant extent for the benefit of a particular political party'? At the moment we still do not have any evidence that would satisfy us of that.

Senator FAULKNER: Not any evidence but sufficient evidence.

Mr Pirani : We have evidence of various activities of GetUp! I accept that. We also have evidence of previous associations of various office bearers within GetUp! I accept that. But what we do not have is evidence that they operate wholly or for a significant extent for the benefit of either of the left-wing parties.

Senator FAULKNER: You and I disagree on the issue of 'significant'. I accept that and I understand you do so in good faith and that there is no agenda there. I respectfully disagree. One just wonders how much evidence we need to present each and every time. There is more and more evidence provided but we never seem to get over that threshold of 'significant.'

Mr Pirani : But it is a high threshold and it is threshold that was amended back in 2006, I think it was to increase the threshold. It is one of the reasons that we have made the point before about trying to move to a more objective test to remove this difference of opinion that seems to be at the root of the debate.

Senator FAULKNER: But it has never been tested, has it, as to whether that threshold test is going to be accepted or not by the courts?

Mr Pirani : You are correct.

Senator FAULKNER: I move on. Donations from overseas have to be disclosed?

Mr Pirani : There is no difference between donations that are made in Australia and donations that are made from overseas.

Senator FAULKNER: Right.

Mr Pirani : The practical difficulty though is that if the donor is located overseas there is concern that the Commonwealth Electoral Act will not apply to that donor.

Senator FAULKNER: Is the answer to the question that can be disclosed if they are above the threshold?

Mr Pirani : That is what I was saying. They have to be disclosed by the recipient but if the donor is overseas there is no extraterritorial operation of the act to apply to that donor.

Senator FAULKNER: I accept that but, if they are below the threshold, what is the circumstance?

Mr Pirani : If they are below the threshold, there is no disclosure.

Senator FAULKNER: I appreciate what you are saying but it is also true to say that they have to be disclosed above the threshold and they do not have to disclosed below the threshold and the threshold after 1 July will be $12,400.

Mr Pirani : That is correct.

Senator ABETZ: So if somebody obtains the services of somebody from overseas as a volunteer, does that have to be disclosed?

Mr Pirani : No, volunteers are excluded from the definition of gift.

Senator ABETZ: And if this volunteer, however, is promised free board and lodgings and food and other things, would that be considered purchasing? If you spent that amount of money on advertising, you would have to disclose it, so if you spent that amount of money on having somebody around that, say, goes doorknocking for a month, would that have to be disclosed?

Senator FAULKNER: We are talking here about a donation of time.

Mr Pirani : I would have to take that on notice. If you have some details and if it is a real situation, I am happy to have a look at it. If we are just talking hypothetically, I think there is a danger here. There are so many variables that I would end up giving you an answer that could be misleading.

Senator ABETZ: I accept that. GetUp! announced that they were getting one or more professional organisers from the US organisation Move On to help its campaign for the upcoming election. I do not know who GetUp! are campaigning for. I know it is not my side of politics.

Senator Wong: That is all right.

Senator ABETZ: Call me perceptive or whatever you like, but I do not think they are doing it for that. But they are clearly recruiting people to campaign for the upcoming election—

Senator Wong: I do not think the Institute of Public Affairs does a lot of campaigning for the Labor Party, either.

Senator ABETZ: and they said, 'We have a gentleman's agreement to reciprocate in kind at some point in the future. No money changes hands.'

Mr Pirani : But the difficulty with that is that Getup! is not a donor or a political party that would have reporting obligations. At best, Getup! would be a third party incurring political expenditure under section 314AEB of the act. There are limited categories under 314AEB of what they would have to disclose on a return. So they would not have either a donor obligation, because there is nothing going to a political party, or a recipient obligation in relation to not being a political party or engaging in political expenditure. But if they were involved in actually incurring political expenditure under section 314AEB they would have a return. So I am just not quite sure how that would fit in with any donor obligation under the definition of 'gift'.

Senator ABETZ: We are back to where we started. One guess regarding Getup! professional organisers working for the upcoming election campaign is that they are not going to be working for the Liberal Party, not for the National Party, not for Christian Democrats and not for Family First. I wonder who they are going to work for? There is still not significant evidence, according to you, and there is nothing else we can do but accept that. I think the picture is being painted more and more that these people are actively engaged and do exist for a specific purpose. That is why they were initially bankrolled by the left wing CFMEU. And the list goes on. But, despite that mountain of evidence, we are told that that is still not significant.

CHAIR: Excellent.

Senator PRATT: Yes, I might just share a couple of documents.

CHAIR: We usually have them tabled.

Senator PRATT: Yes, I will table them now. It is not a stunt or anything. It is a copy of the same material. I have only got two.

Senator FAULKNER: Not a stunt? You would not be interested then, Senator Abetz?

Senator PRATT: We had a question to an earlier department regarding so-called lies in authorised election material, and I want to ask the Electoral Commission how they deal with those particular questions using the two examples that are before us.

CHAIR: Okay. So what we need then is a resolution. Can you give me some source of that information?

Senator PRATT: My understanding is that that poster was distributed at the Lindsay election in 2007. And clearly it is unauthorised election material. I personally do not know the source of it and that is the kind of reason why election material gets authorised.

Mr Pirani : The first document is the document that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters considered in their report into the events in Lindsay, following the 2007 general election. It was also the document that led to the prosecutions in the New South Wales courts.

CHAIR: With that information then we as a committee can resolve to have that document tabled. The other document that you are referring to, Senator, has already tabled.

Senator PRATT: Yes, that is correct. I want to understand the context of authorised material and the question of truthfulness in material that is distributed. Clearly, the department gave evidence this morning—and this is not relevant to my question but it is important for background in the context of my question to you—that it does not consider the truthfulness of material; rather, it is the amount of material they distribute and under parliamentary entitlements. The question of whether material is truthful is not a question that they deal with.

My question is to the Electoral Commission regarding the extent to which those questions apply to election material and, indeed, material that is distributed by members of parliament which may or may not fall inside an election period. It would seem the key question is not necessarily the truthfulness of any document, but rather that if it be authorised that you have that accountability for the sourcing of that material. Is that correct?

Mr Pirani : Senator, the AEC actually produces a document called 'The Electoral Background on Electoral Advertising' and our powers are very, very clear. Our powers in relation to these sorts of documents is to require that the name of the person who authorised the document has to appear, plus the street address where they can be contacted at during normal business hours—plus, if it is printed by a printer, the business name of the printer and their address.

The provisions of section 328 are aimed at ensuring that people are made aware of the source of the electoral advertising and, accordingly, if they have a concern about that they are able to contact the person who authorised it and, if necessary, commence legal proceedings and serve them at the relevant street address. The AEC has not been given any role in dealing with the contents of electoral advertising, with one exception, and that one exception is section 329 of the Electoral Act, which deals with misleading and deceptive advertising that affects how a person casts their vote. That only operates during the writ period—that is, the period between the issue of the writs for an election and polling day. The High Court has read down that power so that it can only apply to how-to-vote cards. So the whole schema of that part of the act is on the basis that it is up to electors to determine the truthfulness of the contents of electoral advertising. It is not our role to deal with that and the electors make up their minds as to how they cast their votes on polling day.

Senator PRATT: It would seem that, in general, parliamentary entitlements are dealt with in a consistent way. I know that is not a question for you but it seems that, in a sense, parliamentary entitlements require a similar authorisation so that at election time they can proceed and be accountable in a similar way. Thank you.

Senator RYAN: What a range of issues to go through, Mr Killesteyn! Could I turn to your reappointment. I asked some questions the other day of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. If I am correct, your term was to expire on 4 January next year?

Mr Killesteyn : That is correct.

Senator RYAN: There was a press release from the Special Minister of State on 12 April this year that announced your reappointment from 5 January next year for a further term?

Mr Killesteyn : That is correct.

Senator RYAN: Minister, you may be able to answer these questions, because I was directed here by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. They outlined the process that would normally take place for this. When did the Special Minister of State write to the Prime Minister to commence the reappointment process?

Senator Wong: I will have to take that on notice, Senator. Obviously, you were probably referred to the fact that the cabinet requires that ministers advise heads of statutory offices, in writing, at least four months before the expiry of their appointment as to whether they intend to reappoint. We obviously have a merit based process and Mr Killesteyn is a very experienced administrator who has served governments of both political persuasions in the country very effectively. But I do not have details of the dates of process. I am happy to take it on notice.

Senator RYAN: I think it is fair to say that it did surprise a number of people that an appointment for a term expiring in January next year was announced in April this year and, as far as I am aware, the guidelines that you referred to about the notification, which I think was due on 4 September, were—

Senator Wong: Which would not be an opportune time to decide whether or not you are reappointing the head of the Electoral Commission. That was the point I was making.

Senator RYAN: No, I appreciate that. But the Cabinet Handbook also says:

As a general rule, proposals should be submitted for consideration well in advance of the time the position is to be filled, but usually no more than three months in advance.

So the guidelines which set a target to let the appointed know that four months beforehand, which is September. It strikes me that we are only a couple of weeks from there being able to be a government able to make such an announcement of one persuasion or the other and statistically that government is more likely to be elected with the majority in the House of Representatives just because that happens much more often than not and the mathematics work out that way but we have drawn it forward so very far merely to avoid what would be a 10-, 12-or 14-day delay.

Senator Wong: What is your difficulty with the appointment, Senator?

Senator RYAN: I have not heard a persuasive argument as to why a term expiring—

Senator Wong: Because we thought he was the best person for the job.

Senator RYAN: So what is the limit on how far forward the government thinks it should be appointing people?

Senator Wong: I am happy to take on notice the dates that you have asked for. I have to say it would seem to me to be a sensible thing to give the commission certainty over a period which involves an election, the finalisation of the results of an election and the referendum. I think there is public interest there—

Senator RYAN: All of which will be resolved by January.

Senator Wong: The government's view is that Mr Killesteyn is an extremely experienced administrator. He has served governments of both political persuasion in this statutory office effectively. There is a public interest to ensuring he continues. I am happy to take on notice of the details of our process if you want. I do not have those to hand.

Senator RYAN: This is not a reflection on Mr Killesteyn.

Senator Wong: That is why I am asking you: is it?

Senator RYAN: I am making it clear that it is not.

Senator Wong: That is good. Then you will not worry about the appointment then.

Senator RYAN: No. I am actually worried about the government's behaviour.

Senator Wong: If you are happy with the outcome—

Senator RYAN: No, process matters. I know the government does not think it does; I do. To meet the various time lines that were outlined to us because this is an appointment that goes to the Federal Executive Council it is clear that the process for this commenced well before April—a matter of weeks. But the time line to give notice of something for a meeting of the Federal Executive Council meant that it was more than likely more than a month. That would mean that a process for an appointment that came up in January, well after the period when the appointment expired in October—I can take your argument, Senator Wong, but by January the election and the referendum are out of the way and one way or another there will be a government and the referendum result will be clear and the AEC will be into its non-election phase—had to commence 10 months before the term expired.

Senator Wong: You are hypothesising over the time frame that I have taken on notice.

Senator RYAN: So you do not see any issue with eight months plus.

Senator Wong: I see no issue with the appointment of the man on my left.

Senator RYAN: The process I am asking about.

Senator Wong: I see no issue with the reappointment of the man sitting to my left. He has served the country well.

Senator RYAN: You are not commenting on the process?

Senator Wong: I repeat my previous answer.

Senator RYAN: So you are not commenting on the process?

Senator Wong: No. I have told you that I will take that on notice.

Senator RYAN: I have asked you whether you have a view on the process.

Senator Wong: So I think it was wrong for the government to reappoint the Electoral Commissioner? No.

Senator RYAN: That is not what I am asking you about, Senator Wong. I will take that as a typical nonanswer. Mr Killesteyn, what was the extent of the contact, if any, between you and the minister or between you and the Prime Minister regarding your reappointment?

Senator Wong: One of the things about the way in which the commission is treated is that we have both tried as political parties to make sure they are dealt with in a non-partisan way, and you are really walking very close to the edge.

Senator RYAN: I am not going to be threatened by you, Senator.

Senator Wong: Seriously, you really are.

Senator RYAN: I am asking very reasonable, factual questions.

Senator Wong: There is a public interest and a national interest to not allowing that to occur.

Senator RYAN: Stop. Get off the soapbox for once!

Senator Wong: Well, you get off your soapbox!

Senator RYAN: I am actually asking factual questions. There is no tone in my voice.

Senator Wong: Everybody in this room knows what you are trying to do.

Senator RYAN: What is that? Peer into my soul.

Senator Wong: I try not to do that, Senator.

Senator RYAN: Oh, you try not to? You will just sledge; you will just make allegations. According to you, Senator Wong, I can't ask factual questions.

CHAIR: Senator Ryan, can we go back to some questions.

Senator RYAN: There has been no explanation as to why this appointment was made 10 months early.

Senator Wong: And there has been no explanation as to why you have such difficulty with it.

Senator RYAN: I have no difficulty with the commissioner. But to you the outcome is the only thing that matters, isn't it? The process does not matter to you.

Senator Wong: No, the public statements of the coalition make very clear—

Senator RYAN: This government's disregard for process is clear.

Senator Wong: I do not know if you were amongst them but, clearly, some of your colleagues did not like the outcome and that is why you are focusing on process, so don't pretend you're pure in this—don't pretend.

Senator RYAN: Don't you try and tar people merely because you don't like the comments.

CHAIR: Senator and Minister, can we go back to the process of asking questions.

Senator Wong: Senator Ryan, why are you so sensitive?

Senator RYAN: I am not sensitive at all. I am far from sensitive about your allegations.

CHAIR: Senator Ryan, can you resist responding to interjections and just put your question.

Senator RYAN: I am asking factual questions. On the extent of the contact, Mr Killesteyn, I asked if there was any—I have no idea about this process—between yourself and the minister or yourself and the Prime Minister regarding your reappointment.

Mr Killesteyn : I am not the controller of the process.

Senator RYAN: I realise that. It might be entirely reactive.

Mr Killesteyn : I was asked to provide the normal declarations of conflict of interest, a CV, which I provided, and that fed into the process. That was around March, is my recollection. Obviously, I had indicated to the minister that I was interested in continuing my appointment. That was on the basis of what I thought was an important issue of continuity around some pretty fundamental reforms that we had been taking forward in relation to the AEC's organisation and its organisational structure. Beyond that, the process, I had no further contact with the minister or, indeed, with the Prime Minister—I think that would be unusual.

Senator RYAN: That was genuine query as to whether you had any contact with the Prime Minister. Following that you were effectively advised of the outcome?

Mr Killesteyn : That is correct.

Senator RYAN: Or the recommendation/outcome—I am not sure what the process would be.

Mr Killesteyn : You would receive a letter from the minister indicating that the Governor-General had signed off the appointment.

Senator RYAN: If we go back to the first stage, you did mention there that you had notified the minister of your interest in continuing in the position and you mentioned a number of reasons. When was that? Do you have regular meetings with the minister?

Mr Killesteyn : Yes, you have regular meetings with ministers; that is fairly common. It would have been last year some time. The particular initiatives that we are focusing on are what we call larger work units. I know it is a fairly uninteresting phrase but it reflects some pretty fundamental changes to the organisational shape of the AEC, where we are bringing together the small divisional offices and creating larger work units, so it is an amalgamation of those divisional offices.

That program has just started. We started in South Australia late last year with the opening of what we call the Adelaide metropolitan office, which brings together nine offices, and we have now plans for that to roll out. We are about a halfway through WA, but there are significant changes also for your own state of Victoria, Senator, where the plan that we have is to create four hubs of six offices servicing the inner metropolitan divisions. They are quite fundamental changes.

Senator RYAN: They are replacing the old divisional office?

Mr Killesteyn : They replace the divisional office footprint, if you like. The electorates are still there, obviously, as distinct entities.

Senator RYAN: The members in the other place get quite passionate about that, probably more so than senators.

Mr Killesteyn : Indeed, and we worked very carefully to try to consult with all of the members who are affected, bearing in mind that this process is one that, I guess, started back in 1972 with some fairly small amalgamations and colocations, as we would call them.

Senator RYAN: I was not born then, Mr Killesteyn.

Mr Killesteyn : It is now rolling out in a much wider way. It is going to take us quite some time to finish that off. It also has some pretty significant implications for the staff in the AEC. I believe that there is a sense in which I would like to see that through.

Senator RYAN: I appreciate that, Mr Killesteyn. You said last year—could I safely assume late last year?

Mr Killesteyn : I cannot recall precisely.

Senator RYAN: Was it a conversation?

Mr Killesteyn : Yes, it would have been a conversation.

Senator RYAN: And you heard no more about it until earlier this year when you were asked to provide those forms?

Mr Killesteyn : That is correct.

Senator RYAN: There was only that one conversation about it?

Mr Killesteyn : The minister and I had a number of conversations about the larger work unit strategy and it may have been in that context, I think.

Senator RYAN: Thank you for that, Mr Killesteyn. That is all I wish to deal with on that issue. Mr Killesteyn, the last time we spoke we had had the announcement by the Prime Minister of the proposed election date. I think there was some discussion about that and while not being 100 per cent reliable in a parliamentary system, there could always be an early one. The truth is that it gave the AEC time to plan, probably more than it normally would, with a specific date in mind. Where are you at in your planning phase for 14 September with regard to logistics?

Mr Killesteyn : We are pretty confident about the election, but let me go back a bit. The AEC always operates on the basis of being election-ready, irrespective of whether a date is known or not. As I have said before to estimates or it may have been the joint standing committee, given the state of parliament and its somewhat precarious position from time to time, we accelerated all of our election preparation plans almost immediately after the 2010 election, so we have been effectively ready at any time—and we are still ready. The logistics are well in place. Paper orders have been made, paper stocks are there, bookings, polling places, polling staff have been engaged progressively, and the fact that we have a 14 September date is to our advantage, particularly with trying to recruit something in the order of 70,000 polling officials—that is the number now with the referendum thrown in—so that we can say to them, 'Look, it is 14 September. Can you tell us if you are available or not?'

I am very confident about our logistical preparations. We audit that every few months to make sure that we have not overlooked anything.

Senator RYAN: With respect to polling places, when will you be in a position to provide locations of polling places for 14 September?

Mr Killesteyn : I will ask the Assistant Commissioner, Elections Branch to answer that question.

Ms Neilson : We are just doing some final testing on our systems to make sure that this stuff can load accurately up to the AEC website. At the moment we are planning to have the first load mid June—that is of all the polling places that we have earmarked for election day—and then we will do an update on 1 July and an update on 1 August. Once the writs are issued we expect to upload that information daily. Also, at that stage we will be able to confirm pre-poll voting centre information and mobile polling information, and that will also be uploaded daily throughout the election.

Senator RYAN: Just to follow up on that: I understand that mobile is different, but this situation probably allows more planning for pre-poll. You will not be in a position to provide information on pre-poll locations until the issue of the writs; is that correct?

Ms Neilson : That will be loaded up to the website once the information is confirmed in our system. Once we have the schedules finalised and we have the premises confirmed with the venue owners, then we will start uploading that each day. So, information, as soon as it is confirmed, will be uploaded that night.

Senator RYAN: When would you expect to have confirmed information for pre-poll locations?

Ms Neilson : Fairly soon after the writs issue.

Senator RYAN: No earlier than that for pre-poll, as opposed to 14 September ?

Ms Neilson : No.

Senator RYAN: The last few elections have seen an increase in pre-poll locations. Do we have a target yet, or a set criteria for the determination of the number of pre-poll locations if there is going to be a change from last time?

Ms Neilson : No, we do not have those numbers yet.

Senator RYAN: So how are you determining whether, say, Higgins gets three and Kooyong gets two? They may have, say, transport routes in common, and you might be able to put one for two there. How are we determining how many pre-poll locations there will be?

Mr Killesteyn : If you like we can take that on notice and get you information about the pre-poll locations that are currently being planned. There is a question of being gazetted versus planned, so I think a lot of that information is available to us. Bear in mind, however, that most of the polling places and pre-poll centres are likely to be pretty similar to what we had in the past, so I would be very surprised if there are major differences that would cause you surprise, if I can put it that way.

Senator FAULKNER: Could you remind the committee of the date for gazettal?

Ms Neilson : For pre-polls there is no set date.

Senator FAULKNER: Well, I am just picking up on the commissioner's use of language of 'gazettal'. If it is gazetted, there must be a date of gazettal.

Ms Neilson : They have not been gazetted yet.

Senator FAULKNER: No, I appreciate that.

Mr Killesteyn : We will find that information.

Senator FAULKNER: Let me take it back a step: does a pre-polling place require gazettal?

Ms Neilson : It requires publication now, not gazettal.

Senator FAULKNER: So, the technical term we should use is 'publication'.

Mr Killesteyn : I am using old language. My apologies, Senator.

Senator FAULKNER: I am just exploring your use of old language. I am not being critical; I just want to be clear, hence the question about the requirement for gazettal. So, it is publication. But there is a requirement in terms of timing about publication, is there not?

Ms Neilson : Generally pre-poll centres have to be published before polling starts, unless for some emergency reason they need to be set up sooner, and then they have to be published as soon as possible afterwards.

Senator RYAN: Any information available on the planning would be appreciated. And the reason I say that is that the involvement of volunteers is one of the better features of our electoral system, I think, comparatively. And the length and scale of pre-polling now requires, I think, probably more planning for those volunteers than does the Saturday itself, which many people have already marked, as you have. But I will come back to that after the break.

Proceedings suspended from 15:49 to 16:04

Senator RYAN: I just want to clarify that the AEC has nothing to do with the national civics education campaign for the referendum; that is all entirely the regional Australia department, isn't it?

Mr Killesteyn : That is correct. We have an advertising campaign that focuses on just the yes/no case. We reproduce the yes/no case in the booklet. We also have an advertising campaign that goes to the formality of the referendum ballot, but in terms of the various pros and cons that people need to consider in relation to whether they vote yes or no to the referendum question, that is the regional Australia department.

Senator RYAN: Now, I cannot remember what happened in 1999: Do you write 'yes' or 'no', or do you tick 'yes' or 'no' on the ballot paper for a referendum?

Mr Pirani : The act actually says that you have to write yes or no. However, in 1999 there was a Federal Court decision that said that a tick and a cross was able to satisfy the formality rules. But the act says 'yes' or 'no'.

Senator RYAN: So there was a Federal Court decision in 1999?

Mr Pirani : Yes.

Senator RYAN: What case was that? Don't worry—you almost know these things off the top of your head, Mr Pirani; extra points!—but if you don't, feel free to take it on notice.

Mr Pirani : I will have to take it on notice. But it was a single judge at the Federal Court, and it was taken by one of the people who were opposing the republic. It was one of the groups from Sydney, but I will have to take that on notice.

Senator RYAN: Phil Benwell of the Australian Monarchist League?

Mr Pirani : Yes, that is the name of the case.

Senator RYAN: Yes, I get emails occasionally. So, a tick and a cross: is that interpreted—

Mr Pirani : The Federal Court held that there is a provision of the act where the formality rules apply that says that as long as the intention of the voter is clear then that can be taken into account. And the court construed the two different requirements in the act between the intention of the voter being paramount plus the requirements for yes or no, and they held that a tick or a cross was a valid vote in a referendum.

Senator RYAN: And 'a tick and a cross'? That could be interpreted either way—yes and no as well, I suppose.

Mr Pirani : I will have to take that on notice, but the court did go through that in some detail, because the formality rules that we had published prior to the referendum were disputed by Mr Benwell. And I have more of the details now: the case was Benwell v Gray, Electoral Commissioner [1999] FCA 1532.

Senator RYAN: Thank you; that is very handy.

Ms Neilson : Also, you asked about 'a tick and a cross'. Since 1999 there has only been a single question on each ballot paper. So, if it is a tick and a cross it is likely that it is informal.

Senator RYAN: Where is the commission at with respect to preparations for the referendum? I do, though, understand that the bill was introduced in the House this week—the actual formal section 128 bill.

Mr Killesteyn : Well, obviously we have been aware of the prospect of a referendum for some considerable period of time, and we have taken some decision to, for example, procure relevant paper stocks and make sure that they are available. It is a relatively low-risk decision, because if the referendum does not happen we can use the paper elsewhere. We have made all the estimates we need in terms of polling officials. So, because there is an extra ballot paper to issue, that increases the table loadings, if you like. So that generates additional staffing. And all of that has been communicated to our divisional officers, and they are currently in the process of securing staff. The advertising suite is being put together. We are doing market testing on a range of issues, including the design of the yes/no booklet. So, various concepts are being tested, and we hope to be in a position to be able to conclude that very shortly.

Senator RYAN: I am only familiar with the one from 1988, and I have pulled a few old ones out of the library. What are you testing? The world has changed a bit since the last yes/no booklet.

Mr Killesteyn : Sure. We have tested basically two versions of the yes/no booklet. One is where the yes case and the no case are presented together on the page—bearing in mind that it could be up to a dozen pages. So, one of the designs, which was the one used in 1998, was that each page is together, so you move across the pages. The alternative one that we are testing is that you do the yes case first and then the no case first. So, there is considerable testing about those two designs, and we have not yet reached a view on what the best one is.

Senator RYAN: Historically it has been the former, hasn't it?

Ms Mitchell : At the 1999 referendum the yes/no cases were presented in a side-by-side format so that the yes case was on the left-hand page and the no case was on the right-hand page. This time around, the way in which people consume information has changed considerably in the intervening 14 years, so we are testing different formats of the yes/no case to determine which is the most logical presentation and the most readable presentation for people at this point in time. And, as the commissioner just described for you, we have tested both a side-by-side format and a format of one case following on after the other.

Senator RYAN: Is this solely a matter for your decision, Mr Killesteyn?

Mr Killesteyn : Yes. There is no legislative prescription, is my recollection, but we do print guidelines for the way in which the yes/no cases are presented. I think it is a position that the AEC adopted, quite appropriately in my view, to remove the potential for any apparent bias in the yes/no cases by specifying principles, guidelines and templates for the production of the yes/no booklet.

Senator RYAN: I think in 1988 it was done side by side as well.

Ms Mitchell : My understanding is that in 1988 it was presented in a similar format, but we did not dictate the typeface and style at that point in time. After complaints in the 1988 referendum about the different presentation of the cases, we implemented a process whereby we were much more guiding in the way in which we expected the cases to be presented to us. It is within the commissioner's purview, because it is his job to print this product, for him to determine—

Senator RYAN: I have never heard of this proposal before.

Mr Killesteyn : Which proposal?

Senator RYAN: To have the yes case at the front and the no case at the back. I have only ever seen them side by side. It may concern some. The status quo is the side-by-side option, and it does have the benefit of people not only seeing one side of the argument at any given point in time, unless they are folding it. I rarely use the word 'conservative' to describe myself—

Senator Wong: Others might, in fairness.

Senator RYAN: Not anyone who knows me! Lots of other names, but usually not conservative! The lesson has been—and this is probably not as much of a consideration for yourself—that changing things tends to promote suspicion when it comes to referenda. As I understand it, the cases that are submitted to you for publication are prepared by a majority of those members who voted yes for the proposal in the parliament and a majority of those members who voted no.

Mr Killesteyn : That is correct.

Senator RYAN: There is no minimum numeric requirement on that, other than, I gather, that it is plural. Is that correct? The act seems to say plural, I seem to remember from when I was dealing with this in the Senate.

Mr Killesteyn : It just refers to a committee, but—

Ms Mitchell : No, it actually refers to members of parliament.

Senator RYAN: Yes. Section 11, I think it is. We dealt with the machinery changes act. There is no minimum there, so my rough guess of what it would be at the moment is that there would a lot more voting yes than no. So, the no group would be smaller.

Mr Killesteyn : Yes.

Senator RYAN: Would you take into account views those groups had on change to the booklet?

Mr Killesteyn : Yes, I am more than happy to take those views into account. But our interest, as I think everyone's interest is, is in ensuring that a booklet is readable, it is understandable, it is easily digestible. They are the broad principles we are looking at, and those are the sorts of things we are trying to test with the various designs. I should say that some of the initial testing is showing that people do not like the side-by-side format; they find it confusing.

But your point about the presentation and apparent bias that might be perceived bias—

Senator RYAN: Putting one at the front and one at the back?

Mr Killesteyn : Exactly.

Senator RYAN: That side really can't be tested.

Mr Killesteyn : There is another alternative version, which I think we did in one case, where you could turn the booklet over so that you either started with the 'yes' in front or the 'no' in front.

Senator RYAN: Yes. So you have one upside down and counter-facing. But that makes the reading of the whole thing as a booklet more difficult, because you are flipping it upside down and closing it.

Mr Killesteyn : That is right. We are just trying to test all of these things—

Senator RYAN: So what are the criteria you are going to use to make a change, because my personal view would be that for a reason to change this is a pretty long-standing method we have in Australia of informing our voters? It is no secret that I objected to the changes to remove every elector from receiving one. But to change it further—

Mr Killesteyn : I have not yet made the decision about change. We are trying to ensure that whatever we produce is the best document for purposes of informing electors generally. So the criteria will be around what the market testing tells us in relation to readability, understandability, digestibility and so forth.

Senator RYAN: I will be honest; I consider this to be a very serious issue.

Mr Killesteyn : And so do we.

Senator RYAN: While it might sound strange coming from politicians, market testing does not answer every question. What is the scale of the market testing? Which groups are you using? I assume there is going to be an age and demographic spread. What consultants are we using? How many groups are we doing? I was not aware that the change to this was under consideration.

Ms Mitchell : I will have to take some of the answers to those question on notice. We have done two phases of testing. The most recent phase of testing has just concluded. I do not have with me the detail in relation to the number of groups and the number of attendees in relation to that testing. Initial testing was done in January 2012. Twelve groups across Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia were involved in that testing. The full age range from 18 to however old we could interest people in attending these focus groups. A couple of formats were presented at that testing.

At that stage in time there were very clear views in relation to side-by-side testing. My understanding from the latest round of testing, based on early feedback, is that the views presented by people attending the testing are the same—that is that they actually find it more confusing to have the information presented side by side. They expect that the yes/no cases would counter one another when they are presented side-by-side, and of course they do not do that, because they are prepared separately and independently. So at this stage in time the indications are that people understand it better when the case follows one after the other. As the Commissioner has indicated, he will take into account a range of factors.

Senator RYAN: If the research is leading one way, what other factors are going to be taken into account?

Ms Mitchell : It is one of the things we need to get back from the research, which was only just completed last week, so I do not have all of the results yet. Part of what we need to take into account is the degree to which that was a prevalent result from the testing. So, if it is close, if there is not that much difference between what people think, that might be a factor that is taken into account.

Mr Killesteyn : The factor you have referred to—that is, the impression of whether there is any inbuilt bias as a consequence of the design of the booklet—is something that I will take into account, and I have already expressed that view in our discussion on how we take this forward. It is an important factor that we need to take into account. Senator Abetz's point about trust in the system is exactly right. So how we engage that and leverage that trust is important, and we do not want to do anything such that a perception could arise that we have done something to try to generate a particular bias in one direction.

Senator RYAN: When will you be making this decision?

Mr Killesteyn : We have to make it fairly quickly because—

Senator RYAN: The bill has to be through within a couple of weeks.

Mr Killesteyn : That is right, so our instructions are, and my instructions to the office are, that we have to finalise these guidelines so that as soon as the bill is passed we can be engaging with the various members of parliament who are forming the yes/no case on what we expect in relation to the yes/no case they are preparing.

Senator RYAN: Do you plan on making a public announcement or just informing the members of parliament that voted each way.

Mr Killesteyn : I have not turned my mind to that. I will give it some thought. I would have to look at whether there was anything in the past about—

Senator RYAN: As someone who is more informed on these issues than most—because I have a sort of a sick obsession—the truth is that the fact that you are considering change will come as a surprise to a great many people who share an interest. I am not making a judgment about that, but it surprised me and I think it will surprise a lot of others.

Mr Killesteyn : I expect you to go back in history. The issue is considered every time there is a referendum.

Senator RYAN: I do not think people realise it is being considered. I think they are just seeing the booklets. We do not have them that often. There has been one in my voting lifetime, so people's memory is really going to be 1988 and 1999.

Ms Mitchell : In fact, the research is showing that people do not remember. The research is showing that they do not even understand what a referendum is, let alone remember having seen a yes/no case booklet in the past. So I think we are probably starting with a relatively clean slate.

Senator RYAN: Other than the booklet, and I assume the yes/no booklet this time will be up on a website, as I think it was in 1999?

Mr Killesteyn : Yes.

Senator RYAN: What other referendum directed information campaigns that are not related to the proposal is the commission considering?

Ms Mitchell : We conduct an advertising campaign at every electoral event. The commissioner has indicated previously today that that has three phases to it. There is the 'close of rolls' phase, what we refer to as a 'voter services' phase, which is about 'If you cannot make it to a polling place on polling day there are early voting options available,' and a 'formality' phase, which tells you about how to complete your ballot papers.

The advertising campaign for the 'close of rolls' and 'voter services' phases is being updated to mention the referendum, as well as the election. So if the referendum proceeds we would roll out advertising that reminded people that they needed to get enrolled not just for the election but for the referendum—and the same with 'voter services'. The additional advertising being created at the moment is about how to complete your referendum ballot paper correctly. We will have advertising about that. Normally we would have a one-week phase of formality advertising. Because of the possible addition of the referendum we are looking at expanding that advertising to two weeks.

The advertising we do appears across television, radio, print and online. We are looking at the best mechanisms to reach the different audiences. We also translate our material. For this electoral event we have increased to 28 the number of languages into which we are going to translate. Ahead of a known date, hopefully, for an electoral event, we are also at the moment focusing on enrolment stimulation. This week we have commenced digital advertising promoting the need to update your enrolment ahead of the electoral event. We will be engaging in some PR activities closer to the planned election—at this stage in time—to promote enrolment.

Senator RYAN: In a minute I will turn to the strangely named 'pre-election enrolment stimulation' thing I noticed in the budget papers. The advertising for the referendum is focused on the event itself, formality and enrolment. Is that effectively the three? And by the event itself I mean 'It is happening and you have to vote twice on the 14th.'

Ms Mitchell : There will also be some advertising that relates to the availability of the yes/no case pamphlet.

Senator RYAN: In regard to the referendum machinery provisions changes that went through a couple of weeks ago, Mr Pirani, to clarify, in terms of the impact that has on the conduct of a referendum, it means that the booklet no longer goes to each elector but goes to the household at which an elector is?

Mr Pirani : The actual amendment refers to an address that we have from the roll. So the starting off point is that we will be examining the address information we already have in our database to attempt to ensure that it goes to every address. Then, it escalates to the Electoral Commissioner, who is able to send it to any other address he believes appropriate. Then it escalates to a third level to enable it to be done by email. So the basic one is sent to an address that is based on an address we have in the electoral roll at the moment, where an elector resides, then it goes to any other address that the Electoral Commissioner deems to be appropriate. Then the third tier is that it can go by email if a person so requests it.

Senator RYAN: If they do not request it I do not have much expectation that it will not end up in the junk mail folder.

Mr Killesteyn : If I can just address the email issue, because I know it was the subject of some debate in parliament. It is not for us a mainstream vehicle for distributing the yes/no information. It would only be where a person requests that information.

Senator RYAN: That is handy to know. I think that particular issue was more debated in the House than in the Senate.

Mr Killesteyn : Yes. But I am just trying to reassure you that we are not using emails as the mainstream vehicle.

Senator RYAN: Previously this was mailed to every elector by Auspost. This is quite a big change. How do you plan to deliver it. Is it going to go through Auspost unaddressed mail? Are we using Salmat for it to go with the Coles catalogue?

Ms Mitchell : We will be using Australia Post for the delivery, and we will be using a combination of mechanisms that Australia Post has available to it to ensure that we actually get to every enrolled address. The householder drop will be the first process we will use. But that does not guarantee delivery to every enrolled address, so we have actually started a conversation with Australia Post to undertake an address matching process to make—

Senator RYAN: By householders drop, do you mean the Australia Post unaddressed mail service?

Ms Mitchell : Yes. So it will be unaddressed mail. The next option is the semi-addressed mail for those addresses to which the householder drop does not reach. After that we will be looking at parcel delivery for those addresses at which there are multiple residences—places like nursing homes, where one per household might seem insufficient for the needs of the particular address.

Senator RYAN: With Auspost unaddressed mail, does that get blocked by 'No Junk Mail' signs?

Ms Mitchell : No, they still deliver. It is considered official mail.

Mr Killesteyn : Just to emphasise, there are currently 9.4 million addresses on our electoral roll.

Senator RYAN: We have had this discussion before. I think 'to the householder' has a very different impact than it being addressed to the person. We have had that discussion before.

Mr Killesteyn : But there is also some research that suggests that the householder guide, for election purposes, is very well received. So the evidence suggests that the yes/no case to the householder will have that equivalency.

Senator RYAN: It might mean that they think the next householder guide to the election, in 2016, is political propaganda and they might not open it.

Ms Mitchell : The people who attended the research actually suggested that in these times it was appropriate for it to be one per household.

Senator RYAN: With respect, I have done a lot of that market research, I have done it in the corporate world, and one can be so easily misguided by five focus groups. This is why past practice has been past practice for a long time. There is more danger in change than there is in doing it the other way. People say that—but I take your point.

Mr Killesteyn : We would be criticised equally if we just made a decision and did not consult with the community. I think we are doing our best to find the most informative vehicle for getting this—

Senator RYAN: I was referring more to the discussion around whether it should go to the householder or to the individual elector. You and I have had this debate before.

Mr Killesteyn : Yes.

Senator RYAN: If we assume the section 128 alteration bill is passed in the second week of the sitting fortnight—the last week of June—what is the time line from there, Mr Pirani, for Mr Killesteyn to consult on the preparation of materials with the members of parliament who voted yes and those who voted no.

Ms Mitchell : We do not consult; it is 28 days.

Senator RYAN: I think they get to speak to Mr Killesteyn, because he has the final say, when they cannot produce something that is—

Mr Killesteyn : They have 28 days, as I understand it, to produce the yes/no cases. We will provide to them the broad template that we would expect: font size, margin size and all of those sorts of things.

Senator RYAN: And that would include the format of the booklet, and whether you are going to go side by side or whatever?

Mr Killesteyn : Yes, that is correct.

Senator RYAN: Is it 16 weeks this Saturday to the referendum? I am just trying to count.

Mr Killesteyn : To the referendum or to the election? Or both?

Senator RYAN: Referendum.

Senator Wong: You can look it up on our—

Senator RYAN: Your submission to the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government, Mr Killesteyn said, referring to a 27-week campaign:

There are significant risks associated with campaign development in such a short timeframe. For example, the period for market testing included is too short to provide assurance that the advertising materials are fit for purpose … for mainstream and a range of special audiences. The truncated timeline includes suppliers working across weekends and public holidays—estimated costs will increase as a result.

What are the issues you are running into now that reflect that, in terms of increased costs and compressed time lines, which I imagine are applying to some of this testing that Ms Mitchell has been talking about.

Mr Killesteyn : I will ask Ms Mitchell to answer further, but I should make it clear that in putting forward a 27-week time frame, we were judging that on the basis of the government requirements for conducting campaigns, and so that is, if you like, an optimal time frame. We have never said that doing it in less time means that we could not do it.

Senator RYAN: You said that it had risks. That is why I decided to read the direct quote.

Mr Killesteyn : I just want to assure you, because there has been some suggestion that the fact that we have not got 27 weeks means that we cannot do it.

Ms Mitchell : We have mitigated those risks by actually sitting the advertising that we plan within our existing advertising framework, which has been used at the last two elections, which is well market tested, well researched and well understood by the electorate. Both market testing beforehand and research at the time of delivery has indicated that people fully understand the messages that we are delivering. We believe that the referendum advertising being situated within that same framework of advertising will convey the messages appropriately. We will be in the field, market testing the concept for the referendum formality advertising, which will come in the week commencing 3 June.

Senator RYAN: Can I turn now to the measure in the budget papers, which is the $7.3 million for a pre-election enrolment stimulation and information campaign. Now that we are in the world of automatic enrolment, which I will turn to next—and I will say direct enrolment, before you correct me again, Mr Killesteyn—what is the purpose of that particular measure? What are you going after that you are missing with direct automatic enrolment?

Mr Killesteyn : I am only repeating myself about direct enrolment. I have never, ever said that direct enrolment, or direct update, is the panacea for the level of underenrolment that we are experiencing. Direct enrolment is based on information that we obtain from Centrelink and from driver licence bureaus around the state. It has a limitation in the sense that it is only the clients of those organisations for whom we are getting data and for which therefore the opportunity presents itself for some sort of direct action. There are still many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of people who are not going to be caught by those provisions and therefore—

Senator RYAN: Feedback to my office from automatic enrolments indicated that were some very unhappy people being caught.

Mr Killesteyn : Indeed, and some of the complaints that we have had are of people who have adopted an ideological position about what we are doing in putting them on the roll. The law is that you will enrol; it is compulsory to enrol. I have to accept those complaints, but we move forward. It is a small number of complaints out of the thousands of people who we have taken direct action on. Against the background of a significant number of people still unenrolled and against the background of direct enrolment activities, which is not the panacea—it is simply one tool in our toolkit for improving the levels of enrolment—we are still in the mode of doing as much as possible to promote voluntary enrolment by citizens. The program that the government has provided funding for is aimed at that. We start in a low-key way, as Ms Mitchell has said, with some digital promotional activities, but at the end of July we will start with a traditional large-scale media approach again.

Senator RYAN: So this is what we would normally see in an election year? The enrolment campaign—

Mr Killesteyn : Exactly. But what we have done is moved it forward so that it comes out of the period that starts on issue of the writ, and it starts two weeks before the issue of the writ. It is trying to take advantage of the fact that we now have the date, and can start the campaign two weeks before. That is good for getting as many people on the roll as possible. It supplements our normal close-of-rolls period, but it is also good for us in the sense of managing the workload because it will smooth out the workload over a longer period rather than having it concentrated in a very short time frame.

Senator RYAN: Sure. Could I turn now to automatic enrolment? It is obviously being rolled out in Victoria, but I was not sure where we were or how far you had rolled it out since the start of the year. I know that last year you were using it in parts to test some systems. Is it being rolled out right across the country at the moment?

Mr Killesteyn : Yes, it is now. What we did was progressively roll it out state-by-state, starting, obviously, very small with Tasmania, and then progressively we have added states. The first cycle—and I think we are up to five cycles now—only included one state, which was Tasmania. By the fifth cycle I think we now have all states being incorporated. We have three more cycles to go before we stop direct action, and they will all include all states. But again, it is entirely dependent upon the data that we get from Centrelink, and—

Senator RYAN: I appreciate that. I am just comparing, for a couple of seats in Victoria, the numbers from April last year to April this year. The numbers are quite striking. For the seat of Jagajaga in April last year, the cycle had 392 new enrolees into the electorate, and this year it had 1,031. Some other seats broadly reflected those proportions, give or take 20 per cent. We get the information for the cycle of new enrolees, but are we seeing similar numbers of people removed—'cleansed', for lack of a better way of putting it—from the roll, or moved to new addresses? I am not sure what proportion of people being added through automatic enrolment were people who were not previously captured versus people with updated addresses.

Mr Gately : Of those numbers, we are seeing about 95,000 people either directly enrolled or re-enrolled, so they are people who have been in the roll in the past. That is about 20 per cent of the overall number of transactions we have done through the direct enrolment process—

Mr Killesteyn : I will ask Andrew Gately, our Assistant Commissioner, Roll Management, to answer that.

Mr Gately : Of those numbers, we have seen about 95,000 people either directly enrolled or re-enrolled—so, people who have been on the roll in the past. That is about 20 per cent of the overall number of transactions we have done through the direct enrolment process. So—

Senator RYAN: So it would be just under half of one million by now?

Mr Gately : That is about right, 485,000, give or take—

Senator RYAN: Wow. Over what period is that?

Mr Gately : That is over the period commencing, as you mentioned, in Tasmania late last calendar year.

Mr Killesteyn : December.

Senator RYAN: I thought it was. Would you expect that you are capturing a lot of people who have slipped out of the net, either through falling off the roll, through never enrolling or through never updating their address? I can understand why at the start there might be a larger number than you might have two or three years later, with a regular automatic enrolment process.

Mr Gately : I guess the answer to that is 'yes'. The mix at the moment, in terms of new enrolments and re-enrolments is—and I do not have the split in front of me—that for re-enrolments we rely on some of the historical information we have about the individual. So, we are picking up a number of people who have been on the roll in the past at various points. And then there is a proportion of that group who have become entitled in the past but who we had not picked up previously, and they have been picked up in this process.

Senator RYAN: Would there not be a third category of those who had never been enrolled?

Mr Gately : That is correct.

Senator RYAN: You have got re-enrolees, which are those who have dropped off the roll—how many people are you catching who might still be on the roll at their old addresses that have been stripped off the roll? Should that not be the third category?

Mr Killesteyn : They are on the roll already?

Senator RYAN: Yes, they are on the roll.

Mr Killesteyn : They are effectively a change of address?

Senator RYAN: Yes, a change of address.

Mr Gately : That is the category that we spoke about as the 80 per cent. It is about 380,000 transactions out of the 480,000 that are changes of address—movement of people. That is only a proportion of the overall movement that we are seeing on the roll, so we still see a lot of action in terms of self-starting activity—people getting online and changing their addresses and things like that.

Mr Killesteyn : That split is not unusual either. When we look at the vast bulk of enrolment transactions that we do, it is always changes of address, which by far outstrip new enrolments.

Senator RYAN: I appreciate that. You can take this on notice, but do you have a list of databases that you are drawing upon to start the data-matching checking process that you do internally—for example, the VicRoads database, the NSW RTA et cetera? I know that one of databases you were using was year 12 graduations.

Mr Killesteyn : No.

Senator RYAN: I am sorry, I thought that was one that you were going to use and you could match it with—

Mr Killesteyn : No, there are two primary data sources that give us information about individuals that we compare against the roll, and that is Centrelink data and drivers licence data, that we then compare with a range of other databases for purposes of confirming the person's identity. They are not used to determining whether a person is or is not on the roll or whether they have moved, but they are used to comparing identity issues, and that includes births, deaths and marriages, and we are progressively engaging with the various state registrars to build that data in. We have got passports data and we have got immigration data.

Senator RYAN: Your source databases are Centrelink and DIAC?

Mr Killesteyn : They are confirming databases, rather than driving the number of people that we might enrol.

Senator RYAN: The source databases to instigate the updates or changes are drivers licences and Centrelink and you have a range of verification databases.

Mr Killesteyn : That is correct.

Senator RYAN: So, if someone comes out of a drivers licence database, and they have changed their address, how many of those other databases do you check them through? Does it depend on the purpose? If it is a change of address, you might check one database, but if it is another activity like a new enrolment, you might check another database to check that they are a citizen; whereas if they are on the roll, you can probably assume that they are already a citizen or otherwise eligible. How does that process work?

Mr Gately : We apply the same rules. For example, we do not take the Centrelink and the drivers licence information and only take action if the person is represented in both. We use those as fundamental sources, but then for all activity that we undertake, we crosscheck against the other information that we have got.

Senator RYAN: So they are all checked?

Mr Gately : That is right.

Senator RYAN: Presumably it is not uncommon to have an alert pop up which is a spelling mistake in the name or in the address; how do you resolve those issues? Say you have got someone on the drivers licence database with a name spelled differently to a similar name in a similar suburb, to someone who has got a similar birthday, which you have found from other databases. How do you resolve those issues?

Mr Gately : Much of the work that we have done around the direct enrolment program is built on the 15 years or so of what we have called the Continuous Roll Update program that you might have heard about in the past. We had built some fairly sophisticated approaches to taking all of those datasets that we are using for direct enrolment and a broader group, and managing the same sort of process in terms of cross-matching information between the electoral roll and all of those information sources.

In broad terms, where there is a clear match between the information that has appeared from the external data source, Centrelink or the drivers licence databases, against the roll—that includes information about the identity of the individual: name and date of birth, as well as the addressing information in terms of its correlation to our existing address register, which is a reference resource and is another dataset that we create and hold—and where there is no uncertainty there, then we will progress to action.

If there is some uncertainty—and, as you can imagine, there are some vagaries around the way people represent their first and middle names in different datasets—we will throw that match to our staff across the divisional office network for an eyeball and to actually make a decision as to whether or not it appears that the match that has been proposed is accurate. The staff have the opportunity to decide whether or not that should be included and matched and progressed or whether it should be removed. It might be removed and become just a letter that is sent to the elector saying, 'We know something about you, please get online and fill in a form.' There are a number of different steps in that process.

Senator RYAN: After you have enrolled someone, you send them a letter to inform them that they have been enrolled, don't you?

Mr Gately : We do, just like we do for any other enrolment.

Senator RYAN: I will not recount the differences again; we have been there. Do you keep data on the percentage of those being returned as inaccurate?

Mr Gately : We keep stats across a variety of different things. Obviously, in some cases we get 'return to sender' mail, just like we would in any other process.

Senator RYAN: But, in this case, it is different because you have enrolled the person.

Mr Gately : Maybe it is worth reiterating the process. We do not enrol the person until we go through the process of determining that we think we should take action and then writing to the elector, giving them 28 days to respond to us, and then after that 28-day period we will progress to take the enrolment action.

Senator RYAN: Have you enrolled people from whom you have had 'return to sender' mail? If you send them a letter and you do not hear back in 28 days, you can enrol them. What happens if you get 'return to sender' mail in 28 days or, indeed, outside that 28-day period?

Mr Gately : If we get 'return to sender' mail during the 28-day period, we cease action in relation to that proposed action—we do not progress it. There are some instances where we get 'return to sender' mail after 28 days, and then we would go through the process of making a determination on whether or not we have made a mistake and need to reverse that action—

Mr Killesteyn : We back out. If there is 'return to sender' mail, and we have applied the direct enrolment, we back out. In other words, we revert to the record as it was.

Senator RYAN: And that applies to a new enrolee?

Mr Killesteyn : Yes. If the 'return to sender' mail happens while we are in the middle of a process, we stop action. But, if it comes after we have applied the direct enrolment, we back out.

Senator RYAN: Do you have data on the number of times you have had to do that with this process?

Mr Gately : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator RYAN: I would appreciate it if you have separate data on when in the 28-day period you have paused the process and, secondly, when you then have had to revert and amend the roll to reflect, as the commissioner said, the way it was before.

Mr Killesteyn : We will see if we can get that data for you.

Senator RYAN: I would assume that, particularly around the latter one, you would be very careful about keeping statistics because you would want to keep a record of the accuracy of the roll.

Mr Killesteyn : Absolutely. It is more about whether that has been recorded in our notes or in the records, so let me check that.

Senator RYAN: I would appreciate that, because I would imagine, given the discussions around this bill and the implementation of this, I think that there would be a bit of disappointment if there was not a number. I think that we have had discussions about whether there would be data around errors collected. To not have data on the number of errors would reopen the whole debate. I lost my side of the argument but, if you are adding people like this, you surely would have to keep data on it.

Mr Killesteyn : Sure. Exactly the same applies—and I know that we have had this debate, as you said—to errors that were made previously to eject people off when they should not have been.

Senator RYAN: But we had data around it. I will turn now to a question on notice that you provided after the last estimates, which is F42. It was with respect to the announcement of the election date and postal vote applications and the application of the election announcement to section 99B(1)(a)(i), and 184(4), of the Commonwealth Electoral Act.

Mr Killesteyn : Enrolment and postal vote applications.

Senator RYAN: Yes. I was just looking at section 184 when I asked the question. I would appreciate an explanation of how the legal advice came to this conclusion, Mr Pirani. I know that I do not have access to the legal advice, but you are particularly on top of this. Section 184(4) says:

(4) An application for a postal vote may not be made until after the issue

No! Sorry—it is 99B that I am referring to.

Mr Pirani : 99B is provisional. I think you are referring to 184.

Senator RYAN: 184. Well, in that case I do not need to ask the question. I will move to my final issue, which is with respect to associated entities. Section 287(1)(b), which you were discussing with Senator Abetz before, talks about:

associated entity means:

…   …   …

(b) an entity that operates wholly, or to a significant extent, for the benefit of one or more registered political parties;

I listened to your explanation before. You did talk about monitoring the media, though, and at various points—and I cannot remember your exact words—but you would investigate issues or have a look at issues to see if something was an associated entity if you saw something of note in the media.

I noticed in The Age earlier in May a commentary around a fund called the Industry 2020 fund. It has been in the paper a bit, but it is a fund that was managed by a person who was a union official and who is now a member of the Victorian parliament for the Labor Party. The article in The Age on May 19 was headed 'Labor silent about status of secretive slush fund' and it has a paragraph:

Last year Mr Melhem took control of Industry 2020, which he acknowledged in December had been used to bankroll the political activities of his Right subgroup within the ALP, including on the factional fight over control of the disgraced Health Services Union.

We have had discussions before about these slush funds, or funds that operate for the purposes of activities inside political parties. At what point do you look at something which may, in this case to a significant extent, operate to the benefit of one or more registered political parties? These are in a unique, darker place of the law. They are not explicitly captured, but if you have people who are openly saying they are used for political activity within a political party, it would not be too hard to say that is for the benefit of one registered political party to a significant extent. Have you looked at that fund?

Mr Pirani : No, we have not looked at that fund. The sorts of things that we would be looking at would be, firstly, whether it is involved in federal election activities. The fact that it might be involved in something with state government matters et cetera does not address the first issue that we look at.

Senator RYAN: I appreciate that.

Mr Pirani : The second issue that we would look at is what the prima facie material is that is being included there. Normally, if we have an allegation or there has been a complaint, yes, we would look at that; or if there has been an inquiry, that would generate alarm bells for us to have a look. The third thing we need to look at is that an associated entity is not just paragraph (b) or the rest of that definition. You also have to go across to the definition of an entity, which is also in section 287(1), and means:

(a) an incorporated or unincorporated body;

(b) the trustee of a trust.

We have had a number of examples that have been brought to us in the past, where all it was was a fund and a bank account that had been established. To give you an example of one that was recently in the media, there was the Craig Thomson fighting fund. That is not an entity that would fall within the scope of 287(1).

Senator RYAN: This one is a company limited by guarantee.

Mr Pirani : If we have some information about that I am more than happy to take it on board and have a look at it. But at this stage we have not.

Senator RYAN: I will forward you the information. My query here is: what is the test for operating to a significant extent for the benefit of one or more political parties? I accept your carve out with respect to state politics but if an organisation was, for example, funding activities within a political party that were integral to that political party, that could be deemed to be of benefit to that political party.

Mr Pirani : The test has the other words in there—'wholly or substantially'—

Senator RYAN: 'Wholly or to a significant extent.'

Mr Pirani : 'Or to a significant extent.'

Senator RYAN: So the issue is on the fund; it is not a test on the party?

Mr Pirani : It is a test on the party.

Senator RYAN: Exactly. Even if the fund is only a $10,000 or $20,000 fund, as opposed to a $1 million fund, the test is the significant extent of the activities of the fund?

Mr Pirani : That is correct.

Senator RYAN: Not how the contribution that makes—

Mr Pirani : I agree with you.

Senator RYAN: In this case, what are the tests that you use to determine—I am not asserting it is 'wholly' and in fact they are easier to classify—whether something is operating to a significant extent for the benefit of a registered political party? Is it a proportion of revenue spent—

Mr Pirani : The revenue spent would be the actual activity that was shown in relation to the actual entity and their activities. We quite often get allegations raised about activities of various entities, but it is still an issue of what is the turnover, where is the money going, what is the activity relating to? Those are the sorts of matters we would have to look at to determine whether it is an associated entity.

Senator RYAN: I am not sure whether there is a legal, mathematical definition of 'significant'.

Mr Pirani : We have had advice that was reflected in, for example, the material published on our website about GetUp! and about the Wielangta Fighting Fund and other matters like that. We have reflected what 'significant' is in terms of 'wholly'—it is the connection between the two words that causes the difficulty.

Senator RYAN: "Wholly or to a significant extent'?

Mr Pirani : That is right. It appears to be that 'to a significant extent' is one degree removed from 'wholly,' not that it is just over 50 per cent.

Senator RYAN: That is very helpful. The construction of that is that it is not just over half; it has to be—

Mr Pirani : It has to be close to half.

Senator RYAN: Further on the continuum.

Mr Pirani : That is right.

Mr Killesteyn : A lot further on the continuum.

Senator RYAN: I have long looked at this section and thought I might have drafted it differently. Do you simply trawl through public documents available to make this determination?

Mr Pirani : We look at public documents. In recent cases we have gone to ASIC and obtained financial records that have been lodged that were not in the public domain and a range of other materials to try to ascertain where the money is going and what it is being used for.

Senator RYAN: I was not a party to the long discussions about this, following the 2007 election, and various funds. In shorthand, again, what are your powers, if any, to seek information from people? If you ring someone and tell them and they say—because a statement of account does not tell you what they do; it just tells you how much money they have spent and that is all that ASIC records will pretty much tell you.

Mr Pirani : Most times we have been able to write to people and they have cooperated. If they do not cooperate and we are looking into whether an association is an associated entity, we have the power in section 316(3A), which is the power to approach the financial controller where we have reasonable grounds:

If:

(a)   an authorised officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a person is capable of producing documents or other things relating to whether an entity is, or was at a particular time, an associated entity; and

(b)   the person is, or has at any time been, the financial controller or an officer of the entity;

the authorised officer may, by notice served personally or by post on the person, require the person:

(c)   to produce such documents

My experience over the past couple of years has been that most organisations willingly provide the information that we have sought when we have approached them. But if they do not there is that power in 316(3A) for us to approach them if we have reasonable grounds. That is the threshold test that we are looking at. Not only have I got the associated entity test; I have then got this threshold test about reasonable grounds that I can use our coercive powers.

Senator RYAN: Sure. Thank you. The last question that I have is regarding the registration of new political parties and the timelines.

Mr Pirani : That is me as well.

Senator RYAN: Most of it is you, Mr Pirani. What are the timelines that you have in front of you now for the final consideration of registration? It looks like you have quite a few in front of you.

Mr Pirani : Since the Prime Minister's speech at the Press Club, we have received 28 applications from political parties seeking registration. We put a media release out and there is information on our website that says that the indicative time for processing an application is three months. Therefore, if you wanted to ensure that your political party had a chance of being registered by the indicative date for the issue of the writs, which is 12 August 2013, you needed to have your application with us by 13 May.

Senator RYAN: You also have some name changes proposed.

Mr Pirani : We have name changes; we have registered officer changes—there is a whole range of material.

Senator RYAN: The name changes and the registrations are going to be more contentious than a registered officer change.

Mr Pirani : That is true. But because we are required under section 132 to publish a notice in national newspapers and on our website and give people one month to object to the registration of the party, that process has built-in to it a three-month period.

Senator RYAN: What happens with respect to registration or name change? They tend to have been a bit more contentious, at least in my recent knowledge. The AEC decisions are subject to review, are they not, if someone wishes to?

Mr Pirani : They are.

Senator RYAN: What happens if the AEC makes a decision and then an application for review is made? Is there a guarantee that that would be heard by the relevant authority before the writs were issued? I see the commissioner shaking his head.

Mr Pirani : In fact, there is a prohibition on it being heard. Section 127 of our act does two things. Firstly, it suspends the register. No new names can be put on the register after the issue of writs. But it also goes further that they are not able to take action to amend, and that includes by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which is the body that would undertake the review. The process that we have is that the delegate of the commissioner makes the decision. If the person is not happy with that, they then have the right of review by the full commission, which considers the matter. If they are not happy with the decision of the full commission then they can seek merit review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. That is section 141. If they are not happy with that, then if there is an error of law they go off to the courts. We had an instance of this happen during the 2007 election with the fishing party and the fishing and lifestyle party. Unfortunately, after a decision had been made they were not able to have it resolved before the election.

Senator RYAN: So in effect the decision stands upon the writs being issued, whatever decision has been made.

Mr Pirani : That is correct.

Senator RYAN: It does not revert to—

Mr Pirani : Unless they have got to court before that date or the AAT and sought and been granted a stay.

Senator RYAN: Okay. You must seek a stay. With the number of parties that have been seeking registration, how much of a problem if they were all nominated is the New South Wales Senate ballot paper.

Mr Pirani : Good question. It is going to be an issue.

Senator RYAN: Are you going to hand out magnifying glasses with the ballot papers?

Mr Killesteyn : It is one of the challenges. It has led parliament to make some amendments to increase the nomination fee and nomination requirements to try and avoid those candidates and parties that have limited chances of getting up from being on the ballot paper. But we will have wait and see.

Senator RYAN: You are still stuck with that 92 centimetre limit?

Mr Killesteyn : We are. We have looked at that and consulted with industry to see if there is a way around this, but just at the moment—

Senator RYAN: There is not.

Mr Killesteyn : Industry in Australia is not capable of dealing with variable sizes of ballot papers. We are going to be forced to go down in font size.

Senator RYAN: That will be interesting for some. Do you then literally have more assistants or magnifying glasses to lend people?

Mr Killesteyn : Let me take that on notice.

Senator RYAN: Okay. That is something that we have discussed. That is all I have.

CHAIR: Thank you. We will see you at the next estimates.

[17:04]

CHAIR: We welcome back Mr Tune and officers from the department. We will resume now in outcome 3.

Senator PRATT: It has been some hours now since we were discussing this issue. To recap, I was trying to get some clarity around reasonable personal services, such as religious services, and banking when these are not available at Parliament House. I want to determine when members of parliament may use transport services. I note that the examples in the determination are attending religious services and conducting personal banking unrelated to the official work of an MP or a Senate. Likewise, parliamentarians can use to transport to travel to bars, restaurants, to purchase food and beverages and to attend to a myriad of other private affairs and functions. Is that correct?

Ms Pitson : I would have to check that second component for you—the bars and functions part—but certainly religious services and banking are two of the examples given.

Senator PRATT: Okay. So can we only go to religious services and banking using these vehicles? What other services might we be able to attend to? Yesterday morning I used a car to go and meet a friend so that we could go for an early morning run. When I am away from home, I like to do the normal things that you need to do in order to maintain your lifestyle. Is that an appropriate use of a vehicle?

Ms Pitson : I think the entitlement provides that it can be used for reasonable personal services, such as religious services and banking. One of the key points here is when these services are not available at Parliament House. That is one of the key terms of the entitlement.

Senator PRATT: So a social engagement like I had yesterday morning, which was exercise, or other things that you need to do to maintain your existence when you are away from home are not part of those personal services?

Ms Pitson : It would not appear to fit within the guidelines. It gives two examples of reasonable personal services, religious services and banking, when these are not available at Parliament House. That is what it is contemplating: services that are not available at Parliament House.

Senator Wong: So if she had gone for a row it would have been fine, because you cannot row around Parliament House?

Senator PRATT: I am obliged to take the car to Parliament House to run on the treadmill rather than take a car to a friend's house so that I can run around the lake. Is that what you are telling me?

Ms Pitson : As we have canvassed before, the car transport entitlement is in the broad intended for parliamentary and electorate purposes. There are some situations where it contemplates reasonable personal services where these are not available at Parliament House. Ultimately, it will be within the discretion of the senator or member to determine what parliamentary and electorate purposes and indeed what are reasonable personal services, given that reasonable personal services for one senator or member may be different to those for another.

Senator PRATT: Yes, they may be reasonable. If the department discovers that someone is doing something unreasonable in their view that, the tradition has been to bill people for that car services, hasn't it? An example given to me was a new MP who puts their family in their second car and puts other people in the first car and did not realise that they were not entitled to that second car. In the past, people have been billed for those kinds of things. Or if people have used a car when they did not know that they were not entitled to, they have been billed for it.

Ms Pitson : Certainly if we become aware of entitlements being accessed outside the boundaries, we do have processes for raising invoices.

Senator PRATT: Should I expect a bill for my trip to go for a run yesterday morning? How do I know whether I am using my travel as I am entitled to?

Mr Tune : This goes back to the issue that Senator Faulkner raised about the lack of a definition of what is parliamentary and electoral service. You get down to a common sense interpretation, I guess.

Senator FAULKNER: And judgment, wouldn't you say?

Mr Tune : Absolutely.

Senator PRATT: Yes.

Mr Tune : And the member or the senator needs to in effect make a personal judgment about whether they think they are inside the entitlement.

Senator PRATT: If someone is mistaken in their judgment, what would be the normal procedure in pursuing that?

Mr Tune : If it came to our attention, we would ask some questions if it was on the borderline or whatever. Then a judgment, as Senator Faulkner said, would have to be made.

Senator PRATT: Is it legitimate to say that people need to be provided with an alternative means of going about their ordinary personal business or not?

Ms Pitson : I am sorry. I do not follow the question. Is it legitimate that—

Senator PRATT: Many parliamentarians think that it is reasonable to travel to purchase food and beverages to sustain them while they are in Canberra. I note that there has been a particularly controversial case in this light. Peter Slipper's case was referred to the police. I can understand that there are different judgments here. But how are MPs supposed to know what the line is?

Ms Pitson : As I mentioned before, we make a deal of information available on the website. As you began this discussion earlier, you referred to the determinations. There is an expectation that senators and members will make themselves familiar with that. One of the key services that we provide in ministerial and parliamentary services is access to dedicated entitlements managers. They are always available to answers questions should senators or members want to explore whether or not a particular action would be within—

Senator PRATT: But you have not given me a clear answer about whether taking a car to go and exercise yesterday morning was a legitimate use of my entitlement or not.

Ms Pitson : Because, as we have mentioned, whether or not you consider that as reasonable use in the course of your parliamentary and electorate business is a matter for you and whether or not what you consider it to be a reasonable personal service, which is what is contemplated in this particular entitlement, when these services are not available at Parliament House. They are always going to depend on the particular circumstances.

Senator PRATT: So if I had a different interpretation of that to the department, ultimately, how would you expect to resolve that?

Mr Tune : You are making a judgment and you are saying that it is okay. If it comes to our attention somehow that that was not the case then we would be discussing that with you.

Senator PRATT: Okay. That is a legitimate thing to do. You would expect that to be resolved in what way? Clearly, an MP would stop using the entitlement in the way that you have notified them is inappropriate. Or perhaps you would bill them.

Mr Tune : Yes. That could be the case. We could seek recovery.

Senator PRATT: In that context, what approach was taken to Peter Slipper's use of travel entitlement?

Mr Tune : The situation with respect to the member for Fisher is quite different to all of that. Normally, we have a protocol which we call the Minchin protocol. If a situation, such as the one we have been talking about, escalates and we think there has been inappropriate behaviour we can run it through the Minchin protocol, which has been tabled and is available on our website. That involves a committee, which I chair, with a number of my senior people to run through the circumstances and to come to a view about the severity. It may be zero or it may be small, in which case we may ask for the money back. It may be quite major, in which case there is an option to seek a referral to the AFP and so forth. That is the normal process, if it comes to our attention. The big difference between that and the situation that pertains to the member for Fisher is that a former member of his staff referred the matter directly to the AFP. Therefore we had no role—the Minchin protocol and all our procedures internally had no role in it whatsoever. It was an AFP investigation from the very start. AFP spoke to us and sought some information, which we provided, and some of our records. Then the AFP made the decision whether to refer it to the DPP, which they did, and we are not going through the process. It was a reversal of what we would normally do, and therefore we had no role in it whatsoever, other than to provide information to the AFP.

Senator FAULKNER: Is it time for us to consider changing the name of the Minchin protocol?

Senator RYAN: He is happy he still gets mentioned virtually every hearing. It has occurred much more since he has left than it did when he was here.

Mr Tune : I could call it protocol A, I suppose. I take your point.

Senator FAULKNER: I have asked previously for the Minchin protocol to be tabled. I have a good knowledge of it and it is good shorthand terminology. Sometimes I wonder if it would be worthwhile thinking about this, particularly now that Senator Minchin is no longer in the Senate. It is an interesting historic document, but perhaps it should get a more user-friendly name. It is a protocol about how the Department of Finance deals with certain matters. I am not suggesting that be the name of the protocol, but it might be time to think about moving this along a bit.

Mr Tune : That is fine. I am using it colloquially, but I think it does have an official title.

Mr Taylor : It does. It is a long title, and I think you will understand why it is shortened to the Minchin protocol. I will read it for you: a 'Protocol Followed when an Allegation is Received of Alleged Misuse of Entitlement by a Member or Senator'. Hence a shorter version is the Minchin protocol.

Senator FAULKNER: So effectively we are referring to it by what it is best known as. On that basis, in politics I reckon you have to quit when you know you are behind. I quit. I am behind on that one.

Senator PRATT: Is the principle of the Minchin protocol that you need to reasonably discuss with a senator or member or someone else exercising an entitlement their reasonable understanding of that entitlement?

Mr Taylor : Yes. The secretary made the distinction in this area between serious allegations and less serious allegations. They are handled differently under this protocol. The less serious allegations are handled via a process of the Special Minister of State writing to the relevant senator or member and seeking an explanation, providing them with information around the entitlement and what kind of entitlement could be available. The senator or member is provided with a chance to consider that and to provide an explanation if there is an explanation. There is a different process in place, as the secretary indicated, in relation to serious matters. When we talk about serious matters, those are the kinds of matters that might suggest there has been fraud or some other criminal offence committed.

Senator FAULKNER: There is an assessment about whether a matter is serious or otherwise and whether the so-called Minchin protocol would apply. In particular circumstances, these matters can be bypassed literally by the Department of Finance and Deregulation being cut out of the game.

Mr Tune : That is what happened.

Senator FAULKNER: That can happen. You have protocols and procedures when the Department of Finance and Deregulation is in the game.

Mr Taylor : Yes, that is correct.

Senator PRATT: What concerns me about that is that, in effect, it can create a double standard, depending on how the so-called complaint about the use of entitlement is resolved.

Mr Tune : It is just the circumstance in which it arises. If someone makes an allegation, not to us but directly to the AFP, it is for the AFP to decide what they do with it.

Senator PRATT: It strikes me that the use of the Minchin protocol has seen issues resolved usually via the repayment and a clarification of what the correct entitlements is. You could look to Peter Reith—

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, but they are complaints made to the Department of Finance and Deregulation. This was not complaint made to the Department of Finance and Deregulation.

Mr Taylor : No, that is correct.

Senator FAULKNER: They can only deal with matters that are before them. They cannot deal with matters that are not before them.

Senator PRATT: The matter before us is that you may be leading us down the garden path exercising entitlements and if someone were to dob us in to the police we would not be entitled to be using those entitlements. You are telling us we can use them, and yet the AFP may say that we cannot. In a sense, the question is: what is a consistent ruling in relation to those questions?

Ms Pitson : We are not in the habit of misleading senators and members in the use of their entitlements.

Senator PRATT: I am not saying that that is done in a malicious way. You are there to support us in the use of our entitlements, naturally. We could have a discussion about the literal interpretation of whether using a Comcar to go for a run around the lake in the morning is legitimate use of entitlement, and you are telling me that it is subjective. Those things could end up in the hands of the AFP. It needs some clarity.

Senator Wong: Mr Tune has explained the procedural reasons why the particular matter you raise has been handled in this way. The issue is that any citizens can ask the law enforcement authorities to consider a breach of the law, as is appropriate. Whatever people's views might be about there being other ways that might be better to deal with a particular issue, these officers operate within the context that any citizen can do that, should they wish.

Senator FAULKNER: It is even further than that. One longstanding protocol is that once any matter is before the Australian Federal Police and it is an operational matter then there are correctly and property limitations on what any individual or agency or parliamentary committee can properly do.

Mr Tune : I certainly took the view that once the matter had been referred to the AFP I was out of it, other than to respond to a request for information.

Senator FAULKNER: For many years at this committee on both sides of the table many senators have tried to ensure that, if we find ourselves inadvertently trampling into an area which we have established is an operational matter before the AFP, you cease trampling there.

Mr Tune : That is the principle we operate under.

Senator PRATT: I raised the question because I do not want members of parliament to trample there inadvertently, be they people who take a car to dinner in Manuka. It sounds like there is a lack of clarity on the extent to which the department is prepared to declare what is within or not within entitlements.

Mr Tune : Senator Faulkner nailed the crux of the issue earlier when he talked about the lack of clear definitions in the acts around what is parliamentary service or electoral service. We, as administrators, would welcome further clarity around that. That is obviously for the parliament to decide; it has nothing to do with me.

Senator PRATT: The other question is whether it is parliamentary service or electoral service. But when you are dealing with taking cars around Canberra it is very clear that people use them for personal services because you are in effect living here while parliament is sitting.

Mr Tune : You can define 'parliamentary service' to encompass those things that you wish to encompass, if you so choose.

Senator PRATT: Yes, which is your requirement to live away from home, and that becomes part of your parliamentary service.

Mr Tune : That would clarify things for both you, as politicians, and us, as administrators.

Senator FAULKNER: In the absence of definition, I think it is fair to say that your department has depended on practice and precedent. Is that a fair comment?

Mr Tune : Absolutely, yes. We also try to advise people when they ask the difficult questions, the questions at the margins. We try and give them clear advice, as much as we can based on that precedent.

Senator PRATT: When we are making judgements about whether particular travel is within entitlements, I have learnt some things today and I am much less clear now about what those entitlements are.

Senator RYAN: Does the government keep records of how many ministerial staffers are employed by the government while on leave without pay from other organisations? They are employed by Finance as ministerial staffers while on leave without pay from other organisations.

Senator Wong: Within government or from the private sector?

Senator RYAN: People in ministers' offices. From the private sector, so external to the government. I am not sure if there is a declaration process that might be kept. I know ministerial staff make declarations.

Ms Pitson : I will answer your question in a staged approach. The engagement of persons employed under the MOPS Act is undertaken by a senator or member on behalf of the Commonwealth. We provide a range of supporting personnel services—for example, which will give them their employment contract to complete so that we can start processing them through the system. There is no part of that process that requires, as far as I am aware, anyone to nominate whether or not they are currently on leave without pay.

Ms Baker : For any staff we would know if they were on leave without pay from a Commonwealth agency.

Senator RYAN: I am talking about the private sector, non-government.

Ms Baker : No, we have no knowledge of that at all.

Senator RYAN: Is the ministerial staff's code of conduct overseen by the Special Minister of State or is it overseen by the Prime Minister? I understand it is different to the ministerial code of conduct, which I know is looked at by the Prime Minister.

Ms Baker : The staff code of conduct is administered by the Department of Finance.

Senator Wong: Could I take that on notice. Did we go to the ministerial staff code of conduct in the previous conversation? Not yet. I think this is where the issue of potential conflicts of interest to which you are alluding would be dealt with by people being expected to disclose, but I would have to take it on notice because I am not the person who deals with who is responsible for administering. As ministers you get conflict of interest disclosures for your staff and apprise yourself of those.

Senator RYAN: They are not centralised by the department of finance?

Senator Wong: I do not believe they are centralised by finance.

Mr Tune : No, they are not.

Senator Wong: I can only tell you from my personal experience that there is a regular disclosure of declarations of interests. You would discuss with the chief of staff any potential conflict. My expectation would be the chief of staff would then put in arrangements to deal with potential conflicts of interest.

Senator RYAN: And as minister you are not required to send those all to the PMO or something?

Senator Wong: I do not know what occurs with them administratively. I know I sight them and sign them. They may well be sent centrally as well.

Senator RYAN: Could you take on notice what happens to them after that?

Senator Wong: I would be happy to.

Senator RYAN: Thank you very much.

CHAIR: I have a couple of questions in relation to the transfer of responsibilities from the department—

Senator Wong: Sorry, I have just been handed something. The implementation of this code, which is the code of conduct of ministerial staff, is the responsibility of the Prime Minister's office and the government staffing committee. Any sanctions imposed—

Senator FAULKNER: That is an element of the code.

Senator Wong: Yes—and any sanctions imposed on the code are determined after consultation with the relevant minister by the chief of staff of the Prime Minister acting on advice from the government staffing committee.

Senator RYAN: Thank you.

Senator Wong: So I do not have to take it on notice?

Senator RYAN: No, that is a very good answer. Thank you.

CHAIR: My question goes to the transfer of responsibilities from the department of finance to the Department of Parliamentary Services. Could you update us on where members' and senators' entitlements are concerned?

Ms Pitson : The transfer is on track for 1 July this year. DPS have spent a lot of time and effort working up a proposed model which offers more flexibility and is less device specific than the existing model. That model is currently being costed by the department of finance and, as soon as we have finalised that costing, we will be in a position to brief the Special Minister of State with a recommendation. Together with that we will also include proposed instruments to formally transfer this function to DPS effective 1 July.

CHAIR: The responsibility of rolling out an upgrade to the computer systems and internet speed in electorate offices has been undertaken recently, correct?

Ms Pitson : That sounds like a matter for DPS.

CHAIR: That has already transferred over?

Ms Pitson : Yes.

CHAIR: I will move on to budget in relation to, for instance, communication. Is it correct that it cannot be rolled over from one financial year to another?

Ms Pitson : That is correct.

CHAIR: Can the charter budget that is available be rolled over from one year to another? Is there a limitation? Is that a rolling rollover or can you not roll that entitlement over?

Ms Pitson : Up to 20 per cent of the electorate charter budget can be rolled over from one year to the next.

CHAIR: Okay. Thank you for that. We heard a contribution today about travel and the issues of not having all that budgetary information passed over to the department and, consequently, over to the management reports. How long will there be a continuation of receiving two documents? Is this just a one-off document and then everything will be pertained into the management report?

Ms Pitson : That is our intention at this point in time. It is a one-off document intended to give senators and members some early information as soon as the upload issues that we have with the data at the moment are resolved.

CHAIR: Previously in estimates there has been discussion in relation to the amount of management reports and senators or members who have outstanding signatures. Is that still an issue for the department, or is there now a compliance of all senators and members?

Ms Moy : The certification is now of the six-monthly reports, not the monthly management reports. In the current period we have four outstanding for the reports that have already been published, so all but four of current parliamentarians have certified, as have a large number of formers. Of the reports that will be published on 27 June, we have 200 certifications already received and 140 for former parliamentarians. The certification issue is somewhat less than what previously was a major issue.

CHAIR: If there are no further questions, I thank the department again. No doubt you will be back before the committee at the next estimates. I place on record my thanks to Hansard, the secretariat and my colleagues.

Committee adjour ned at 17 : 36