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Thursday, 28 October 2021
Page: 10291


Mr TAYLOR (HumeMinister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction) (11:06): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Today I introduce the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Assurance of Senate Counting) Bill 2021. This bill responds to recommendations from the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters Report on the conduct of the 2016 federal election and matters related thereto and amends the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 to assure the security, accuracy and transparency of the computerised scrutiny of Senate votes.

The bill also makes technical amendments to streamline the process for counting Senate ballots in computerised scrutiny and to clarify the procedure for resolving ties between candidates.

Security assurance

This bill requires the Electoral Commissioner to arrange for a security risk assessment of the systems used for the computerised scrutiny of votes in a Senate election. The assessment must be conducted by an independent provider who is accredited by the Australian Signals Directorate.

The assessment must be conducted before a Senate election and following the assessment the Electoral Commissioner must publish a statement on the Australian Electoral Commission's website advising of its completion.

Ballot paper sampling

This bill further requires the Electoral Commissioner to assure the accuracy of the computerised scrutiny of Senate votes by arranging a statistically significant sample of ballot papers to be checked during course of the scrutiny at each counting centre. This will compare the electronic data captured by the computerised count with physical ballot papers.

The Electoral Commissioner must publish the methodology to be used for the ballot sampling process and the process used for reconciling preferences before the election as well as the outcomes of the sampling process after the election.

This ballot sampling process is not part of the scrutiny for the election. However, for transparency, scrutineers may inspect this process.

Right of scrutineers to access ballot papers

Candidate scrutineers play an important role in ensuring the transparency and integrity of Australia's electoral system. This bill grants scrutineers the right to request a physical ballot paper to be recalled during the computerised scrutiny of Senate votes in cases where the scrutineer makes a challenge that is unable to be resolved on the scanned computer image of the ballot paper. This will allow the challenge to be resolved on the original physical ballot paper.

Only an Australian electoral officer, a Commonwealth statutory office holder, may refuse a scrutineer's request. This request can be refused only if it would unreasonably delay the scrutiny of votes due to multiple instances of frivolous or vexatious behaviour on account of the scrutineer and where such behaviour could risk the return of the writs prior to the 1 July commencement of Senate terms. Counting votes and publishing information

The bill also makes a technical amendment to how ties between continuing candidates in a Senate election are resolved. This is to address any unintended results that may occur in the rare case of a tie between three or more candidates. It also ensures that in instances where two or more candidates are in an unbreakable tie during the count, that the exclusions are determined 'by lot', as occurs in the House of Representatives.

The bill further amends the act to clarify that the 'bulk exclusion' process is not required to be used in the computerised scrutiny process. The 'bulk exclusion' process simplifies the manual counting of Senate ballot papers, but is unnecessary in a computerised count.

To support transparency and public confidence in electoral outcomes, the bill requires the Electoral Commissioner to publish detailed data on votes and preferences in a Senate election within seven days after the return of the writs.

Accuracy assurance

This bill also requires, the Electoral Commissioner to arrange for an independent accuracy assessment of the counting software used in the computerised scrutiny of Senate votes.

This highly technical assessment is to provide the public with confidence that the software used distributes preferences and counts votes in accordance with the processes set out in the Electoral Act.

The Electoral Commissioner must publish a statement on the Australian Electoral Commission's website advising the software accuracy assessment has been completed, and to advise whether the accuracy of the software has been assured to the appropriate standard.

No more than seven days before the election, the Electoral Commissioner must publicly verify that the software to be used in the computerised Senate scrutiny is the assured version, and must further advise of any variations to the software within seven days of the return of the writ.

Conclusion

This bill demonstrates the government's commitment to supporting voter confidence in election processes and the legitimacy of election results, which is essential to the integrity of Australia's democracy.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.