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

HAWES, Mr Paul, Australian Electoral Officer and State Manager, South Australia, Australian Electoral Commission

KITSON, Mr Kevin, First Assistant Commissioner, Network Operations, Australian Electoral Commission

Committee met at 09:15

CHAIR ( Senator Reynolds ): I declare open this public hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters for the inquiry into the 2016 election. Today's hearing is part of a series of public hearings being held around the country to hear evidence regarding this year's federal election. The committee has sought to get as wide a range of views as possible, including from parties, academics, political activist groups and disability representatives, in order to complement the views of the Australian Electoral Commission and other official bodies. We will also continue our discussions about authorising electoral material by meeting with the printing industry today. In accordance with the committee's resolutions of 21 September 2016, this hearing will be broadcast on the parliament's website, and the proof and official transcripts of proceedings will be published on the parliament's website. Those present here today are advised that filming and recording are permitted during the hearing. I also remind members of the media who may be listening on the web of the need to fairly and accurately report the proceedings of this committee.

I now welcome representatives of the Australian Electoral Commission to give evidence here today. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you both that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. I now invite you to make a brief opening statement before we proceed to questions and discussion with the committee members here today.

Mr Hawes : Thank you for the opportunity to make an opening statement. The Electoral Commissioner has already provided the committee with a comprehensive opening address. My address will focus on South Australia's perspective. One million, one hundred and eighty-three thousand and forty-nine people were enrolled at the close of rolls in South Australia for the 2 July election, an increase of over 50,000 electors from the 2013 election and representing an estimated enrolment rate of 95.9 per cent of the eligible voting population, which is the highest it has ever been. More candidates in South Australia nominated at this election for the House compared to 2013, with 72 candidates nominating for 11 House vacancies, compared with 66 at the 2013 federal election. In the Senate, however, fewer candidates nominated, with 64 candidates nominating for the 12 available Senate vacancies in the double dissolution election, compared with 73 in 2013.

To deliver the election across the 11 divisions in South Australia, 584 polling places and 29 interstate voting centres were open on election day. Thirty-three different locations through South Australia operated as early voting centres in the weeks leading up to election day, and 55 mobile polling teams visited more than 286 establishments across the state in the two-week period up to and including election day. More than 7,500 staff were recruited to assist with election delivery. Of those, approximately 6,000 were employed in polling places on election day itself. Five remote mobile polling teams visited 29 South Australian communities, all in the division of Grey.

The turnout for the election, based on house votes counted, was 91.81 per cent. Overall, informality across the state was 4.18 per cent for the House, which was an improvement of 0.67 per cent on the 2013 result, and 3.33 per cent for the Senate, which was 0.68 higher than in 2013. Early in-person and postal votes counted represented just over 20 per cent of all votes counted—an increase on the 2013 rate of 18.76 per cent. Ordinary prepoll votes counted increased by 28.88 per cent from nearly 84,500 in 2013 to just under 109,000 at this year's event. Newly legislated Senate voting requirements were in place for the election, as you are well aware, and 91.5 per cent of votes were cast above the line and 8.5 per cent below the line compared to 93.47 per cent above and 6.53 per cent below in 2013.

Postelection scrutinies were undertaken and all House polls were declared by 5 August. Whilst this was longer than in 2013, the primary reason for this was the many divisions having three candidates receiving a high percentage of the total vote. The result of this was that seven of the 11 divisions in South Australia could not be declared until a full distribution of preferences was undertaken. The Senate was declared on 3 August, and the Senate writ was returned by me to the Governor of South Australia on 4 August.

Finally, I am well aware that my colleagues interstate have said this already in their opening statements but I want to place on record for South Australia an acknowledgement of the effort that my small but highly dedicated permanent workforce in South Australia put into preparing for and delivering this election. I would also like to thank the thousands of temporary staff who worked with my permanent staff to achieve the tremendous results that we did in what was a fairly challenging environment. Thank you.

CHAIR: It was indeed challenging. I am sure I speak on behalf of all the committee when we pass on our thanks to your staff for delivering a very successful election here in South Australia. particularly given the extra burdens that we placed on you. Thank you.

Mr GILES: Mr Hawes, I join the chair in acknowledging the work that you and your staff did in conducting the election in the manner in which you did. I wonder if I may draw out your evidence a bit more in terms of the conduct of the remote voting in the division of Grey.

Mr Hawes : In regard to how many teams?

Mr GILES: How many teams, any issues that arose, any concerns or complaints that have been raised with you about that aspect of the conduct of the election.

Mr Hawes : As I said, we have five remote mobile teams in the division of Grey that service the far north. Obviously, as you are aware, the division of Grey represents 92 per cent of South Australia—so, a very large electorate—and 29 different communities are visited as part of that. Because of how it is more logistically able to be managed, three of those teams are managed out of the Northern Territory, out of Alice Springs. It is sometimes easier to get from Alice Springs to some of those high areas in the APY Lands and the like to provide those services. They are managed there but they are South Australian teams.

I am not aware of any major issues. We did have to change one of the itineraries of one of the teams, and that was due to illness of one of the mobile team staff members. There are three members in each team and one of those members was ill. So, on day one, we attended the community that we did on that day and then we could not do the rest, so they were done on the following week. Obviously, we make sure we advise all the candidates. We advise the communities. We kept the same day and time, it was just a week later, if that makes sense.

Mr GILES: Am I correct in understanding your evidence that you received no complaints about the conduct of remote voting?

Mr Hawes : I am not aware of any.

Mr GILES: Just one other matter I would not mind exploring with you is your liaison in the lead-up to the election with the South Australian Electoral Commission. An issue that I have been interested in exploring in other sessions has been roll divergence, which is no longer in issue in South Australia. I am wondering if I could get you to talk a bit about the work you have done with the South Australian commission to achieve either legislative conformity or cultural cooperation, in that regard and generally.

Mr Hawes : I believe we have a very good relationship with the Electoral Commission of South Australia. The previous commissioner there used to work for the Australian Electoral Commission, so we have a very good relationship. The current acting electoral commissioner I have known for many years. We have a good working relationship. We share information. Obviously the state electoral commission has fixed terms. Every four years, their election is in March. They obviously use a number of the same staff, resources and premises and they visit the same sorts of institutions and communities that we do. So after their event they are continually sharing information with us and we are grabbing information, and we are doing the same for them. We work closely and I think it is a good working relationship.

Mr GILES: Perhaps you could speak specifically on your efforts to reduce the divergence?

Mr Hawes : Obviously the legislation has changed, and that has helped immensely. We have not done anything recently but previously the Electoral Commission of South Australia and the AEC have jointly written to electors, advising them that the legislation has changed and saying, 'This is the situation, so would you please update your details so that we can reduce that divergence.' I think it is only about 1,200 now in South Australia, so it has been dramatically reduced, but obviously we still have a little way to go to bring them fully in line.

CHAIR: What did it reduce down from to 1,200 now—tens of thousands?

Mr Hawes : I would have thought not 50,000 but maybe—

Mr GILES: Perhaps Mr Hawes could take that question on notice. I am interested in ensuring that every elector who is properly eligible is able to participate in Commonwealth election events. I think part of our challenge is to look at legislative cooperation and conformity between jurisdictions but also the practical steps that underpin that. If you are able to provide some further evidence on notice around that, I would be greatly assisted by that.

Mr Hawes : Yes.

CHAIR: I concur with Mr Giles. In particular, what has worked very well here? Obviously having a close working relationship is good, but some of the evidence we had in Victoria and New South Wales was that there was a divergence in terms of proof of identity and what documents are and are not acceptable. I do not know if you are able to advise us on that today or whether you would rather take it on notice.

Mr Hawes : If I can, I would like to take that on notice.

CHAIR: Thank you. Following on from that, what were your declaration vote figures all up, in total, and how many were finally accepted and how many were rejected?

Mr Hawes : I have some information on that. On polling day there were 795,000 ordinary votes taken in static polling places. There were 58,000 absent votes taken in polling places. There were 5,500 provisional votes taken and we had 227,000 early votes taken, and obviously they were made up of prepoll voting and postal voting. There were about 108,000 and about 82,000 postal votes.

CHAIR: When you went through and reconciled them, how many of them were not accepted in the end, were treated as informal?

Mr Hawes : I do not have the figures of how many were accepted fully and admitted.

CHAIR: That is all right. I will go to Mr Morton now and perhaps you can come back with those numbers, because in at least two other states the numbers of people who were rejected were in the hundreds of thousands, simply because they were on one roll and not the other. So it would be interesting for us to see the success you have had here in making sure that we were not inadvertently disenfranchising people.

Mr MORTON: Mr Hawes, thank you to you and your team for the conduct of the AEC in rolling out the election. It is a job that takes a lot of work leading up to what is a very big one-day event. How long have you been acting in your role?

Mr Hawes : About 12 months.

Mr MORTON: I just wanted to ascertain that you were acting in the role for the duration of the election itself.

Mr Hawes : I certainly was, yes.

Mr MORTON: How many staff were there in South Australia?

Mr Hawes : Thirty-nine staff.

Mr MORTON: How many temporary staff did you engage in total?

Mr Hawes : There were about 7,500 positions and, like I said, on election day it was about 6,000.

Mr MORTON: If I were the most junior staff member at a polling booth, what position would I think of when thinking about reporting something to my supervisor?

Mr Hawes : There is an officer in charge, as you are well aware, in every single polling place. That is the senior position in each polling place.

Mr MORTON: So the most junior of staff would see the officer in charge as their direct supervisor?

Mr Hawes : I would have thought so. A number of polling places have a second in charge, but ultimately responsible would be the officer in charge of that polling place. I would suspect that that is who a junior officer would see.

Mr MORTON: But it could be possible that the most junior of officers in a very large polling booth would see the second in charge as the person they directly report to?

Mr Hawes : Possibly, yes.

Mr MORTON: In a count centre, who would the most junior temporary staff member working there think was their supervisor?

Mr Hawes : There is a table supervisor who is responsible for a team of anything up to 16 staff. I would have thought that a junior officer working there would see the table supervisor as their supervisor. Over the top of that there are other layers, including all the way up to the divisional returning officer.

Mr MORTON: So there are table supervisors as well. Would the figure that you gave exclude the staff from Fuji Xerox who were contracted or would they be on top of that?

Mr Hawes : It would exclude the staff that Fuji Xerox engaged, yes.

Mr MORTON: So it is plus the Fuji staff.

Mr Hawes : Yes.

Mr MORTON: Do you have any idea off the top of your head how many Fuji Xerox staff there were?

Mr Hawes : We had the capacity to have 40 staff and we had two shifts, so it was 80 staff in total.

Mr MORTON: There were 80 positions but maybe over the number of weeks it could have been as high as 200 people.

Mr Hawes : There may have been some churn because of sickness or inability, so it may have been 100-odd.

Mr MORTON: Mr Kitson, could you take on notice an inquiry into how many individuals were engaged by Fuji Xerox in this process—not how many positions but how many single people churned through.

Mr Kitson : I can do that.

Mr MORTON: Mr Hawes, you might have seen the form in relation to political neutrality. It is the acknowledgement and declaration of key obligations upon engagement. Are you aware of that one?

Mr Hawes : Yes.

Mr MORTON: Firstly, did the Fuji Xerox staff all sign that same form?

Mr Hawes : That is a very good question.

Mr Kitson : Are you asking whether the Fuji Xerox staff signed the same ADKO form?

Mr MORTON: Yes, the acknowledgement and declaration of key obligations upon employment?

Mr Kitson : Yes.

Mr MORTON: Who would the most junior of Fiji Xerox staff see as their supervisor? Would it be another Fuji Xerox employee? Who would they report to if they had an issue?

Mr Hawes : At the Central Senate Scrutiny site there were certainly some supervisory Fuji staff who were around to deal with issues. But we also had AEC supervisor staff there. If it was a Fuji matter, I suppose they would have seen the Fuji staff. If it was an AEC process or operational matter, they would have certainly spoken to one of the managers who were there.

Mr MORTON: One of the clauses in that declaration is that they are not currently publicly active in political affairs and they do not intend to be publicly engaged in such activities during their engagement with the AEC. In the event that a situation arises during their engagement where they wish to publicly engage in political activities or where there may be a perception that they are involved in political activities they are to discuss the matter with their manager or supervisor immediately. Would you expect that all supervisors and managers, if they have a conversation on that basis, would report that through so you were aware of that person?

Mr Hawes : Yes.

Mr MORTON: Were you made aware of any conversations under that clause during—

Mr Hawes : I was. I was made aware of three.

Mr MORTON: Are you able to detail, without revealing the individuals, the nature of the three occurrences?

Mr Hawes : Yes. Let me start by saying those three people self-identified after reading information either on the form or on our website. They came to the AEC and said, 'I think maybe I fall in this category.' We obviously had a conversation about their specific circumstance, and then all three did not work for the AEC. They did not commence work. This was before they were; it was basically going through the process of getting them on our books.

Mr MORTON: So they had not become employees. They were going through the process and saw this. This was not something that was during the course of their employment.

Mr Hawes : No, they had not commenced.

Mr MORTON: Am I right to say that there was zero reporting of an engaged staff member, manager of supervisor where someone has changed their mind and wished to become publicly engaged in political activities or during their employment realised that there is a problem with their perception?

Mr Hawes : The only three instances were those three that I was aware of.

Mr MORTON: Do you think that every manager and supervisor would know to ensure that they not only deal with this issue but report that to you in your position?

Mr Hawes : Certainly my AEC permanent staff most definitely do. I have complete confidence in my staff. They understand the significance and importance of political neutrality in our business, and anything in that regard I would make sure they would be aware of. I cannot speak for the 584 OICs at polling places, but they are all made aware that political neutrality is such an important aspect. If one of their junior staff did have a conversation as you were suggesting, it certainly would have been reported to one of my division returning officers, and then they would report that to me.

Mr MORTON: So what you are saying is it could have been dealt with without having to be reported to you.

Mr Hawes : There is a possibility, yes, of course, but I take comfort that I was aware of three and the three made it up to my desk.

Mr MORTON: Where it says 'where there is a perception that I am involved in political activities', what does that mean? How would that manifest itself? What are the examples that would concern you? Where do you draw the line?

Mr Hawes : It is a very difficult question. Perception for you can be different from a perception for me. The reality is—and I do not know the specifics of these three instances, because they were basically dealt with, and both the potential employee, if I can use that term, and the division returning officer after discussing it made the decision that, no, they thought this was not right, and both parties agreed that it was the right decision to make that this person should not.

Mr MORTON: Are you giving out any training sheets, tip sheets, scenarios or case studies on what is political activity, what is not and how to deal with these matters? What I am finding is a variance of understanding of what this might be in practice.

Mr Hawes : I suppose a number would be clear-cut, but, for those that are not, I certainly have a process that I can escalate up to a people services branch. We obviously have some understandings in this area in the elections branch, and it obviously can apply a more consistent approach across the board. 'We are aware of this example that happened in another state potentially, and so this is how we applied this, and it is the same scenario, so these are the rules that we're going to apply in this instance.'

Mr MORTON: The current declaration is in relation to not being currently—I emphasise the word 'currently'—politically active and not intending to publicly engage in such activities during their engagement with the AEC. That would prevent someone in the weeks leading up to their engagement being very politically active, suspending their political activity and then engaging as a staff member for the AEC?

Mr Hawes : My personal opinion is that that would not be appropriate, because again we are getting into perception.

Mr MORTON: You are saying it would not be appropriate, but someone reading this could quite comfortably make the declaration that they are not currently active and they do not intend to publicly engage during their employment. They could tick that despite being engaged in the weeks prior.

Mr Hawes : Yes, they could read that that way.

Mr MORTON: Thanks for that. What is your relationship with the Australian Defence Force in relation to management? You have some ADF facilities here. I think there were some training exercises. Can you outline the relationship you have with the ADF and how you go about planning to ensure that all the ADF personnel that are in this state at the time of the election who may be from other states or other jurisdictions can exercise their vote? Are there any issues?

Mr Hawes : Sure. Obviously you are referring to Exercise Hamel, which occurred during the election. Certainly we did a lot of work with regard to that. If you are talking about a general rule, we obviously have the 16th regiment base up at Woodside, at RAAF Base Edinburgh and the like. Generally we do not liaise too much with the Defence Forces about those sorts of things. Soldiers, just like public servants, fire and police, are responsible for making sure that they participate in the electoral process, so we do not do any specific work with them. Obviously we are aware that in the January-February period a lot of Defence personnel move barracks, so at times we do make sure that soldiers are able to update their details and Defence personnel are able to update their details as they move. With regard to Exercise Hamel, we became aware in March of a potential big exercise that was going to be happening.

Mr MORTON: How did you become aware of that?

Mr Hawes : It actually came via the national office, but I think the ADF advised us that that was going to happen. There was speculation that the election was going to be happening at that stage—we did not know when the dates were going to be—so we were made aware. We had numerous meetings, correspondence, emails and engagements with the ADF about making sure that we could provide services to all the personnel that would be affected. Once the dates of the election were known and it was confirmed that the exercise was going to be mid-stream on polling day, we put a number of arrangements in place to make sure that voting services were available. Obviously, our primary information from liaising with the ADF and that they then shared with the personnel was that most of them were being deployed after 15 June for the exercise. As you are aware, early voting commenced on 14 June, so our very strong encouragement was, 'Please vote before you deploy.'

Mr MORTON: What was the problem, that they did not and then could not?

Mr Hawes : A lot certainly did do that. As you would have seen in the submission, there was an oversight. There was an error made by my staff. We received the information from the ADF in a spreadsheet format. We were preparing postal vote material for them and we missed a tab on that spreadsheet. It is as simple as that. It is very regrettable.

Mr MORTON: And what was the effect of that error? What was the information on the tab that was missing?

Mr Hawes : The information was obviously postal vote packs that we were preparing and then to be providing to soldiers in the field on the polling day so that they could vote. So we missed a number of those. The impact was that we had to work with the ADF on the day and the ADF, being very good at mobilising troops, were tremendous. They worked with us basically to get those people that we missed to interstate voting centres. They were shipped, depending on where they were based on the exercise, to Kadina, Port Augusta and Whyalla. Then, of course, to make sure that those facilities were able to accommodate this additional workload, we made sure that additional ballot papers and declaration envelopes were shipped from either our Port Augusta office or from here.

Mr MORTON: What was the information contained on that particular tab in that area? Was it a particular seat or a particular state?

Mr Hawes : It was a particular brigade.

Mr MORTON: Where is that brigade based?

Mr Hawes : It was the 7th Brigade. I am not sure where they are based.

Mr MORTON: Okay. We will have a look at that. And you can quite confidently say that each one of those soldiers would have had the opportunity to vote because of the actions you took once that mistake was realised.

Mr Hawes : Yes.

CHAIR: Can I just ask: how many soldiers were impacted? How many in the spreadsheet in total, and how many on that tab that got missed?

Mr Hawes : I would have loved to have been able to give you an exact detail on that. The information in the spreadsheet had many duplicates. It had information that—it did not have Australian citizens. It had information on one tab, and then there were duplications, or they were in multiple tabs.

CHAIR: This was provided by Defence?

Mr Hawes : By Defence, yes. This information had personal details and information about deployees and where they would be at that time. I can tell you that there were 1,225 lines on that tab, but our best estimate, once we took out all the duplicates—and there were repeats on other tabs—was that there were between 600 and 800. Of course, some of those people may have voted beforehand, and, certainly, a high number were mobilised by the ADF.

CHAIR: Can I just clarify what I think you have just told us. You had very good liaison with Defence. Defence were proactive, as was the AEC, in relation to this. The Department of Defence gave you a spreadsheet with the names of soldiers and officers to contact for postal-vote application material, but the spreadsheet was a bit of a mess. To put it simply: it sounds like the spreadsheet that you got from Defence was a bit of a mess.

Mr Hawes : Yes.

CHAIR: Okay.

Mr Kitson : I think it would be fair to characterise it as: it contained a large number of lines of data; there were some significant errors in that data, and it made it difficult to work through. But we consistently engaged with Defence to try and understand where the unique entries were, so that we could provide those postal votes.

CHAIR: You did go back to Defence and say, 'Look, what is this that we have got', and they did actually work with you to try and fix it?

Mr Hawes : Yes. Certainly. We were meant to get the data in early June. We got the data on 24 June. We were still getting iterations right the way up till 30 June, which was the Thursday, two days before polling day, in an attempt to try and highlight this and correct the data and make it as accurate and correct as possible.

CHAIR: It is a little bit surprising. Knowing there are a lot of Defence personnel and exercise bases, in some ways it is not surprising. But it is surprising that over the course of that month they could not have actually redone the spreadsheet. Anyway, that is an editorial comment by the chair, but it is a little surprising.

Mr MORTON: Just on that: in relation to the tab you missed, did you realise it the day that you did the work on the other tabs, or did you realise it two days or a week after? How did you come to realise that error?

Mr Hawes : Like I said, there was a spreadsheet with—I do not know—12, 15 tabs. We missed one, which had 1,225 records on it, which we believed to be probably between about 600 and 800. There were obviously other tabs with small amounts of data on them and other tabs with larger amounts of data on them. We realised at 5 am on polling day that we had obviously missed this information and that there were soldiers who were going be rolling up for whom we did not have information. Obviously that is when we worked with the ADF to make sure that we were able to provide services to those people.

Mr MORTON: As for the processing of the other tabs, did that occur two weeks, three weeks before polling day?

Mr Hawes : We got the first letter out on 24 June, so we started processing on that day, which I think was the Friday, a week and a day, before polling day.

Mr MORTON: Thanks for that. There is the issue of the difference between the House of Representatives ballot papers and the Senate ballot papers. Obviously, people do not know what electorate they are enrolled in. They may be issued a ballot paper for the Senate for South Australia but they get the wrong House of Representatives one. The Senate ballot paper is counted; the House of Representatives one is not. The figures we have is that it is close to 150,000 people who were able to vote in the Senate and not in the House.

One of the solutions to that is the rollout of electronic roll look up or marking. As someone who is running a range of divisions and booths, the minimum thing to fix this issue or to start fixing this issue is the ability for people who are doing absentee or declaration votes to look up an elector's details. I am not talking about roll marking; I am just talking about looking it up to verify. I even think of the possibility of going to a kiosk at the airport or something, punching in your details and getting a slip that prints out your information if you are one of those people who are absentee voting. What is your experience with any ability or inability to roll out that kind of electronic look up through every booth?

Mr Hawes : I think the commissioner is on record as saying that the costs for us to do that would be rather large. As you are aware, we have about a 1,500 fleet of electronic certified lists which offers the roll available on those laptops and the ability to print the appropriate House of Representatives ballot paper.

Mr MORTON: But you would not need to print them, it is just to make sure.

Mr Hawes : No, just for a referencing kind of requirement.

Mr MORTON: Would you need one laptop per booth or would you need one per absentee voting desk? If we had unlimited laptops we could give you so that you could look up everyone that was voting absentee and just check their enrolment details so you would know that they live in South Australia and that they are in Boothby as opposed to Hindmarsh, how many computers would you need us to fight for to get you?

Mr Hawes : I would think that if we have X amount of declaration issuing officers we need that exact same amount of laptops so they can provide the services.

Mr MORTON: Could you just take on notice what that quantity would be and let us know for your state of South Australia?

Mr Hawes : Most definitely. I am happy to do that.

Mr DICK: Good morning, Mr Hawes. I have about three issues that I will run through. Some you may have to hand, but I am happy for you to take anything on notice. Regarding the staffing issues, I will drill down a little bit later about some on-the-ground issues in a couple of divisions—in particular, in the Hindmarsh electorate. In terms of staff, I think you estimated there were some 7,000 temporary staff.

Mr Hawes : About 7½ thousand temporary staff in total, yes.

Mr DICK: How does that compare to the 2013 election?

Mr Hawes : There were about 300 more in this election.

Mr DICK: As for the polling booth numbers, I did write down the numbers but I do not think I got the number for election day polling places.

Mr Hawes : There were 584 polling places on election day.

Mr DICK: How does that compare to 2013?

Mr Hawes : There were 637, so it was a decrease of 53.

Mr DICK: You said there were 50,000 additional people on the roll in this election.

Mr Hawes : That is correct, yes.

Mr DICK: So more people, but fewer polling booths.

Mr Hawes : Correct.

Mr DICK: In terms of the line-ups and queues on the day, would you give two things to me: first, an average waiting time, which you may be able to take on notice; and perhaps the top 10 places which recorded the longest times and the names of those locations.

Mr Hawes : I can certainly provide them. I can advise now that the longest wait time in this election was in the margin of 70 to 79 minutes. It was a polling place at Salisbury in the division of Wakefield. In 2013 the longest wait time was in the 60 to 69 minute category and that was at a polling place in the division of Port Adelaide. I do have some information that I can provide to you, Senator.

Mr DICK: Terrific. In terms of the count post election, I think Mr Morton was talking about the Senate count. I particularly want to talk about Hindmarsh in terms of the resources allocated for that division and whether you believe there were enough staff to do the fresh scrutiny and check of the postal votes. Was that in line with other divisions?

Obviously, there was a lot of scrutiny on that division. But do you think there were enough resources? Would there be a case, in your opinion or view, for extra staff being allocated, particularly in the week or 10 days after election day? Were there any examples of other delays that you noticed?

Mr Hawes : I am more than happy to have more money to employ more staff. On the resourcing and flexibility that we have, as you are aware, we have a larger work unit in South Australia, so, of my 11 divisions, nine of them are based within our state office. At election time, when we have scrutiny centres or outpost centres, they work in groups of three. In the division of Hindmarsh we also have operating the division of Adelaide and the division of Sturt. What that means is that I can move resources—a small amount of resources; I am not going to stop counting in one of the other divisions. But we can reduce the impact of the count progress in one or two of those other divisions to add more weight and more resources to a close seat, like the division of Hindmarsh was at that stage.

Mr DICK: Is that what happened? Were more staff allocated?

Mr Hawes : Yes, we certainly did take some of the staff from the areas of both Sturt and Adelaide to make sure we were progressing Hindmarsh. At one stage there was an eight-vote difference in Hindmarsh, so quite rightly it was getting quite a lot of interest and we were having to progress it. We also worked the weekend post polling day—the post-polling weekend, if that makes sense. Not all of my divisions did that. They worked Saturday and Sunday to continue to progress results and update the tally room.

Mr DICK: Is there an average time for how long it takes for the fresh scrutiny of votes counted on election day? What is the average time that it takes to do the full check?

Mr Hawes : We have a timetable, I suppose, that we kind of work to. I do not have that timetable here, but ideally by a couple of weeks we are meant to have completed most of the counts. Obviously, as you are aware, we have to wait 13 days for postals to come back, so we would not be doing the last postal count, ideally, until that Monday.

Mr DICK: Was the fresh count from election day, in particular for Hindmarsh, longer than normal?

Mr Hawes : It does not come to my attention that it was longer or shorter. We were certainly threw more resources at it than most other divisions, and we were progressing things. Whether we were focusing on postal counts or absent counts as opposed to House fresh scrutiny counts, in the end we were continuing to count through, so we probably did it quicker because we threw more resources at Hindmarsh than we did in 2013.

Mr GILES: Mr Hawes, might you come back to us with a more considered answer?

Mr Hawes : Yes, no worries.

Mr DICK: The only reason I am looking at this issue is that we have had a little bit of evidence on this. Yesterday Mr Green was talking about the situation on the night versus the turnaround times. He was giving evidence around electronic voting from prepoll centres in the ACT. Obviously, elected officials, major parties and all candidates were keen for those results, but we—myself particularly—obviously want the AEC to do a thorough and methodical job, as you do, which is more than appropriate. I am interested in this as a line of questioning regarding whether that is just how long it takes, or, if we are to make recommendations about getting more resources in, whether more temporary staff need to be allocated or be in reserve after an election and all those sorts of things.

Mr Hawes : That is a good question, thank you.

CHAIR: I have a few questions. The first one is in relation to the issuing of ballot papers. We have had evidence in three states so far that there was incorrect allocation of ballot papers to voters at the polling place, both for the Senate count and for the House of Representatives. That is of great concern to this committee—not only that it was able to occur but that, in several incidents, many people had already voted and left the polling place before it was identified either by a polling official or, in a number of cases, by another voter. Are you aware of any incidents here in South Australia where the incorrect ballot papers were issued?

Mr Hawes : At the Central Senate Scrutiny I did see—and I know it has been talked about—Senate papers other than the South Australian Senate paper, whether it was a Victorian or a Queensland or a Northern Territory Senate paper, coming through and obviously being classed as informal. I am aware of seeing some of those that came through the Central Senate Scrutiny. Whether they came from South Australian prepoll voting centres or they came from interstate voting centres I am not aware. The number that came through is in the tens, not in the hundreds, but the scrutineers there certainly saw those, and I am sure they would support that it was a lowish number.

CHAIR: So they were in the tens. Can you take on notice exactly how many there were? Are you saying they could have been incorrectly dispatched from another state to South Australia or were they actually issued here in South Australia?

Mr Hawes : That I do not know. It could have been by an interstate voting centre in New South Wales or Queensland or the Northern Territory and they inadvertently used a Northern Territory paper instead of a South Australian paper for a South Australian voter who was there, or of course they could have been out of one of the interstate voting centres that were here in South Australia.

CHAIR: But these were not picked up by AEC staff or by Fuji Xerox staff; they were picked up by scrutineers once they had been declared informal?

Mr Hawes : Yes. Scrutineers were obviously, as you are well aware, able to view the process, and they would have been coming through as an informal paper. So scrutineers would have been able to witness and see those. A couple got escalated to me just for my information, I suppose, and knowledge. Like I said, I saw a couple of those. They might have been in declaration envelopes, so we were just opening them. That is a scenario. With regard to the House of Representatives, I am not aware of any instances—

CHAIR: Before we go from the Senate, perhaps one of your staff who is either here or listening would be able to get some more information about the breakdown of informal votes in the Senate and how many were due to the different categories. If you can provide it today before we leave, that would be great. If not, I am happy to take it on notice. But I think, Mr Kitson, you are getting those figures nationally for us as well.

Mr Kitson : We are, yes.

CHAIR: Thank you. So that is the Senate. And then the House of Reps?

Mr Hawes : With regard to the House of Representatives, I am not aware of any, although I am aware of—and this is a good news story, in my view—two instances, in two different polling places in South Australia, where they started to issue the wrong House ballot paper and it was corrected before the elector had voted. It might have been three or four voters at both these two polling places. The error was corrected before they cast their vote. We obviously discarded those ballot papers and issued them with new ones. Whether or not it was the officer in charge who was doing his or her duty and just checking and making sure that the ordinary issuing officers and those junior staff were doing the right things—I am not sure of the exact detail—I did get information that it was picked up and corrected in two polling places, and no voter voted incorrectly for the House.

CHAIR: I agree that is a good news story that your staff on the day were vigilant and identified it, but it made me wonder how this happened in the first place. For an ordinary voter going into the polling place for their own division, how does the AEC manage to have on that desk the wrong ballot papers for the wrong division? To me, that indicates that there are some procedural errors within the AEC, whether it is checking or your procedures that would have allowed the wrong ballot papers in the wrong division to be on the table ready to be issued. I commend your staff for picking that up, because others around the country did not, but the big question is, and I guess for you too; you must wonder also: while your staff were on the ball, how did that come to be? Have you gone back yet and had a look at what procedural error occurred within the AEC that allowed those ballot papers in two booths to get onto the wrong table?

Mr Hawes : We are in the middle of that, obviously, as we are still evaluating. We have not come to a conclusion yet. Certainly our procedures should not have anything but the division of X for a House seat sitting on that issuing table. Obviously there are other House ballot papers for absent votes, so looking at clearer packaging or separate packaging of both ordinary vote and absent vote ballot papers that would be issued is one possible scenario.

CHAIR: To me, this touches on a number of areas. Again, Mr Kitson, perhaps we could get a summary of this nationally. What are the current procedures around the issuing of ballot papers and the handling of ballot papers? I know there are guidelines, but clearly somewhere along the way there is not another check to make sure that it is the right ballot paper in the right box—because you do have different ballot papers in a lot of booths.

Mr Hawes : When the ordinary issuing officers are issuing ballot papers, they ask the voter the three questions and they initial the ballot paper as required. The procedures provide that, yes, we make sure that this is a division of Sturt paper or a division of Mayo paper—whichever it is—and then the voter is issued with a Senate paper. So those steps are there as well. There are a number of steps and layers through it. Maybe there need to be some more.

CHAIR: We heard this week that over 50 were issued in one polling place unobserved by the AEC staff, and obviously those peoples votes were invalid.

Mr MORTON: How are the ballot papers packaged? It might be good, Mr Kitson, if we can get some photos of how they are packaged. One of the things we are looking at is the practicality of it and whether for the Senate ballot paper we should have the words 'South Australia' or 'Tasmania' bigger or printed across. Should we be looking for different colours in different corners as little ears so they can be seen? Do ballot papers come to you in bundles of 100, 50 or 200? Do they have paper bands around them like banks do with money? Should we have different coloured paper wraps around different electorates so you know you are picking up the bundle with pink wrap around it all the time for Sturt or the yellow one for Mayo? How are they packaged up?

Mr Hawes : For ordinary issuing, predominantly they are in pads of 100 and they are stubbed.

Mr MORTON: So you pull them off?

Mr Hawes : Yes, they are torn off. For a declaration, they are in pads of 10, and they are wrapped up. So for South Australia, where there are 11 divisions, there are 110 ballot papers and they are shrink-wrapped—I suppose that is a nice way of putting it. They are all loose-leaf and they are then put into little cardboard dividers. So, if a division of Barker elector comes into the Adelaide CBD, here are their 10 papers.

Mr MORTON: It would have been very difficult then, wouldn't it, to—

Mr Hawes : Yes, but at times we have additional papers. We might say that this polling place attracts a lot of absent votes because it is close to a border or a boundary of another division, so we then might give them a pad of 100. Sometimes those pads could then get confused. It is the same pad; Hindmarsh looks exactly the same as Boothby—that was your example before—apart from the candidates names, of course, and the name at the top. On the surface, from a distance it looks like the same pad, and that could be what has happened.

Mr MORTON: So you have pads of 200?

Mr Hawes : Of 100 for ordinary issuing.

Mr MORTON: And, for a neighbouring seat, you have your absentee votes for all around the state.

Mr Hawes : And they may get additional pads depending on volumes.

Mr MORTON: So you have two pads and they look pretty much the same. There is technology where you can have gum at the end of the pads done in different colours and stuff like that. That might be something which you could—

Mr Hawes : I do not know if this is what has happened in that case. That is just me summarising—

CHAIR: This is something that the committee will explore further. Again, we have discussed in other locations having on the Senate ballot papers, which do look similar, 'Queensland', 'New South Wales' and so on printed for that final check. Or maybe the electorate name could be put on the stub cover so that it is very clear.

Mr DICK: I have some practical questions. A voter in my home state of Queensland can walk into a polling booth, say in my division of Oxley, and vote for any electorate in Queensland. Is the process that there are normally separate lines for people to go to—a separate table and an officer in charge for absentee voting?

Mr Hawes : Yes. We call them declaration vote issuing officers. And, yes, there are anywhere from one to four or five, depending.

Mr DICK: Is the declaration officer's sole job to run the table for declaration votes and look after people who want to do a declaration vote, or do they take responsibility for other things? Is the sole responsibility of the one polling officer at the polling booth to look after absentee votes for other divisions in Queensland?

Mr Hawes : No, because there may only be one declaration issuing officer. We have an allocation—from memory, it was 110. As an example, if a polling place is estimated to take 150 declaration votes or absent votes, then we would have two declaration issuing officers.

Mr DICK: There are two different things here: someone who is voting absentee in another division versus someone declaring a vote. Does that same person have multiple responsibilities on the day? If it is a large booth, are they assisted by someone or, on average, is it just the one person on a normal, average-sized polling booth looking after people who want to vote in another division, people who want to do a declaration vote and perhaps people with other issues, such as seeking advice? That one person seems to have a lot of responsibility with all the other roles going on on election day. I am looking at it in terms of allocation and resources. You could have a busy polling booth, perhaps a border booth as well, and there is a lot occurring on election day; it is early in the morning with long line-ups and maybe other general questions. What other roles does that one person do on the day besides absentee declaration votes? Is that the call centre you go to on election day to say, 'Hi, I live in Tasmania'? Is that the one-stop shop where people who are not doing a normal vote go?

Mr Hawes : We obviously have inquiry officers and queue controllers. Queue controllers can give a lot of that sort of information to people who say, 'I have got a question about this.' They can certainly deal with a high percentage of those before they get to the declaration issuing officer. And, of course, polling places also have a 2IC, a second-in-charge, and an officer in charge. As an example, if we do have any silent electors that come in and are issued with a vote because they are not general postal voters, then they are dealt with by the officer in charge.

Mr DICK: When we are talking about the issuing of perhaps incorrect ballot papers for wrong divisions, that is the point where it happens. If you are a general voter and you are walking into the same polling booth, the tables set up for all of the general votes are probably going to be issuing all of the divisions for Oxley or Tangney—they are going to be there. But where the confusion or perhaps human error occurs is when that one person is looking after the different divisions. In South Australia there are 11, but in Victoria there are 37 and in Queensland there are 30-odd. There is a chance that, with all the responsibilities that that one person has—they are not just looking after absentee votes; they are looking after a number of responsibilities.

Mr Hawes : We agree. The chance that they can make a mistake is greater.

Mr DICK: Thank you.

CHAIR: Just to clarify—I think this is a really important point—in relation to Mr Dick's point about one person doing the absentee and declaration votes, I think the evidence that we have had from you and from other divisions is that a lot of the incorrect issuing actually occurred not at absentee or declaration tables but when someone was voting within their own home division.

Mr Hawes : Two instances I am aware of were ordinary votes, yes. Like I said, I have summarised how I think that possibly could have occurred, but at this stage I do not know.

CHAIR: We will wait for information from Mr Kitson from the AEC.

Mr DICK: I do not know if that was because there might have been a shift change and they had to move tables.

Mr Hawes : It happened at 8 am. It might have been just the frantic nature of setting up, getting things going, queues forming and that sort of thing.

Mr GILES: The evidence we got in Melbourne on the Higgins issues was that that happened at the very start of voting.

Mr DICK: With so much going on, I do not know how you can quarantine it, with that one person who has a lot to do on their own. I know it is separated, but I cannot recall the set-up where I voted on the day. There is a separate area but it is all pretty close.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Mr Kitson and Mr Hawes. This is definitely something that the committee will be pursuing once we get further national information. The basic principle for this committee is that this is clearly a procedural issue within the AEC that can be redressed in line with the principle that any Australian voter goes in and expects their vote to be counted as a formal vote.

Mr Kitson : Just to pick up on Mr Dick's question about the volumes on the declaration tables, we reduced that from 120 to 110 this time around. As Mr Hawes said, if we estimate that we are going to take 150 then we will have two declaration issuing officers.

Mr DICK: Sorry; two?

Mr Kitson : Two officers. If it is above the 110 threshold, we will have two. If we estimate that we will take 112, I dare say that we might just go with the one. The point there is that we try to match our staffing to the anticipated throughput in that polling place for our table loadings, which is then compared elsewhere, where there are 500 for ordinary issuing and 110 for declaration issuing. Our declaration issuing officers have dedicated training and they are remunerated differently within the collective determination. We do give very special attention to that part of it, because we understand the relative complexity of it. As is evident by the comparison between 500 and 110, we know that it takes more time to issue those particular votes.

I would like to make the point, Chair, that I think this committee has very clearly identified that there may be some opportunities for adjustments to the ballot papers, whether it is Senate or House. That would assist, but I think that we do have to be realistic that human error is always going to occur. I know the committee has focused very strongly on whether there may be some opportunities to colour code or otherwise mark the Senate papers, because of their size. But my own observation is that, with the House papers, where there are 150 batches of almost identically sized papers, it is really very difficult in, say, a high-lodge booth—Boothby, Wakefield or wherever it might be. There are some challenges there for human identification that, I suspect, would defeat the most thorough processes.

CHAIR: On behalf of the committee, thank you, Mr Kitson. I understand the situation, but I think we will be pursuing this further to have a look at the House ballot papers to make sure that there is not some visual identification, along with additional check by the issuing officer, to further reduce the likelihood of that occurring.

Mr MORTON: I asked Mr Hawes to take on notice how many computers you would need that are not connected to the internet that would allow you to look up the roll just to ensure that, when someone is giving their details on where they live, they are giving the right details and therefore they are getting the right ballot paper. I might transfer that request from you, Mr Hawes, to Mr Kitson if it is possible to do that nationally, because ultimately that is where I am going to head—so I may as well let you know now.

On the evidence about that 150,000 differential between the Senate and the House across the country, where people have received the incorrect House ballot paper, I want to be very clear that my view is that that is not as a result, in the vast, vast majority, of human error or errors of the Australian Electoral Commission; it is because people are unaware of their address or their details and they are given what is believed to be the right ballot paper. I think with the new technology being rolled out, where we can properly look at where they are actually enrolled and where their vote will be counted, we will be able to bring that 150,000 right down. So, if we could get from the AEC what the options are and how you would roll that roll book up across the country, I think that would be very important for us.

Mr Kitson : It is not entirely unusual for a voter to declare that they do not actually know where they live, strange as that may sound.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. As you can probably tell, there are many more issues that we would like to discuss with you.

Mr GILES: Chair, just on a question on notice to Mr Hawes. I apologise. I should have gone through this earlier. We have been asking questions about disability access. Could you provide the committee with details of any concerns that were raised with you by voters with disability about access, such as finding places on the day or any other issues going to their participation in the election.

Mr Hawes : I am aware of one. There was a complaint raised concerning an incident that potentially could have been staged, because the person who fell over out the front of an early voting centre had the media there at that point in time. So, they might have been trying to make a statement. Apart from that, I am not aware of any. You have had evidence before at other committee hearings that the full accessibility rate was down, certainly in South Australia. We had only nine of the 584 polling places fully accessible. Mind you, our assisted access level was much higher, and we also decreased our no access level in South Australia. As you are also aware, there are 152 parameters and criteria that have to be met to make it fully accessible. It might just be as simple as, let's say, the car park is 25 metres away from the entrance as opposed to 20, which makes it fully accessible.

Mr GILES: Indeed. We understand the scope of the challenge that you are faced with. One thing that I am keen to understand is noting all the ways in which people can participate, particularly voters with disabilities. I think there have been some challenges, not in South Australia, for people who are vision impaired. It is about having regard to the whole scope of those measures that are available to you and how voters with disabilities responded. That is why I am keen to get evidence from you as to what concerns or other correspondence you have received from those with disabilities.

CHAIR: Given the engagement of the committee, there are many more questions we would like to ask you, but we are very grateful for your time here today. I reiterate on behalf of the committee our thanks to your staff for the extraordinary job they do in delivering in very challenging circumstances the successful conduct of the federal election here. You have been asked for some additional information, and we would ask that you forward it to the secretary by Friday, 2 December. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence, and you will have the opportunity to request corrections to any transcription errors. Thank you very much.

Proceedings suspended from 10 : 22 to 10 : 36