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

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

MOLNAR, Mr David, Australian Electoral Officer and State Manager for Tasmania, Australian Electoral Commission

Committee met at 09:16

CHAIR ( Senator Reynolds ): Welcome. I declare open this public hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters for the inquiry into the 2016 federal election. This is the third public hearing for this inquiry and the first interstate hearing as the committee makes its way around Australia this week taking important evidence from a variety of individuals and organisations.

In accordance with the committee's resolution of 21 September 2016 this hearing will be broadcast on the parliament's website and the proof and official transcript of proceedings will also be published on the 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 present or in this case listening on the web of the need to fairly and accurately report the proceedings of the committee.

Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you 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 brief opening statements before I open it up for committee members to ask you questions.

Mr Molnar : Thank you for the opportunity to make an opening statement. Noting the electoral commissioner's comprehensive opening address to this committee in Canberra last week, my address provides input from the state perspective. Regarding enrolment, 373,584 people were enrolled at the close of rolls for the 2 July election. This is an increase of 10,692 electors from 2013, representing an estimated enrolment rate of 96.2. per cent, compared with 94.5 per cent for 2013, an increase of 1.7 per cent. More than 17,000 enrolment transactions were processed from the announcement of the election until the close of rolls, compared with approximately 13,000 for 2013. Of these, approximately 84 per cent were online.

Regarding nominations, the total number of nominations across the state for both the House and the Senate was almost identical to that for the last election—88, compared with 89 in 2013. The breakdown was that House nominations decreased from 35 to 30 and Senate nominations increased from 54 to 58. With regard to the Senate itself, there were 21 groups and one ungrouped column. In 2013, there were 23 groups and one ungrouped column. Because of the double dissolution, the height of the ballot paper was 250 millimetres compared to 195 millimetres last time, and the length was actually a little bit shorter at 799 millimetres compared to 900 millimetres last time, but for Tasmania the ballot paper last time was a lot bigger than previously. This time it is slightly shorter again.

Delivery of the election. Across the five divisions in Tasmania, 265 polling places and ten interstate voting centres were open on election day. Eighteen early voting centres were established in the weeks leading up to election day, and 22 mobile teams visited 95 establishments across the state in the two-week period up to and including election day. More than 2,500 temporary staff were recruited to assist with election delivery, and approximately 2,000 staff were employed in polling places on election day itself. The turnout for the election, based on the House votes counted, was 93.59 per cent, which was down by 1.14 per cent on 2013, but higher than the national average of 91.01 per cent. Informality was 3.98 per cent for the House, which is almost the same as 2013, and under the national average of 5.05 per cent. For the Senate it was 3.48 per cent, which is an increase of 1.02 per cent on 2013. The large increase in the below-the-line voting would be a factor in this, which this time was 28.12 per cent compared to 2013 where it was 10.34 per cent.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: So the informals in the House were higher than in the Senate?

Mr Molnar : Yes, it was 3.98 per cent versus 3.48 per cent.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thank you, I just thought I might have got that wrong.

Mr Molnar : Early voting has increased to 21.59 per cent, or almost 75,000 Tasmanian electors voting early, compared to 2013 which was 18.55 per cent, or 64,000 electors. Ordinary prepoll votes have increased over 40 per cent, from 23,000 in 2013 to 33,000 at this year's election. Postal voting remains steady. The total number of ordinary votes cast on polling day decreased from 77 per cent of the overall to 74 per cent. The total number of declaration votes submitted to the count remained steady across Tasmania. The largest number of votes counted for a single polling place was 3,348 at Glenorchy in the division of Denison, and the smallest was 88 votes at Savage River in the division of Braddon.

A unique feature of the election delivery in Tasmania is that we also administer and deliver Antarctic voting for the entire country. This year the total number of registered Antarctic voters was 46. Out of those, 41 people voted compared to 2013 where 37 people voted. Post-election scrutinies proceeded to schedule, all House polls were declared by 22 July, and the Senate writ was returned to the governor of Tasmania on 28 July. In closing, I would like to acknowledge the effort, resilience and diligence shown by the small permanent Tasmanian workforce, as well as by the temporary staff hired to plan and deliver a successful 2016 election. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for that very comprehensive but very informative opening statement. How many permanent staff do you have here in Tasmania?

Mr Molnar : Twenty-four for the election.

CHAIR: How many temporary staff?

Mr Molnar : We had 2½ thousand for the whole election period, and approximately 2,000 deployed on election day.

Mr GILES: With the trend towards prepoll voting, were there any issues in regard to length of time taken for people to vote, or other issues in relation to the engagement of staff?

Mr Molnar : In regard to time to vote, there were two main areas that had increases here in Tasmania specifically. One was interstate voting on polling day—there was a 63 per cent increase from 2013. That caused some delays in some areas, and the main areas were in Hobart CBD itself and also near the ferry that comes in in Devonport, so there were longer queues in those areas. In general, there were some increased queues at some of our larger polling booths as well. In comparison, with the numbers we have looked at in peak times between 11 am and 1 pm, there were queues at the higher level of around 30 minutes.

Mr GILES: Do you feel that the staffing allocation was sufficient?

Mr Molnar : In regard to staffing as well, staffing allocation was changed from 2013. Because of the Senate changes, we had an extra inquiry officer to help explain the Senate voting system. We also put in extra 2IC positions, into some of our medium-sized polling booths, and overall staffing in a booth also had extra ballot box guards and other things. Also, our rate of issuing votes was reduced. Someone was expected, in 2013, to issue 600 per day; that was reduced to 500, and the same with issuing declaration votes. So we have adjusted those figures, but some of the queues, again, we would need to look at. It is not across the board, but in some areas we will look at voter flow and the reasons why those queues were longer as well.

Mr GILES: Thanks, Mr Molnar. Lastly, you are no doubt aware that we will be hearing from a couple of organisations about accessibility to polling places. I am wondering if you can talk through any complaints that were made in the course of the election, or other issues that arose in relation to Australians, or Tasmanians, with disabilities, and older Tasmanians being able to access voting places appropriately.

Mr Molnar : In general, in our polling places, we did a very thorough assessment of each one. All that information is now on our website to show roughly 150 different criteria of accessibility in the polling places. To get a full accessible polling place, it is very difficult to reach and satisfy all those criteria, but we have made ground with assisted polling places as well, and the ones with no accessibility have dropped. The numbers you are looking at now—about 10 per cent of polling places have no accessibility, but 89 per cent now do have partial, and that is published on our website, so people will be very clear of what the areas are.

Mr GILES: I appreciate that, Mr Molnar, and perhaps this may be a question on notice, but I am just wondering if you could outline any concerns or complaints that were raised in the course of the election in relation to access.

Mr Molnar : I will have to take that on notice. There were a couple of issues that were raised informally with me with access to polling places, and that will be looked at, as all polling places are that we reassess as well.

Mr GILES: Thanks very much, Mr Molnar.

Mr MORTON: Thanks, Mr Molnar. Firstly, can I just say congratulations. In preparing for these rounds of hearings, I speak to people I know in each of the states to get their feedback in relation to the conduct of the AEC in each state, and here in Tasmania the people I spoke to were quite pleased in relation to the professionalism in the work that your team carried out, knowing that it is quite a difficult task that you need to deliver on—certain hours on a particular day. It is not easy.

There is a line of inquiry which I am talking about in these inquiries, and it relates to the politicisation or the political neutrality of AEC staff, or particular issues of perception of political engagement. The commissioner helped me out by presenting to me the disclosure that staff have to sign to ensure that they are not politically active. There is a process there, if there are any concerns, for both temporary and permanent staff to sort out problems. Were you made aware of any particular concerns, complaints or issues, where it came to your attention at all, in relation to either current political activity or recent political activity of temporary or permanent staff in Tasmania?

Mr Molnar : Absolutely none. There were definitely no issues with our permanent staff. Everyone signed, and nothing was raised with me—and the same with the temporary staff. I have had nothing raised along those lines at all.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I just wanted to clarify: I think when you talked about accessibility you said 'partial'. What does that actually mean?

Mr Molnar : For instance, a polling place might have a slight ramp going in, or it might have a car park provided for disability access, but it might be too far away from the polling place. There are all these criteria you have to meet. Sometimes it does not quite meet all of them, but it can meet the majority of them. We could say for this polling place X that the car park is 50 metres away rather than 20 metres, so someone that might need to use it has got that information and knows it up-front. That is what we call 'partial'. It certainly satisfies the main areas of disability access but not all.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So I am assuming you get some feedback from your polling booth presiding officers as to the issues that they saw on the day?

Mr Molnar : Yes, certainly. Each OIC has a report, and we go through and analyse that—and speak to them as well, if there are any issues raised by them or by the PPLO that visits on the day as well.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Okay. What about inside the polling place?

Mr Molnar : Inside as well. It is the same.

Senator CAROL BROWN: If someone in a wheelchair goes in, are there other types of cubicles where they can vote?

Mr Molnar : In the main. But, again, it depends on your polling place layout and what is in there. Some are obviously better than others. Where possible we provide the disability access where we can, but we are limited by some of the polling places that are available.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I am talking about where you go in to vote. I went in to vote in a very small area, and the booth itself was quite high. If someone was coming in in a wheelchair, that would be far too high.

Mr Molnar : If we need to take the votes to the person, if it is not available there, because it is not everywhere—

Senator CAROL BROWN: So you do have different—I am just trying to ascertain whether you do or not.

Mr Molnar : Yes, we do. In some cases we can take the votes out to the person in the car, if that is more convenient for them. The OIC is alerted to the fact as well, and we can tailor the service. It depends on the person involved. We have those options as well.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I am asking, where they can get into the polling place, whether all the booths that you go in to vote in are all the same, or whether you provide ones that actually enable someone in a wheelchair to vote?

Mr Molnar : We do, yes.

Senator CAROL BROWN: That is not across the board, though?

Mr Molnar : Where at all possible it is. I cannot guarantee it is 100 per cent everywhere, but, as far as I know, that is what we try and provide.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Okay. Can you give the committee a snapshot of some of the complaints that you received, either around party officials or from members of the public, as to the issues as they saw them?

Mr Molnar : In regard to any complaints?

Senator CAROL BROWN: Any. Well, I will just give you an example. One of the people that went to vote told a party official that when she made a mistake on her ballot paper she was asked to sign that ballot paper.

Mr Molnar : I am not aware of that particular complaint.

Senator CAROL BROWN: There was a complaint that was put in to the Denison electoral commission.

Mr Molnar : Again, there are numerous issues and reports that we are still analysing as part of the evaluation of the election, but I am not aware of that particular one. But I take your point. Those will be looked at in due course. Certainly we will look at those and what we need to address with those.

Mr Kitson : May I comment. Certainly that is not part of the AEC's process. We do not ask voters to sign as part of our standard operating procedures, because obviously that would compromise the—

Senator CAROL BROWN: I think I clarified that that was when she made an error on the ballot paper.

CHAIR: Would you like them to take that on notice and come back to you about that, if they can track that one down?

Senator CAROL BROWN: That is fine. While I am asking about it, there was another issue where a mobile polling official, when they were explaining to somebody in a hospital how to vote, indicated who the sitting member was and then pointed to their name. These are serious. In fact, in my view, they are issues to do with training, but they are a pretty fundamental problem.

Mr Kitson : I would be interested to take the details of that, if we can have those, please.

Senator CAROL BROWN: My understanding is that both of those have been reported to the—

CHAIR: Actually, Mr Kitson, further to that, I am personally aware of a number of instances of that occurring in WA as well. We will raise that back in WA, but that is something that I think we will take note of. If you could, perhaps take the broader issue to have a look at the complaints, but in WA we certainly passed that same sort of thing on to the Electoral Commission.

Senator CAROL BROWN: You talked about the queues, and you indicated, I think, 30 minutes. Was that the top end, or was that an average?

Mr Molnar : That is the top end. In peak times, in some of the bigger polling booths, there were around 15- to 20-minute queues.

Senator CAROL BROWN: It did seem to me, out there working on the day, that the queues were much longer than I have ever seen them before, and that really did seem to be across the board, not just the larger booths.

Mr Molnar : I have analysed and got the information, and again it is that peak time between 11 and one generally where the queues were. Compared to 2013, that was the peak time as well, but there were certainly some that were around that half an hour this time, which was not the case then. But, in general, again some of the bigger booths are the ones. But I take your point: some of the medium-sized ones as well had queues.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I have just a couple more questions. Did you have any issues in terms of running out of ballot papers on election day?

Mr Molnar : I mentioned in my opening statement as well that the interstate voting was the main area where we underestimated the votes, but those extra ballot papers were produced and transported to those areas.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Sorry. I did hear you say that, but I am interested in polling booths around the state.

Mr Molnar : There was your normal process that your polling place liaison officer will top up polling places as required. There were very few incidents of booths running out of papers in normal polling booths.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So there were some?

Mr Molnar : But the polling place liaison officer would top those up. I have not got—

Senator CAROL BROWN: Does that cause a delay? How does that system work?

Mr Molnar : They visit on average twice during the day at some stage. It depends on how far they have to go. There could be a slight delay, but, again, I have not had reports of them running out completely in any polling booths. It was just the interstate where we had extra—mainly Victorian—voters that came in on polling day.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Also, how many candidates on the Tasmanian Senate ticket were not residents of Tasmania?

Mr Molnar : I will have to take that on notice and come back to you on it.

CHAIR: Actually, that is a very good question. Could I ask Mr Kitson also to take that on notice and give us the nationwide figures for each state.

Mr Kitson : Certainly.

Mr Molnar : Yes, Chair.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Mr MORTON: You might also, while you are doing that work, list the ones who were nominated by people outside the state as well. It is the same issue.

Mr Kitson : Yes.

Mr BUCHHOLZ: Thank you for your opening comments. Statistically, they are very informative. I have one line of questioning. It is around what the Electoral Commission has received to date in the way of complaints—what that number looks like. Are they still coming in? Could you give a brief on what the thread of the complaints is and if there is any other commentary that you have heard from a local perspective that may not align with the written complaints that the commission has received? What are the differences, if any?

Mr Molnar : There are two main categories of complaints. Some, if they are to do with legal issues, get escalated to our chief legal officers. They are in our report as well and are to do with any legal breaches. There are also complaints in general that get escalated, and that escalation process generally starts from the polling place up to the PPLO, and that can filter through to me. It depends on the severity of those. The majority of those are dealt with on the day by the appropriate people.

Other types of complaints you get are to do with authorisation of materials. They always happen, and the majority of those are sorted out quickly and promptly. Some of the local complaints—we have already touched on some of these—I got were with, again, the queueing in some areas and interstate voting. They have been covered. There are more general complaints which are very few in number and about some of the staff and the number of hours and work they need to do on polling day. They can be very long days, so there are some complaints on that, but they are small in number.

Mr BUCHHOLZ: The second part of my question went to complaints that you may have heard on the day that were not submitted in writing.

Mr Molnar : The only other major one that was raised with me is instructions in some polling booths on the Senate voting system, where they were saying 'vote 1 to 6' instead of 'at least 1 to 6' above the line and the same below the line with the 1 to 12. So there were a few complaints about that on the day. Once they came to me, that was around midday, and I alerted all our staff and our PPLOs to make sure they went through each booth as they visited to make sure that was rectified.

Mr BUCHHOLZ: Is there anything else around that Senate paper?

Mr Molnar : No.

Mr BUCHHOLZ: When I was on the ground on the day, the No. 1 issue was the size of the paper. That was not an issue?

Mr Molnar : The size of the paper here is slightly smaller than the maximum size it can be, but it was still quite large for people to handle that paper. There were no general complaints about that.

Mr BUCHHOLZ: I think my opening question was: how many complaints have you received to date? I did not quite get the number.

Mr Molnar : For personal complaints to do with Tasmania-specific things, I so far have five. The numbers for the escalation process for some of the legal ones are in our submission. There are individual complaints in the OIC returns, and I would have to get those numbers out of those—

Mr BUCHHOLZ: Roughly, are these units of tens, hundreds or thousands?

Mr Molnar : You are looking at tens.

Mr BUCHHOLZ: Okay, thank you.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: How many cases of double voting were there in Tasmania that you are aware of?

Mr Molnar : Alleged multivoting?


Mr Molnar : So far—because we are still through part of this process and it is not complete, obviously—we have had 359 potential multivoters. Like I said, that process of us analysing those is continuing. So far, a lot of the people that fall into this category are to do with confusion, age and new citizens. That is the bulk, but I have said this process is continuing.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: In another instance where there has been some evidence, we were told that a fair percentage of them were administrative errors, whatever that means. Do you categorise them into administrative errors, other errors and things that look really dodgy to the extent where you might refer them to the AFP?

Mr Molnar : We certainly do. With administrative errors, the main one is when they are marked off the list. They might go one above or one below and suddenly you get the multi-nonvoter thing. We have matched those up, so that is the main portion of the admin errors. As I said, there is the confusion of some people who legitimately say, 'Yes, I did, but I was confused with the process.' After we have done all that, they are referred to the AFP.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Do you do any investigations of individuals as the AEC? If my name is crossed off twice as voting, you would come and ask me whether I voted twice?

Mr Molnar : Yes, we do.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: If I were to vote twice, I would not do it in my own name. Perhaps you will have to take this on notice: could you give me the break-up per electorate?

Mr Molnar : I would have to take it on notice.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Also, while you are at it, could you indicate whether there was any particular booth where there was more alleged double voting than elsewhere? Are there any particular booths where there seems to be an inordinate number? Would you be able to do that on notice?

Mr Molnar : Yes, I will take all that on notice.

Mr Kitson : Senator, are you asking about booth level and divisional level?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Certainly at divisional level, but perhaps one of your officers is looking at it and says, 'Gee, isn't this unusual? At Hobart Town Hall there is a large number of these.' You said there were 359 potentials. This is something that obviously worries you every election. Is there some way we can overcome the potential for double voting or the clerical errors? Is there a solution? In some electorates, the result depends on a dozen or so votes.

Mr Kitson : I think the commissioner, in evidence perhaps last week, noted the greater reliability on the electronically certified lists in removing those administrative errors. I do not think it completely eradicates them, but it does take out a greater proportion of the potential for human error. Much of the data that we see that points to potential multiple voting is in fact simply smudges and marks on the scanned certified lists. As you would be aware, we scan each of the certified lists that we use and they simply contain a number of marks that do not indicate potential administrative errors; it is simply the way the scanning process delivers an apparent anomaly. There are those administrative errors which are simply somebody having been marked off that, as you would be aware, very tight certified list. Electronic certified lists are certainly the most reliable form of assistance that we have at present, but I think the commissioner noted to you that the cost and logistical challenges of delivering those devices are enormous.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: When I book into a motel these days or go to a nightclub—which does not happen often—I have to prove who I am. The only place in Australia where you do not have to show proof of identity seems to be when you are registered to vote or you go to vote on that day. Does the commission have a view of proof of identity for registration and, indeed, for voting on the day?

Mr Kitson : Again, I think the commissioner is on record as noting that evidence of identity would undoubtedly assist in the process of deterring potential multiple voters and providing greater assurance in the process. He has also commented that it is obviously a matter for the parliament to determine and we will simply administer that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: A lot of people, as I recall, were coming in with a letter from the AEC with a barcode on them and saying, 'This is who I am; give me a ballot paper,' but anyone could have that letter. Is there any way of checking that the bearer of the letter is the person to whom the letter was addressed?

Mr Kitson : There are no guarantees of that. As you would be aware, some of the state commissions operate to a similar system of barcoded letters to electors or detachable ID segments of letters, but the possession of that letter in and of itself is not a guarantee of identity.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Did you have any instances in Tasmania where there were no sufficient ballot papers so they were handwritten out by the AEC staff? Usually this would be in what we used to call absentee and other declaration. There was a blank watermarked piece of paper, with squares on it, on which the AEC staff had written the name and party of the contenders in various electorates.

Mr Molnar : There was one incident with one paper, that I know of.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: How do you treat those papers that are sometimes not initialled?

Mr Molnar : For that particular case, it would have been written in OIC Return that it had happened, so we would have been expecting that. And we have to be sure it is authentic. In those cases, we would check to make sure and talk to the person involved, if it happened.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Very often a returning officer would say, 'It's not an issue; that's not fatal,' and just accept it anyhow.

Mr Molnar : That is just part of whether a ballot paper is authentic or not. If it is not initialled it does not mean it is not authentic. We have to go through the whole process and be satisfied so if that is missed it is not the make or break of it.

Mr DICK: I have a couple of questions about the 265 polling places in Tasmania and the 18 early places, given the advice you gave us this morning. How does that compare with the number from 2013?

Mr Molnar : In 2013 there were 308 polling places. That is 43 less, this time. For pre-poll voting centres it is a similar number, but I will have to get the 2013—

Mr DICK: I assume the 18 early places, five electorates, on average, three per division.

Mr Molnar : Yes, very similar.

Mr DICK: How do you think that worked with the huge jump in the number of pre-poll voters from 23,000 to 33,000, which, I think you said, is a 40 per cent increase. Do you think those numbers are enough to manage those sorts of numbers?

Mr Molnar : I do. The pre-poll centres themselves spread out over several weeks. The capacity, the staffing and the locations of those were adequate for those numbers as well, and we were predicting those expected increases. So it was linking it up for that.

Mr DICK: On, perhaps, the most remote and coldest polling place in Australia, in the Antarctic Territory, which I am interested in—to make sure that every Australian has their vote—I understand in the territory of Heard Island, McDonald Islands, Macquarie Island and, in some cases, ships in transit, we look after those voters or your division looks after those voters in Mawson, Davis and Casey stations, which I read from reports were up to negative 20 degrees on election day. If I am right, people still have to line up—perhaps without the sausage sizzle—at that location.

I am interested in the process of when those votes are counted. I understand—if you could confirm this—those results are transmitted on the day or soon after the election for those votes to be counted in their own divisions. I understand officers are trained to go down to conduct the ballot. What is the cost involved with that? You may not have that to hand. I support every Australian having their vote but I would be interested in just what it costs the taxpayer or those brave men and women to have their vote.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I would be interested in how many voters you get from Heard Island and McDonald Islands too.

Mr Molnar : The bases at Macquarie Island, Casey, Davis and Mawson are the ones we administer. We appoint returning officers and assistants down there and we also liaise with the Antarctic Division to make that happen. They are voluntary positions—they are not paid positions—and the team leader has overall control to make sure everything is above board there. With regard to them voting, it is a form of pre-poll voting. Once they have all the ballot material they need, they have several weeks like with pre-polling, so they have to have voted before polling day as well. So there is no great line-up as such with the numbers they have, and they have that period of time to vote. With regard to getting the votes, they are phoned through from each base by the returning officer on Sunday morning after polling day, and it is spelt out in the Electoral Act for this to happen. Those votes are then transcribed onto ballot papers in Hobart and those ballot papers are then put into a declaration envelope, which I sign on behalf of each elector. Then they are sent to the home division after that.

Mr DICK: So you would not have a figure for what the total cost is? Perhaps you could take that on notice.

Mr Molnar : I would have to take it on notice, but, in general, it is the cost of the administration in Hobart for that to happen, with the staff involved in that. It is over a several-week period with several officers involved, so you would have to work out the breakdown of how many hours they spent to do that. I do not have those figures here, but we can work those out.

Mr Kitson : I think it would be enormously difficult to extrapolate the separate costs of that. It is always an embedded cost.

CHAIR: So there is no specific costing for it, but, because of the way you do it with phoning and pre-poll, it is embedded in the cost of your daily business. Do you want them to take that on notice, Mr Dick?

Mr DICK: No, that is fine. I just wanted to know if there was a budget allocation for sending staff down and so on. Thank you.

CHAIR: I have a follow-up question. With overseas votes here in Tasmania—and we will ask this question during the inquiry—do have numbers for how many were received? Were they all received by the cut-off date or were some not counted? Do you have figures for that?

Mr Molnar : I do have the figures. All were counted; there were none that were not counted. I will have to take that on notice to give you the exact numbers for Tasmania.

CHAIR: That might be a question for Mr Kitson. Can we get those national figures and a breakdown by state and territory? Were they all received in time and counted? Thank you.

Senator CAROL BROWN: You closed some booths after having an analysis done, I am assuming, after the 2013 election. Given that there does seem to have been a longer waiting period for people across Tasmania, do you think the booths that you closed had an impact? In the suburb of Warrane, on the eastern shore, it previously had two booths and you closed one of those. In my view, you closed the one that had better disability access, and the waiting times at the booth have been reported back as being quite lengthy.

Mr Molnar : There is no direct relationship between the queueing figures I have seen, where we get to 30 minutes, and the booths we closed, because, equally, we adjusted the staffing numbers. There is no direct correlation between closing a booth and queues increasing. There are other factors involved in this process, which are shown in our submission as well. Extra time to explain the Senate voting system at the issuing point and also extra time to fill in the Senate ballot paper are the main reasons why people have said they have taken longer in the booths, which has caused some of the queues.

Senator CAROL BROWN: How do you know that?

Mr Molnar : We know that from the surveys that have been conducted so far and there was a voting survey taken on the understanding of the new Senate system. People have anecdotally said that it has taken longer for the Senate.

CHAIR: When you say survey, can you just explained the methodology of the survey?

Mr Kitson : The survey was a national survey. It probably would not go to the level of granularity that would answer the question in relation to the polling place that you are referring to, Senator. The survey is broad ranging. It touches on a number of voters and their experiences at the election, both positive and negative, and other commentaries that they may wish to make. From a reasonably broad survey, we are able to extrapolate some understanding of voter sentiment, but it will not cover anything with any level of empirical detail.

CHAIR: Is this a survey that the AEC did itself or did you commission someone to do it for you?

Mr Kitson : We commissioned an external party to conduct it on our behalf.

Senator CAROL BROWN: How many people were involved in the survey?

Mr Kitson : I will have to take that on notice.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I take it that it was conducted across the nation?

Mr Kitson : It was across the nation, you will have to forgive me, my recollection is thin at the moment, but I think it was several thousand people who were polled.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Several thousand?

Mr Kitson : I think it was several thousand. I cannot remember how many off the top of my head. I will have to take that question on notice.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What percentage of the voting population is that?

Mr Kitson : It would be a very small percentage of the voting population, but probably a valid sample. Where we contract a third party to conduct surveys for us we would look for statistically valid samples.

Senator CAROL BROWN: It would be good for the committee, I think, to have an understanding of the types of people that you chose—non-English-speaking people or people with disability.

Mr Kitson : I am happy to take that on notice. I think it is reasonable to note that we are still in the process of analysing some of that data. It has only recently been available to us in its interim form, so it may take us a little while to finalise the results, but we can give you some indicative data from that survey.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Just as a matter of course, will you have a look at the polling booths from the 2016 election to see whether you need to increase polling booths in some areas? Is that exercise undertaken after each federal election?

Mr Molnar : It is undertaken after the election and it is ongoing as well. I am just looking at the figures—you were talking about Warrane. Warrane polling booth increased from 1,200 votes in 2013 to almost 1,900 this time because Warrane North closed, that was one factor for the increase. The maximum queue time there was 25 minutes, which is in that 20-to-30-minute range and is comparable to the 2013election. There is no direct relation, as I said, between the queuing times there and the closure of the booth. You can not say that it has made that queue a lot bigger. We did consult with the local member about the booths that were closed in that particular area and we received comments. There were other booths that we did not close.

Senator CAROL BROWN: She asked you not to close it.

Mr Molnar : There were two booths. One was Gagebrook and the other was Warrane. She was satisfied—

Senator CAROL BROWN: Gagebrook is in the electorate of Lyons, which had a different member.

Mr Molnar : Both of those were looked at as well. We did consider what the members were saying. I would have to re-read what was said about Warrane North, but in the end the member was satisfied that that booth could be closed and we could adjust staffing around those booths. We certainly considered that decision carefully.

CHAIR: You closed booths and you engaged a total of 2½ thousand staff over the course of the campaign. Did you have fewer staff than at the last election, where you had more booths, or did you retain the same number of staff?

Mr Molnar : There were slightly more staff for less booths.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What does 'slightly less' mean?

Mr Molnar : In 2013 the number of staff in polling booths on the day was 1,924, whereas this time we had just over 2,007. We actually had an increase of staff in the polling booths, and there were less polling booths. So what I am saying is: the numbers were looked at, and we staffed those polling booths accordingly so they could satisfy—

CHAIR: Mr Kitson, I suspect this is going to be a question we will ask around the country. Obviously you did a flow analysis about how to actually keep the people moving through the booth. Whereabouts did you employ the extra staff on polling booths? That is obviously a question for you to take on notice.

Mr Kitson : I can say that the additional staffing is applied to a threshold of around 600 voters per polling place—that is where we increase the 2IC loading. Broadly speaking, there were around 700 less polling places at this election compared to the previous election, but our staffing numbers increased quite commensurately across the period of the election.

CHAIR: What I will do now is raise a few issues that have been raised and that we will raise around the country. I just want to throw out some issues there, and then we will open it up so anyone can ask questions. The first one I would like to have a talk about is the issue of training, and it is clearly very stark here—you went from 24 staff to 2½ thousand staff. Can you talk a little bit more, in general terms, about the challenges and how you addressed that locally. What I am interested in is how much of the staff is repeat staff—so how much of the staff came back from 2013 and how you dealt with that.

Mr Molnar : With regard to the permanent staff, temporary staff or both?

CHAIR: Both.

Mr Molnar : With regard to permanent staff, there was the training of 24 people. There were similar numbers in the last election. A third of those were new-to-role and about a quarter of those were new to the AEC, so you have that challenge of training those people in what they need to deliver. With regard to temporary staff, it varies between locations, but you have a minimum of a third of the staff being new, and in some areas it could be as high as 50 per cent. Again, you have that challenge of training those people. In Tasmania as well you have a different type of challenge because a lot of the staff also work on the state events. That is a different system, so we have to concentrate on working between those to make sure they are delivering the federal requirements versus the state or local government requirements.

CHAIR: The completely new staff members do the electronic online training module. Are you able to do anything more with them in terms of familiarisation with the role they will be undertaking on the day? I understand that the electronic online training module gets sent out to them once you have registered them and they complete that online training. What do you then do with them to prepare them for the location and the task they will be undertaking?

Mr Molnar : There are supervisors, like our OICs and those sorts of positions, who they can talk to. There is also face-to-face training that happens where we have certified trainers delivering that. The trainers can be our DROs or other staff, but they are all certified to deliver that training. That training is complemented by their online training. There is the information that is on our website as well, and they are given very specific role task briefs and procedure handbooks to follow. There are also briefings on the day for the staff working in the polling booths who have not had face-to-face training delivered by the OIC. We also provide a call centre type arrangement to keep in touch with staff in case there are any issues, and we have our divisional staff answer any queries.

CHAIR: From your perspective, do you feel that is sufficient, or is there additional training or other support or something different that could enable you to retain this expertise and upgrade it as we go through the election, or is there something else that we could look at that could enhance that level of experience and professionalism?

Mr Molnar : It is more general training across AEC rather than specific Tasmanian—

CHAIR: This is not in any way a criticism of the AEC, but our role here is to have a look at making recommendations that could further improve the process. Clearly, in going from 24 to 2½ thousand new staff in a critically important role for our democracy, it is about improvement. It is not about criticism; it is about improvement. If you could wave a magic wand, what else would you like to see here to support your situation?

Mr Molnar : Certainly, keeping in contact with these people between elections to keep them at a level rather than gearing these people up closer to an election would be beneficial. Again, the training itself can always be looked at and improved—for example, some of the online training. In areas where the internet is not quite as fast as some other areas, we have had to resort to some paper-based training for those people. So, for those sorts of areas, we would need to supplement that as well.

In general, the training modules and everything else need some refinement for the high-turnover of new staff coming in to make sure that they are up to speed with what they need versus the people who have done it previously. Equally, for some of our more experienced people, those courses need to concentrate on any changes to legislation that have come in. It is just the focus of the training at the right time to the right people, and that evolves as change—

CHAIR: It is keeping the team going, so it is not that they come in for an election event and then, when they are finished, it is goodbye. What you are talking about is keeping engaged with them, so that it is like keeping the team together and keeping them informed and updated—is that what you are saying?

Mr Molnar : Up to a minimum level, and then you can surge at the end, so you are not starting from ground zero on some of this.

CHAIR: Does anyone around the table have any questions on training or associated issues?

Senator CAROL BROWN: When did training begin for the 2,000 you recruited?

Mr Molnar : The national training, on announcement of the—

Senator CAROL BROWN: Sorry, your training that was conducted in Tasmania.

Mr Molnar : For the permanent staff?

Senator CAROL BROWN: No, for the people who were working on election day.

Mr Molnar : We, obviously, did some preliminary work on the allocation of roles and that beforehand. Once the election was announced the intensive training started with online modules, and then the face-to-face training was delivered in the few weeks leading up to polling day. That was the time period.

Senator CAROL BROWN: It must be quite difficult to try and train up 2,000 staff members?

Mr Molnar : Not all people get face-to-face training; that is for the supervisors. But, yes, it is challenging to train those people in the time period.

CHAIR: After the election do you survey the 2½ thousand temporary staff who have been involved and ask them if they are interested in coming back again, so you can keep them in the loop? Do you do that?

Mr Molnar : There are national surveys. But, also, we had been in contact with all our polling officials because of the potential plebiscite, so we were gearing up to see who was available. That is par for the course, after an election, to engage with the OICs, in particular, to see if there are any issues and if they are willing to stay with us for the next event.

CHAIR: So you do not have, for example, an email list of the 2½ thousand temporary staff so you can go back to them and keep in touch with them, or ask them specifically: Would you like us to keep in touch with you? Are you interested in doing this for the next federal election?

Mr Molnar : There is a registration of interest process, which is ongoing, so any temporary staff that we—

CHAIR: Is that 'no' to my question? Sorry; it is not a trick question. It just seems, from what you have said, that it would be highly desirable for each of the divisions—or centrally—to keep in touch with them.

Mr Kitson : We manage a process called 'soft contact', which essentially is our way of staying in touch with polling officials without, if you like, the hard point of a particular election date to focus on. A lot of that soft contact process starts when we know there is an event coming up. As Mr Molnar noted, with the potential for a plebiscite event in the early part of next year, we maintain some soft contact processes, as we did perhaps in the very early part of 2016, for those whom we know have worked for us in the past. But it is a very soft contact. It is designed to encourage those who have worked for us before and whom we have some level of confidence in—because we obviously evaluate performance—and to see whether they remain interested and available. Availability is obviously entirely dependent on the particular date of the event, so we will generally get some broad indications of interest in working with the AEC again but it is entirely dependent on that date.

Could I come back to the point you raised about the contact with polling officials and their training after the event. We conducted a major survey of polling officials following this event because, as you will have heard the commissioner say in evidence before, we focus very, very strongly on improving our training processes, including a significant time and financial commitment to improving online training and the quality and intensity of face-to-face training. With some external parties we conducted an extensive program of consulting polling officials to look at the efficiency and efficacy of the training processes nationally.

CHAIR: Could I ask you to take that aspect on notice and provide us with some more information about the soft contact processes. Again, maybe this is one for Mr Molnar, but it strikes me, from what we have heard here this morning, that maybe it is a question of going a little harder and a bit more rigorously in the formalising process. Clearly, you work out who you do not want back based on their performance, but having more ongoing contact with them straight after the election would mean that if people said no, they are not interested, you would actually be finding out why you do lose so many. Obviously, it is going to be to do with the date of the next election, but if you can keep these people more engaged then intuitively I think you might find you have a better retention rate and then you get a better retention rate of people who have more experience.

Mr Kitson : We have given some considerable thought over the last several electoral cycles to what we might term the 'professionalisation' of the temporary workforce, but the process of keeping somebody interested today in an electoral event that may not happen for another 2½ or three years has proved challenging, in particular without some incentive for that workforce to participate in training, whether that is a financial incentive now or later. It remains one of the AEC's primary objectives to provide a stronger relationship with that temporary workforce so that we are not starting from such a dead start during the election period.

CHAIR: In terms of what the temporary workforce get paid, if someone has done it for over 20 years—they may have done four, five, six or whatever number of elections over a period of time—do they get paid the same rate as someone who is there for the first time?

Mr Kitson : If they are in a comparable role, yes.

CHAIR: Have you had a look at that in terms of incentives—maybe a slight differentiation in terms of experience?

Mr Kitson : There are a number of constraints around the way in which we can structure pay packages for temporary staff, which go to what is called a 'collective determination'. I cannot say that I am aware of any investigation of the benefit of, if you like, a loyalty bonus or something similar.

CHAIR: But surely someone doing that job, if they are much more experienced in dealing with the issues on the day and having a much greater depth of knowledge—

Mr Kitson : Our experience is that temporary electoral workers will progress, if you like, through the ranks of the temporary election workforce. They may start off this time as a ballot box guard or an ordinary issuing officer, but then they will progress to more senior roles over the course of several elections.

CHAIR: That is how they get paid more? Because of the role that they are doing?

Mr Kitson : That is correct.

Mr Molnar : Including some bigger booths; they get paid because there are more staff to look after and everything. So that is the progression.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Did you say what they get paid? Could you give us an hourly rate for the temporary staff? Keep this quiet, because I do not want any of our volunteer scrutineers to hear about this!

Mr Kitson : They are paid to a series of package rates. So, depending on the role type, there is a package paid for that day. I am talking about polling day in itself.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Can you give us some details, perhaps on notice, of what they get paid on polling day and what they get paid for the counts?

Mr Kitson : Let me take that on notice to give you some fidelity over the data.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Is it the same all around Australia?

Mr Kitson : Yes, it is.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I will take a guess: would a temporary person get $500 for a day?

Mr Kitson : It depends entirely on the role, but I think that is certainly the minimum level. Indicatively, I think an OIC might earn around $800 to $900 depending on the location and the size of the polling place.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: That is the officer in charge?

Mr Kitson : Yes.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am interested in that too, but the ordinary—

Mr Kitson : Let me take that on notice and we will provide the structure of payments.

Mr DICK: I have a follow-up on the closure of polling booths. I think the commission has confirmed there were 38 closed in Tasmania—which is in line with one in 10 polling places closing in Australia. This may have already been provided: would you be able to provide to me or the committee a list of the polling places closed?

Mr Molnar : Certainly.

CHAIR: Excessive hours have been raised with us, and were raised when we talked to the commissioner's submission. Obviously, given the nature of the election, the count and people's demands, we have this very intense 24- to 48-hour period. How did you manage that here with your staff? What were some of the issues that came out?

Mr Molnar : It has got to be managed over the whole election period, not just polling day. Leading up, our permanent staff members have to be managed as well to make sure that they are not working excessive hours continuously over weeks and weeks. Some of that was alleviated through the training we delivered, where we see that it has to be done in the few weeks leading up to polling day. The share of people doing that was increased, so these people are not doing it night after night. Also, in some of the areas where you have got co-located divisions, you can split duties so some people can have a break while another person is responsible. Polling weekend, obviously, is difficult, especially for the permanent staff members. It is a long day on Saturday and into Sunday. It is difficult for temporary staff as well. Again, some booths work longer than others. In general, we try and finish people working in the booths as early as possible, but sometimes, when there are issues going on, they can extend. The main area is later on with returning materials into our secure areas. If there are distances to be travelled, that can take longer as well.

CHAIR: Given you had a lot more here, because you had a lot more people from Victoria, were there delays with the declaration votes? Did that exacerbate it on the night and the next day? How did you manage that?

Mr Molnar : Not really on the night. Declaration votes are reconciled and sorted out on the Sunday and Monday to be sent out. That was not a real problem on polling night itself; it is after-the-fact.

Mr MORTON: I have a couple of additional questions but, following up on my previous one, on the form 'Acknowledgement and declaration of key obligations upon employment' there is a declaration that people make that they are required to take reasonable steps to avoid any conflict of interest, real or apparent, in connection with their engagement. And it requires them to notify their manager/supervisor in a timely manner of any circumstances that may give rise to any real or apparent conflict of interest. In your position, if an employee raises with their manager or supervisor any of those circumstances, would you find out personally about any of those or are they dealt with at a staff level?

Mr Molnar : I would find out personally on those—yes.

Mr MORTON: So there have not been any?

Mr Molnar : There has been none.

Mr MORTON: So I can take from you that, here in Tasmania, there has been no notification to any manager or supervisor of any circumstances?

Mr Molnar : That is correct.

Mr MORTON: And if there was you would be aware?

Mr Molnar : Yes.

Mr MORTON: In relation to disability access, what are you trying to achieve? We have a few people coming along from Paraquad Association, for example. Do you try and achieve disability access at every booth, or do you actually try and achieve a spread, and then you promote which booths have the accessibility components? I could imagine that it will be a very difficult task to make sure that every booth had universal access arrangements. What are you aiming for as a commission?

Mr Molnar : Obviously, we are aiming for as many as possible to be as accessible as possible. That criteria has 150-odd questions that have to be considered, so we have had a push to make sure that ones which are close to having full disability access are made available, and we publish what some of the issues are with other booths if they are not fully accessible. So, it is very clear for a certain person to see, for a particular polling booth, why it is not fully accessible and they can tailor which one they go to. We try to make sure that the ones with no disability access have been reduced. There was a real push and that is reduced now to 10 per cent of our polling booths, compared to 20 per cent last time, so we have made some grounds in that. But, again, the availability of polling booths—where we say you close this one and that one—we are limited by which premises are available at the time to service the general public and balance that with the disability access.

Mr Kitson : Mr Morton, may I add that the AEC runs something called the Disability Advisory Committee, which is at least an annual forum where we engage with the peak bodies from the various disability groups across the country. I currently chair that committee. Ahead of this election, I called an exceptional meeting of that group in which we advised on a range of voting services that we anticipated to take place at this election—for example, one of the enhanced services that we provided was ReadSpeaker, which is the reading of the data on our website. But during that dialogue, we explained how those lobby groups might provide advice to their members or constituents, if you like, about how they might best choose a voting place. So we explained what is meant by full accessibility, partial accessibility and encouraged them so if they cannot find a fully accessible place, to go to that next level of partial accessibility.

Mr MORTON: I was wondering whether the answer here is making sure that all booths have particular accessibility requirements met, or is it getting it to a particular level and then promoting those ones that do as an alternative. So thank you.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Were there any issues around voting for people who are blind or vision impaired them?

Mr Kitson : There is the usual range of issues, in that, we provided a service which we think was well received by the blind and low-vision representative groups, but there remains a concern that it is still not truly a secret vote for many of those people who find themselves in that position. We had a slightly lower uptake this time compared to 2013, which we do not fully understand at this point.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Based on that, will you be having discussions with the peak bodies?

Mr Kitson : Yes, we will. I am due to chair the next iteration of that committee in about a week or so.

Senator CAROL BROWN: How many people voted in that system?

Mr Kitson : Can I take that on notice. I think it was around 2,000 to 3,000.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I had heard that some people who had used that voting system and voted then received notification that they had not voted and they needed to provide a reason why.

Mr Kitson : Regrettably, there was an instance where our third-party provider made an error in some of the scanning, but we very quickly contacted those people to explain and to apologise for the error, and to note that there was no issue of non-voting.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Some of the concern that has been raised with me is that their vote was not counted.

Mr Kitson : There should be no concern about that.

CHAIR: Issues around disability will be a theme as we go around the country this week. It is clear that it is an issue that the committee will be pursuing. There are a lot of issues for us to unpack and report on separately.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Chair, can I table a photograph of a polling booth in Launceston? Could the Electoral Commission come back to the committee about how it was listed; whether it was listed as fully accessible? Both entry points to the polling booth have two to three steps.

CHAIR: There being no objection, the photo of the Launceston residential retirement village is accepted as exhibit No. 1. We will provide the commission with a copy of that for the question they have taken on notice. I have a series of questions that you could take on notice. Mr Molnar, could you further unpack for the committee these new Senate voting procedures, particularly in relation to the Fuji Xerox contract and that process? Could report how that occurred in Tasmania, what worked well and what needs to be improved? Also, could you report on how the scrutineering worked, how many informal votes there were, and whether there were any non-Tasmanian ballot papers through that scanning process, as happened in Western Australia?

Mr Molnar : No worries.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. We greatly appreciate your time. Could you pass on to your workforce, particularly your permanent workforce, the congratulations and thanks from this committee for the work they did in delivering the federal election in Tasmania. You have quite a bit of homework from the committee today, so we thank you for that. Could you forward it to the secretary by Friday, 25 November. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and will have an opportunity to request corrections to transcription errors.

Mr Molnar : Thank you.