Australian Electoral Commission
Agency overview
Formed21 February 1984
JurisdictionCommonwealth of Australia
HeadquartersCanberra
Employees3,478 (as at 31 December 2023)[1]
Minister responsible
Agency executives
  • Mr Tom Rogers, Electoral Commissioner
  • The Hon. Justice Susan Kenny, Chairperson
  • Dr David Gruen, Non-judicial member
Parent agencyDepartment of Finance
Websitewww.aec.gov.au
Entrance to polling station run by the Australian Electoral Commission (2016 federal election)

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is the independent statutory authority and agency of the Australian Government responsible for the management of federal Australian elections, by-elections and referendums.

History

The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902 set up the framework for the Commonwealth electoral system,[2] which was administered until 1916 as a branch of the Department of Home Affairs, by the Department of Home and Territories until 1928, back to Department of Home Affairs to 1932, and then Department of the Interior until 1972. The Australian Electoral Office was created in 1973 by the Australian Electoral Office Act 1973.[3] The AEC was created by and operates under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.[citation needed]

On 21 February 1984 the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) was established as a Commonwealth statutory authority.[citation needed]

After the loss of 1,400 ballots during the recount for the 2013 Western Australia Senate election and the subsequent 2014 special election, the AEC came under significant scrutiny, leading to the resignation of Commissioner Ed Killesteyn.[4]

During the 2023 Australian Indigenous Voice referendum, then Opposition Leader Peter Dutton claimed that the Commission’s counting process was “rigged”, on the basis that the AEC would count ticks as "yes" votes but would not count crosses as "no votes" in accordance with pre-existing regulations.[5] Dutton’s comments were criticised as undermining faith in Australia’s electoral system and of echoing Trumpian misinformation when it comes to election integrity.[6][7]

Later in 2023, the Commission topped an annual Commonwealth government trust survey, with 87 per cent of respondents indicating various levels of trust in the AEC’s running of the federal election system, the highest trust rating of any government authority.[8]

Structure

The AEC is answerable to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters[9] of the Parliament of Australia, and must report on how elections were carried out and the success of elections in general.[citation needed]

As specified under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, the AEC consists of a chairperson (a judge or a retired judge of the Federal Court of Australia), the Electoral Commissioner, and a non-judicial member (usually the Australian Statistician). The Electoral Commissioner has the powers of a secretary of a department under the Public Service Act 1999 and Financial Management and Accountability Act 1998. The chairperson and the third, non-judicial member both hold their offices on a part-time basis.[citation needed]

Each House of Representatives electorate has a Divisional Returning Officer responsible for administration of elections within the division. Each state also has an Australian Electoral Officer responsible for administration of Senate elections. The AEC has a National Office in Canberra and an office in each state and territory: Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney.[citation needed]

Responsibilities

The AEC's main role is to conduct federal elections, by-elections and referendums, maintain up-to-date electoral rolls, and determine electorate boundaries, apportionments and redistributions. Under a Joint Roll Arrangement with the states and territories, the AEC maintains enrolment for the whole of Australia, for rolls used in state and local government elections, other than Western Australia, The AEC publishes detailed federal election results and investigates electors who appear to fail to vote, or may have voted multiple times in an election.[citation needed]

The AEC is also responsible for registering political parties intending to field candidates at federal elections, monitoring the activities of those political parties, including receiving returns from parties of donations and expenditures, and the publication of the information. The AEC also plays an electoral education role, aiming to educate citizens about the electoral process by which representatives are elected, and by which the Australian Constitution is changed (referendums). It also plays a role in industrial voting and protected action ballots (e.g., votes on industrial action).[citation needed]

The rules for federal elections are contained in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, while the rules for referendums are contained in the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984.[10]

Registration of political parties

The formal registration of political parties in Australia commenced in New South Wales in 1981 and 1984 for the Commonwealth. The AEC is required to maintain a register of political parties.[11] Such registration is required before a party can field candidates, receive public funding, have party identification on ballot papers and use above-the-line ticket voting.[12][better source needed]

In all jurisdictions, conditions relating to a party name require party names to have a maximum of six words, not be obscene and not to resemble the name of another, unrelated party, be likely to cause confusion with another party nor contain the word "independent" or "independent party".[citation needed]

All Australian jurisdictions also have a minimum membership requirement, which differs widely, especially when compared with the total number of people enrolled in the jurisdiction. These range from 100 in the ACT and Tasmania, 200 in SA, 500 in Vic and WA, 1,500 for the Commonwealth and 750 in New South Wales. Four jurisdictions require a fee for registration: $500 for the Commonwealth, Victoria and the Northern Territory; and $2,000 for New South Wales.[12]

Public funding of political parties

Main article: Political funding in Australia

Since 1984, Australian political parties have been publicly funded by the AEC. The objective of public funding is to reduce the influence of private money upon elections, and consequently, the influence of private money upon the shaping of public policy. After each election, the AEC distributes a set amount of money to each political party, per vote received. A candidate or Senate group needs 4% of the primary vote to be eligible for public funding.[13]

After the 2013 election, political parties and candidates received $58.1 million in election funding, with the funding rate being 248.800 cents per vote. The Liberal Party received $23.9 million, as part of the Coalition total of $27.2 million, while the Labor Party received $20.8 million. Other significant recipients were Australian Greens with $5.5 million, Palmer United Party with $2.3 million, and Liberal Democratic Party with $1.0 million.[14]

In 2016, $62.7 million was distributed, with the funding rate being 262.784 cents per vote.[13]

Electoral roll

One of the functions of the AEC is the maintenance of the electoral roll, which in some other countries are called electoral registers. In Australia voter registration is called "enrolment". The AEC maintains Australia's federal electoral roll, which is used for federal elections, by-elections and referendums. Australia has maintained a permanent federal electoral roll since 1908 and, by amendment to the Commonwealth Electoral Act, enrolment has been compulsory for federal elections since 1924.[15] The requirement to register then applied to British subjects over the age of 21.[citation needed]

Though each state and territory also has its own electoral commission or office, voters need to register only with the AEC, which shares the registration details with the relevant state electoral bodies. The federal roll also forms the basis of state (except in Victoria and Western Australia, which maintain their own roll) and local electoral rolls.[16]

AEC registration covers federal, state and local election voter enrolment. In Australia and in each state or territory, it is an offence to fail to vote without valid or sufficient reason, at any federal or state election, and may be punishable by a nominal monetary penalty. The amount varies between federal and state jurisdictions. Usually, people are issued with warnings when it is found they have not voted, and are given an opportunity to show cause. Acceptable reasons for not voting may include being illness, being overseas on election day, religious belief, being incarcerated, etc. "I forgot" is not considered acceptable. Section 245 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act provides that if an elector has been asked the reason for failing to vote and declares a religious belief, this statement shall be regarded as conclusive with no further action being taken.[citation needed]

Traditionally, voters could not register after the Close of Roll for an election. In 2004, the Howard government passed legislation that prevented registration after 8 pm on the day the writs were issued. This can be up to 10 days after the election has been announced.[17] The legislation was considered controversial by some Australians, who contended it disenfranchised first-time voters, or those who forgot to update their enrolment. The law was repealed prior to the 2010 federal election, when advocacy group GetUp! obtained a High Court ruling[18] the changes unconstitutional.[19] 16 and 17 year old's can provisionally enroll and able to vote when they turn 18.[20]

List of Australian Electoral Commissioners and predecessors

Prior to the creation of the AEC in 1984, the senior electoral officer was designed the Chief Electoral Officer of the Commonwealth.[21]

Commissioner Term Start Term End
Chief Electoral Officers of the Commonwealth (1901–1984)
George Lewis 15 March 1901 31 May 1905
Walter Bingle 1 June 1905 31 March 1906
Ryton Campbell Oldham 1 April 1906 21 June 1924
Joshua Dyson Farrar 28 August 1924 17 April 1930
Stewart Irwin 18 April 1930 12 November 1932
Frederick John Quinlan 14 November 1932 11 July 1934
Victor Francis Turner 12 July 1934 8 September 1954
Leslie Ainsworth 9 September 1954 1 February 1959
Francis Lyell Ley 2 February 1959 15 July 1976
Keith William Pearson 16 July 1976 21 February 1984
Australian Electoral Commissioners (1984–present)
Colin Hughes 21 February 1984 26 November 1989
Brian Field Cox 18 December 1989 20 December 1994
Wilfred James "Bill" Gray 16 January 1995 14 January 2000
Andy Becker 23 March 2000 1 July 2005
Ian Campbell 2 July 2005 22 September 2008
Ed Killesteyn 5 January 2009 4 July 2014
Tom Rogers 15 December 2014 Present

See also

Electoral commissions of each state and self-governing territory:

Notes

  1. ^ Australian Public Service Commission (28 March 2024). "APS Employment Database interactive interface (APSEDii)". Australian Public Service Commission. Retrieved 25 May 2024.
  2. ^ "Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902 (No 19 of 1902)". Australasian Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 5 October 2023.
  3. ^ Australian Electoral Office Act 1973
  4. ^ Matthew Knott (30 May 2014). "AFP to investigate thousands of cases of multiple voting in 2013 election". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  5. ^ https://amp.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/aug/25/indigenous-voice-to-parliament-referendum-aec-poll-unfairness-claims-rejected
  6. ^ https://amp.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/aug/29/indigenous-voice-to-parliament-peter-dutton-sarah-hanson-young-new-low
  7. ^ https://www.themonthly.com.au/the-politics/rachel-withers/2023/08/28/crossing-line
  8. ^ https://www.afr.com/politics/federal/electoral-commission-tops-federal-trust-survey-20231128-p5engz
  9. ^ "Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters – Parliament of Australia". Aph.gov.au. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  10. ^ "Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984". Australasian Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 5 October 2023.
  11. ^ "Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 – Sect 125: Register of Political Parties". classic.austlii.edu.au. Retrieved 28 March 2022.
  12. ^ a b 6. Registration of Political Parties, ANU Press
  13. ^ a b "Election Funding Payments: 2016 Federal Election – AustralianPolitics.com". 17 August 2016. Retrieved 28 March 2022.
  14. ^ "AEC Finalises $58 Million of Election Funding To Candidates in Federal Election". Australianpolitics.com. 27 November 2013. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  15. ^ "A short history of federal electoral reform in Australia". Australian Electoral Commission. 8 October 2019. Retrieved 5 May 2022.
  16. ^ Electoral Matters Committee (22 March 2022). Inquiry into whether Victoria should participate in a national electoral roll platform (PDF) (Report). Parliament of Victoria. pp. 3–8. Retrieved 2 November 2022.
  17. ^ Australian Electoral Commission. "Deadlines for enrolling to vote for federal elections". Retrieved 4 August 2010.
  18. ^ Rowe v Electoral Commissioner, [2010] HCA 46; (2010) 243 CLR 1
  19. ^ "High Court upholds GetUp! case". ABC News (Australia). 6 August 2010. Retrieved 20 August 2010.
  20. ^ "Enrolment – Frequently Asked Questions". Australian Electoral Commission.
  21. ^ "The Commonwealth's most senior electoral officers since 1901". Australian Electoral Commission. Retrieved 26 May 2024.