The objective of this audit was to determine the progress made by the AEC in implementing the ANAO's recommendations, taking into account any changed circumstances, or new administrative issues, affecting implementation of those recommendations.

Summary

Introduction

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is an independent statutory authority established in February 1984 under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. AEC responsibilities include:

  • managing federal parliamentary elections;
  • maintaining the Commonwealth electoral roll; and
  • providing registration, funding and disclosure services to parties and candidates.

The AEC maintains most State and Territory electoral rolls under agreements with States and Territories contained in Joint Roll Arrangements. It can also provide assistance, and manage elections, for other organisations on a fee for service basis.

The electoral roll

The integrity of the electoral roll is essential for the conduct of free and fair elections. The Commonwealth electoral roll lists the names and addresses of people entitled to vote in federal elections. By providing a reliable list of qualified electors, the electoral roll assists in ensuring that those who are entitled to vote can do so, and that electors cast their vote in the correct electoral Division.

The electoral roll changes continuously. The AEC is responsible for making additions, changes to existing details, and deletions from the roll. At any one time the roll will hold inaccurate records, where voters have recently changed address, gone overseas or died, and where the AEC has not yet been advised of the change, or identified it through its various enrolment strategies. For the 2002–03 year, the AEC processed over 2.8 million elector transactions, including nearly 319 000 new enrolments and 443 000 deletions from the roll.1

Audit Report No.42 2001-02

The Australian National Audit Office's (ANAO) Audit Report No.42 2001–02, Integrity of the Electoral Roll (Report No.42), tabled in April 2002, provided Parliament with an opinion on the integrity of the electoral roll and on the effectiveness of the AEC's management of the electoral roll.

The ANAO concluded that, overall, the Commonwealth electoral roll was one of high integrity, and that it could be relied on for electoral purposes. We concluded that the AEC was managing the electoral roll effectively. In particular, the AEC had mechanisms in place to provide assurance that the names and addresses on the electoral roll are legitimate and valid; and that people who are eligible to vote are registered properly.

At the same time we identified areas of AEC's management of the roll that could be improved; in relation to the Continuous Roll Update (CRU) program used to update the roll, by better targeting and expanding data sources; by strengthening strategic relationships with key stakeholders; and by better identifying and managing the risks to the roll. The ANAO made twelve recommendations aimed at improving the integrity of the electoral roll. The AEC agreed to all of the recommendations.

Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters review of Report No.42

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) of the Commonwealth Parliament inquires and reports on matters relating to electoral laws and practices. The JSCEM reviewed Report No.42. The Committee's report, The Integrity of the Electoral Roll, Review of ANAO Report No.42 2001–02, Integrity of the Electoral Roll, tabled in November 2002, supplemented many of the ANAO's recommendations and insights. The Committee also made 14 recommendations, the majority of which complemented the recommendations made in Report No.42.

On 16 October 2003, the Government tabled its response to the JSCEM's review of Report No.42, supporting or supporting-in-principle all the Committee's recommendations.

One of the JSCEM's recommendations was that the ANAO undertake a follow-up audit so that the Committee could review the AEC's progress in implementing Report No.42's recommendations well in advance of the next federal election. The Auditor-General agreed to this recommendation.

Audit objective

The objective of this audit was to determine the progress made by the AEC in implementing the ANAO's recommendations, taking into account any changed circumstances, or new administrative issues, affecting implementation of those recommendations.

As part of this audit, we also considered any progress to date by the AEC in addressing the JSCEM's recommendations, taking into account that the Government's response had only recently been tabled.

Audit conclusion

The ANAO concluded that progress on implementing the audit report recommendations has been slow. To date one recommendation has been fully implemented and satisfactory progress has been made on the implementation of a further nine recommendations. For the other two recommendations, the AEC has made limited progress.

There are continuing aspects of the AEC's CRU program that warrant attention. In recent years CRU has become the AEC's principal mechanism to achieve an accurate and up-to-date electoral roll. We consider that the AEC needs to give a higher priority to implementing consistent national standards for CRU data-matching and enrolment¬related activities across all States and Territories.

Agency Response

The AEC advised the ANAO that the following was its full response to the audit.

The AEC welcomes the ANAO comments in its follow-up audit report in relation to the progress the AEC has made on implementing the recommendations of Audit Report No.42, 2001–02 titled Integrity of the Electoral Roll. The AEC considers the ANAO report provides valuable and constructive feedback and direction in the implementation of the various recommendations.

While the AEC established a Roll Integrity Unit in February 2003, funding for the 2003–04 financial year to progress implementation of both the ANAO and the government¬supported recommendations was not made available to the AEC until the November 2003 Additional Estimates process. This has had an impact on the AEC's ability to progress implementation in some areas. However, the AEC is of the view that good progress has been made in the elapsed time since then.

In relation to the ANAO's view that the cutbacks in funding for the Continuous Roll Update (CRU) programme following the 2001 Federal Election appears to have impacted on the completeness of the roll, the AEC advises that despite the serious funding issues faced by the AEC as a whole, it did quarantine CRU activity from cutbacks to the extent that it could, without creating a significant impact on other essential AEC activities. The AEC is confident that the roll is in its most ‘complete' form at the close of rolls for a federal election due to the AEC's targeted advertising and intense media coverage. Without a similar and continuous level of attention between elections, it is inevitable that there will be some decline in that measure of roll quality. Nevertheless the AEC recognises the need to strive to maintain the highest standard and is seeking additional funding to address the issues.

The AEC would also like to stress that over recent years it has been working cooperatively and collaboratively with its Joint Roll Partners (who have indicated their commitment to the process) through the Electoral Council of Australia to address roll integrity issues.

Footnotes

1 2002–03 Annual Report, Australian Electoral Commission, p.30.

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