Australian Electoral Commission
|Formed||21 February 1984|
|Jurisdiction||Commonwealth of Australia|
|Employees||2,166 (as at April 2013)|
|Parent agency||Department of Finance and Deregulation|
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is the federal independent agency in charge of organising, conducting and supervising federal elections and referendums.
States and territories
State and local government elections are overseen by separate Electoral Commissions in each state and territory. Elections in New South Wales are conducted by the New South Wales Electoral Commission. In Queensland it is the Electoral Commission of Queensland. In Victoria it is the Victorian Electoral Commission. In South Australia it is the Electoral Commission of South Australia.
In Tasmania it is the Tasmanian Electoral Commission. In Western Australia it is the Western Australian Electoral Commission. In the Northern Territory it is the Northern Territory Electoral Commission, and in the Australian Capital Territory it is the Australian Capital Territory Electoral Commission.
The AEC's main responsibility is to conduct federal elections, by-elections and referendums. The AEC is also responsible for seat boundaries and redistributions, and the maintenance of an up-to-date electoral roll. Under the Joint Roll Arrangements, the AEC maintains the electoral roll for the whole of Australia, which is used by the state and territory Electoral Commissions to conduct their elections. The AEC publishes detailed election results and follows up electors who fail to vote.
The AEC is also responsible for monitoring the activities of registered 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 (e.g., votes on industrial action).
Public funding of elections
Political parties in Australia are publicly funded by the AEC, to reduce the influence of private money upon elections, and subsequently, 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. For example, after the 2013 election, political parties and candidates received $58.1 million in election funding. The Liberal Party received $23.9 million in public funds, as part of the Coalition total of $27.2 million, while the Labor Party received $20.8 million.
History and structure
The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902 set up the framework for the Commonwealth electoral system, which was administered until 1916 as a branch of the Department of Home Affairs, then until 1928 by the Department of Home and Territories, back to Department of Home Affairs until 1932 and then Department of the Interior until 1972. The Australian Electoral Office was created in 1973 by the Australian Electoral Office Act 1973. On 21 February 1984 the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) was established as a Commonwealth statutory authority.
The AEC is answerable to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters of the Parliament of Australia, and must report on how elections were carried out and the success of elections in general.
The AEC was created by and operates under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. It consists of a chairman (a Judge or a retired Judge of the Federal Court), 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 the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1998. The Chairperson and the third, non-judicial member both hold their offices on a part-time basis.
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.
Since the loss of 1,400 ballots during the recount for the 2013 Western Australia Senate election and the subsequent 2014 special election, the management of the AEC has been under significant scrutiny.
List of Australian Electoral Commissioners
|21 February 1984||26 November 1989||Colin Anfield Hughes|
|18 December 1989||20 December 1994||Brian Field Cox|
|16 January 1995||14 January 2000||Wilfred James "Bill" Gray|
|23 March 2000||1 July 2005||Andrew Kingsley "Andy" Becker|
|2 July 2005||22 September 2008||Ian Campbell|
|5 January 2009||4 July 2014||Ed Killesteyn|
|15 Dec 2014||Present||Tom Rogers|
In Australia voter registration is called "enrolment", and the electoral register is called an "electoral roll". A permanent Australian federal electoral roll has been maintained since 1908, and enrolment has been compulsory for federal elections since 1912. The AEC maintains Australia's federal electoral roll, which is used for federal elections and referendums. Each state also has its own electoral commission or office, but voters need to register only with the AEC which shares the registration details with the relevant state electoral commission, except in the case of Western Australia, which maintains its own electoral roll. The federal roll also forms the basis of state (except in Western Australia) and local electoral rolls.
AEC registration covers federal, state and local voter registration. In Australia and in each state and territory, it is a legal offence to fail to vote (or, at the very least, attend a polling station and have one's name crossed off the roll) at any federal or state election, punishable by a nominal fine. The amount varies between federal and state elections. (The fine for not voting is currently A$75.00 in Victoria. This figure is indexed at the beginning of every financial year.) Usually people are issued with warnings when it is found that they have not voted, and they are given an opportunity to show cause. Acceptable reasons for not voting may include being in the accident department of a hospital, being ill (requires confirmation), being out of the country on election day, religious objections, being incarcerated, etc. "I forgot" is not considered acceptable and will incur a fine. Section 245 of the Electoral Act (Cwth) provides that if an elector has been asked the "true reason" for his failure to vote states that he did not do so because it was against his religion, this statement shall be regarded as conclusive, and no further action will be taken.
Traditionally, voters cannot register within three weeks of an election. In 2004 the Howard government passed legislation that prevented registration after 8 pm on the day that the writs were issued (this can be up to 10 days after the election has been announced). This legislation was considered controversial by some Australians who contended it disenfranchised first-time voters or those who have forgotten to update their enrolment. The law was repealed just before the 2010 federal election, after advocacy group GetUp! obtained a High Court ruling that the changes were unconstitutional. 16 and 17 year olds can provisionally enrol and are able to vote when they turn 18.
- Australian Public Service Commission (2 December 2013), State of the Service Report: State of the Service Series 2012-13 (PDF), Australian Public Service Commission, p. 253, archived from the original (PDF) on 6 December 2013
- Nov 27, 2013 (2013-11-27). "AEC Finalises $58 Million Of Election Funding To Candidates In Federal Election". Australianpolitics.com. Retrieved 2017-09-19.
- Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902
- "Parliament of Australia: Joint Committee on Electoral Matters: Home Page". Aph.gov.au. Archived from the original on 8 January 2011. Retrieved 2010-12-25.
- 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.
- "Media Release: Appointment of the Electoral Commissioner". Special Minister of State. 12 April 2013.
- Joint Rolls Arrangement between Commonwealth, State and Territories
- Australian Electoral Commission. "Deadlines for enrolling to vote for federal elections". Retrieved 4 August 2010.
- Rowe v Electoral Commissioner,  HCA 46; (2010) 243 CLR 1
- ABC News Australia. "High Court upholds GetUp! case". Retrieved 20 August 2010.
- "Enrolment – Frequently Asked Questions". Australian Electoral Commission.
- The Australian Electoral Commission website
- The Electoral Council of Australia and New Zealand website, the consultative council between the AEC, New Zealand, state and territory electoral authorities