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External scrutiny

Judicial decisions

The 2019 federal election

Three petitions were lodged in the Court of Disputed Returns in relation to the 2019 federal election.

Two petitions, Garbett v Liu [2019] 375 ALR 117 and Yates v Frydenberg, were heard together by the Federal Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns. These petitions alleged a breach of section 329(1) of the Electoral Act by similar electoral advertising displayed in the divisions of Chisholm and Kooyong. The electoral advertising were corflute signs in the Mandarin language that were placed in close proximity to AEC signage in a similar purple colour to that used by the AEC. While both petitions were dismissed, the Federal Court did find the corflute signs were misleading or deceptive when:

  • placed adjacent to AEC signs purporting to be a sign of, and convey a message from, the AEC rather than the political party responsible for the sign
  • the statement or message on the sign stating that putting a particular political party first is the ‘correct’ or ‘right’ way to vote implied that the only way to cast a valid vote was to vote for that party

The third petition, Staindl v Frydenberg [2020] 376 ALR 226, related to the eligibility of the elected candidate in the division of Kooyong. This petition alleged that under the Constitution, the elected candidate was not eligible to sit as a member of the House of Representatives because he was the citizen of another country. The AEC was not the Australian Constitution are administered by the Attorney-General’s Department. This petition was also dismissed by the Federal Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal decisions

There were no decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal that had a significant effect on the operations of the AEC during the reporting period.

Australian Information Commissioner decisions

There were no matters the subject of a decision by the Australian Information Commissioner during the reporting period.

Australian Privacy Commissioner decisions

There were no decisions by the Australian Privacy Commissioner that involved the AEC, or that had, or might have had a significant effect on the AEC’s operations during the reporting period.

Australian Human Rights Commission decisions

Four complaints were lodged with the Australian Human Rights Commission during the reporting period. Three matters were terminated by the commission. One matter remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period.

The two disability complaints from the 2018–19 reporting period were finalised during the current reporting period. One complaint was terminated by the Australian Human Rights Commission. The other complaint was resolved by the AEC.

Auditor-General Reports

There were no Auditor-General reports during the reporting period.

Parliamentary committees

The AEC engages with parliamentary committees—notably the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters—and the Department of Finance to increase awareness of the opportunities and challenges for electoral practice and administration.

In 2019–20 the AEC:

  • provided information and advice on electoral management and the delivery of electoral services to three parliamentary committees for four inquiries
  • made eight public submissions and attended one public hearing
  • attended two Senate Estimates hearings and responded to 26 Senate Estimates Questions on Notice

Commonwealth Ombudsman investigations

There were no reports on the operations of the AEC by the Commonwealth Ombudsman during the reporting period.

Freedom of information

Under the Freedom of Information Act 1982, the AEC’s Freedom of Information Disclosure Log and Information Publication Scheme can be accessed at www.aec.gov.au/information-access.

Customer scrutiny

The AEC’s service charter—available at www.aec.gov.au—outlines the agency’s role and purpose, and the services the public can expect to receive.

Public engagement policies, procedures and tools are also available for staff. The AEC routinely examines enquiry trends to improve public information and services.

Electoral communication complaints

During the 2019 federal election the AEC received 1,072 complaints related to electoral communication.1* Most of these complaints related to improperly authorised electoral communication. The purpose of authorisation requirements is to promote free and informed voting at elections.

The AEC provided advice on 544 of these enquiries and complaints, and investigated 528 electoral communications. Where breaches were identified, the AEC issued 78 warnings and took further action on 11 matters.

A breakdown of the electoral communication investigated by the AEC during the 2019 federal election is at Appendix I: Electoral communications complaints.


  1. *As authorisation data was not fully known and analysed until after the return of the writ for the 2019 federal election, it was not included in the 2018–19 annual report. This data was subsequently reported to the Joint Standing Committee of Electoral Matters as part of the AEC’s main submission