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Performance statement – agency direction one

Deliver high quality electoral services

Our intended state:

  • we provide the public and our stakeholders with the best possible electoral services, including enrolment, election delivery, political party registration, and funding and disclosure
  • we maintain public awareness of electoral matters and voting obligations through effective communication and targeted education and community engagement activities

Intended result and performance criteria in AEC corporate plan*

Link to purpose

Result

Explanation of result

1.1 Successfully deliver federal electoral events1

Election writs returned within the timeframe specified in the writ

Election result delivered with integrity and withstands scrutiny

Efficient delivery of polling services

Met

On 28 May an election writ was issued for a by-election to be held in the division of Eden-Monaro on 4 July 2020.

Existing policies, procedures and tools to support electoral event delivery were reviewed to include COVID-19 safety measures. An event service plan was published detailing the services the public and stakeholders could expect from the AEC.

The AEC returned the election writ on 21 July 2020, before the specified date.

Two Court of Disputed Returns petitions from the 2019 federal election were resolved in 2019–20 when the Federal Court rejected bids to overturn the election results in the divisions of Kooyong and Chisholm.

1.2 High level of confidence in the electoral roll

Completeness, accuracy and integrity of the electoral roll

Accessible enrolment and updates for eligible electors

Timeliness and accuracy of enrolment processing

Active electoral roll management

Support electoral redistributions

Partly Met

At 30 June 2020, electoral roll completeness—measured through the enrolment rate—was recorded at 96.5%. With over 16.6 million Australians enrolled to vote, Australia now has the largest number of eligible electors on the electoral roll since Federation. We continue to exceed the AEC’s target enrolment rate of 95%.

The accuracy and integrity of the electoral roll—at the divisional and individual address level—declined slightly at 96% and 92% however both metrics remained above the target of 95% and 90% respectively.

Approximately 38.6% of enrolment transactions were processed using the AEC’s online enrolment system, down from 49.4% in 2018–19. This decline reflects the larger number of electoral events held in 2018–19.2

In 2019–20 the five-day enrolment processing rate was 81.6% and 84.4% for enrolments processed within five days and 30 days. This was below the targets of 95% and 99.5%, influenced by the large volume of enrolment transactions processed in July and August following the 2019 federal election.

A new program for quality assuring enrolment processing was introduced during the year. Between November 2019 and January 2020, 99.2% of transactions were processed without error in essential fields, just short of the 99.5% target.

1.3 Support electoral participation and voting formality through targeted education and public awareness activities that inform all Australians of electoral matters

Accessible public information and communication that is benchmarked3 and measured for effectiveness

Accessible and appropriate electoral education services and materials

Support electoral participation of Australians within identified communities using data and evidence

Targeted education and public awareness programs

Met

The AEC maintained accessible communication channels (website and social media) for the public and stakeholders to communicate important messages in line with our public information strategy.

After the public information and education campaign for the 2019 federal election, further research was undertaken on its effectiveness.

An expanded voter communication campaign was developed and delivered for the Eden-Monaro by-election. It included important changes to our communication with voters during COVID-19. Established electoral participation messages were paired with health protection messages under a 'plan your vote' theme.

From November 2019 the AEC’s electoral education activities and services to schools, teachers and school children were increasingly affected by bushfires and COVID-19. This included the National Electoral Education Centre and professional development initiatives for teachers.

The AEC delivers targeted engagement activities with priority groups—youth, Indigenous Australians, people with disability, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people experiencing homelessness and prisoners.

In line with the AEC’s targeted engagement approach, work continued to:

  • decentralise delivery of activities
  • work with partners
  • increase access to a range of digital information and products

In 2019–20 COVID-19 affected some face-to-face engagement activities, particularly within Indigenous communities.

1.4 Make available timely and accurate information and services to stakeholders when carrying out their legislative responsibilities and obligations

Maintain and publish a list of current registered political parties in accordance with the Electoral Act

Compliance reviews of political entities with disclosure obligations completed and published

Number of industrial and commercial election events supported annually and compliant with relevant legislation and rules

Administer political party registrations and financial disclosure

Efficient delivery of polling services

Conduct industrial and commercial elections

Partly Met

During the year, the AEC maintained a current, publicly available Register of Political Parties consistent with the Electoral Act. The register was updated after every party registration application or review.

The 2019 election disclosure returns and annual returns were published by the AEC in accordance with legislated timeframes.

In 2019 the AEC Compliance Review Committee approved 22 compliance reviews of political parties and entities with disclosure obligations. Fifteen reviews were completed and published, and seven remained in progress. In 2020, 23 compliance reviews were approved and eight remained in progress. The compliance program is currently behind schedule due to the impact of COVID-19 and resources diverted to support election funding claims.

The AEC conducted 908 industrial elections and ballots during the year. Compliance with legislation and rules was consistently monitored, and 0.88% (less than 1%) of events required further AEC management. This met the performance target of 2% or less.

*Source: AEC Corporate Plan 2019–2023, p.11.

1 Based on a federal election being held every three years. The AEC also supports referendums, plebiscites and by-elections as required.

2 Including the May 2019 federal election and events in the two largest states, New South Wales and Victoria.

3 Benchmarking follows federal elections only, however benchmarking and research was undertaken for the Eden-Monaro by-election, as standard campaign messaging was updated to reflect the changing external environment.

What we did in 2019–20

The enrolment rate is down from the 97.1 per cent recorded at June 2019. Following the 2019 election, the AEC conducted a large bulk objection round—a routine activity to maintain the integrity of the roll—which resulted in a decrease in the enrolment rate to 96.3 per cent. Roll management activities, which help recover the enrolment rate— such as Federal Direct Enrolment and Update events—were significantly disrupted by bushfires and COVID-19. Despite this, the enrolment rate recovered 0.2 percentage points at 30 June 2020.

Enrolment processing targets over five and 30 days were not met. This result is distorted primarily by a large volume of enrolment transactions that were processed in July and August from declaration envelopes received at the 2019 federal election. This is not unusual following a federal election, and processing timeliness is normally restored over the following six months. From October 2019 the AEC met its five-day processing target of 95 per cent and achieved 97.5 per cent over 30 days.

The AEC supports accessible enrolment services for all eligible electors, and encourages voters to use the AEC’s online enrolment system. Online enrolments reduce paper transactions, errors and processing costs. This year the AEC introduced webforms for most special circumstances, including silent electors, overseas electors, general postal voters, Antarctic electors and prisoners. These electors can now apply for registrations or enrolments online. In 2020–21 webforms are expected to be available for all remaining special categories of enrolment.

Developmental research was undertaken following the AEC’s public information campaign at the 2019 federal election, and planned for the Eden-Monaro by-election. This research provides insights into target audiences, and informs the AEC’s public information strategy for future electoral events.

Targeted electoral education was provided to schools, teachers and school children, with service delivery impacted by bushfires and COVID-19.

The National Electoral Education Centre (NEEC) in Canberra—usually operating at full-capacity—closed on 20 March in-line with COVID-19 public health advice. More than 480 schools (34,000 students) cancelled their visits between November 2019 and March 2020. Despite this, more than 1,700 education sessions were delivered to approximately 61,000 visitors during the year, and 94 per cent of visitors were satisfied, exceeding the 90 per cent target. The number of visitors to the AEC Schools website exceeded expectations with more than 215,000 unique visits, only slightly down from 240,000 in 2018–19 (a federal election year).

Professional learning opportunities were delivered to almost 700 pre and in-service teachers at nine universities, and to 60 participants at three conferences. As face-to-face opportunities were paused due to COVID-19, teachers were also being directed online to the AEC’s professional learning tool.

Uncertainty around the easing of restrictions—and the unknown, ongoing impact on NEEC attendance—means a new baseline will be established for visitors and professional learning in 2020–21.

Our targeted community engagement approach for priority groups in the Australian community—who may face challenges in fully participating in elections—continues. Informed by evidence, this approach focuses on engagement through partnerships, an increased digital presence, and targeted activities. Our partnerships reach out to priority groups through national and regional community organisations, government agencies and other service providers to:

  • deliver specific electoral education
  • raise broader electoral awareness through AEC information and educational resources designed to increase enrolment, turnout and formality
  • increase the number of Indigenous and linguistically diverse Australians joining the AEC’s temporary election workforce

More than 80 per cent of engagement activities are informed by analysis of enrolment data before they begin. Pilot activities leading up to and during the 2019 federal election used enrolment data and other learnings to develop targeted engagement strategies through to the next federal election. Policies, tools and plans are in place to deliver community engagement activities through AEC state offices.

COVID-19 limited some face-to-face community engagement activities in 2020, particularly with Indigenous communities. Consequently the AEC is extending its digital presence—including social media— to distribute short videos, podcasts and in-language presentations with information relevant for Indigenous Australians, people with a disability and CALD groups.

We provided information and services to our stakeholders that enable them to fulfil their legislative and regulatory obligations. This included:

  • regulating the Commonwealth funding and disclosure scheme—detailed under Part 20 of the Electoral Act—to support transparency and inform the public about the financial dealings of political parties, candidates and other entities, and individuals in the electoral process
  • making returns available on the AEC’s Transparency Register
  • undertaking a regular program of compliance reviews that examine a sample of disclosure returns lodged with the AEC

We also conducted industrial elections and ballots under the provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 and the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009. In 2019–20 the industrial elections and ballots function was re-designed to support modern and nationally consistent election delivery. Despite COVID-19 forcing services to pause towards the end of the year resulting in fewer protected action ballots being ordered, the number of events delivered was largely consistent with the previous year.