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External scrutiny

Significant developments and judicial decisions

The AEC was involved in four matters in the Federal Court during 2020–21, two of which are ongoing.

  1. Mr Clive Palmer applied to suspend the review of the party registration of the United Australia Party (UAP). The Federal Court enabled the party registration review to continue and the AEC determined that UAP could continue to be registered as a political party. The matter is now finalised.
  2. The AEC filed proceedings in the Federal Court against a candidate at the 2019 Federal Election, Mr Wayne Wharton, for failure to submit a candidate election return. On 1 June 2021, the Federal Court found Mr Wharton had contravened two provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act). The Court ordered Mr Wharton to pay $10,000 plus costs.
  3. The AEC filed proceedings in the Federal Court against a candidate at the 2019 Federal Election, Mr Barry Futter, for failure to submit a candidate election return. This matter is ongoing.
  4. A candidate for election to offices in the Manufacturing Division of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining And Energy Union, Mr Arturo Menon, applied to the Federal Court to stop the election. He also requested an inquiry into alleged irregularities relating to union membership. On 8 June 2021, the Court agreed to hold an inquiry into the alleged irregularities. The Court did not order the AEC to stop the election. This matter is ongoing.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal decisions

No decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal had significant effect on the operations of the AEC during the reporting period.

Australian Information Commissioner decisions

The Australian Information Commissioner (AIC) reviewed three matters relating to AEC Freedom of Information (FOI) decisions during the year.

The AIC is still reviewing two of the FOI decisions. In the finalised FOI review, the AIC upheld the AEC’s decision to withhold documents relating to the testing of members prior to the registration of a political party. The AIC cited section 47 of the Freedom of Information Act (Cth) as the basis for its ruling.

Australian Privacy Commissioner decisions

The Australian Privacy Commissioner received two privacy complaints about internal AEC administration during this reporting period. These two matters are ongoing.

Australian Human Rights Commission decisions

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) received two complaints during the reporting period. The AHRC dismissed one complaint. The second complaint was resolved by the AHRC, AEC and the applicant.

Auditor-General Reports

One Auditor-General report was tabled during the reporting period that is specific to the AEC: “Administration of Financial Disclosure Requirements under the Commonwealth Electoral Act”. The report made seven recommendations, six of which were agreed (four with qualification). One was not agreed. The AEC is working on implementation and other relevant enhancements with progress monitored by its Audit Committee.

Parliamentary committee engagement

The AEC assisted four parliamentary committees with the conduct of eight inquiries, including five inquiries by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM). The AEC made submissions, gave evidence at public hearings and responded to Questions on Notice.

In 2020–21, JSCEM held an inquiry into the future conduct of elections operating during emergency situations. The AEC submitted information about the limitations of the Electoral Act which could constrain the AEC’s ability to respond to challenges arising from emergency situations.

For JSCEM’s inquiry into the conduct of the 2019 federal election and matters related to this, we made recommendations to address emerging risks to electoral integrity in a submission titled Improving electoral security and trust in Australia’s electoral system.

Commonwealth Ombudsman investigations

The Commonwealth Ombudsman received two complaints during the reporting period. The Ombudsman determined an investigation was not warranted for the first complaint. The other complaint is ongoing.

Freedom of information

Under the Freedom of Information Act 1982, the AEC’s 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.