AEC releases WA Senate documents under FOI

January 18, 2014

Happy new year, and to celebrate, have some FOI documents.

The AEC released 106 pages of documents in response to my FOI request regarding the Western Australian Senate recount. Documents are here.

I may write some more analysis here when I get around to it.

This is what I do to procrastinate

November 8, 2013

Let’s see how this goes.

The polling awaits

September 6, 2013

So, it has come to this. As I write, the polls will be open in less than 12 hours.

As an AEC official, it is of course my duty to refrain from the public political discourse. However, this I can say – I am proud to live in a country where the pen(cil) is indeed mightier than the sword. Tomorrow’s result, whichever way it swings, will almost certainly be accepted as legitimate. There will be no riots in the streets, no soldiers or policemen terrorising civilians, no tanks standing by to crush dissent. I am blessed to live in a country with a strong liberal democratic tradition; where the ideas of the rule of law and freedom of speech are so strongly rooted that I can take them for granted. I turn up to work tomorrow morning in the knowledge that so many around the world would happily give up their lives for the sake of free and fair elections.

As a Christian, it is also my firm conviction that governments rise and fall according to the will of God. This is, of course, not to say that all governments have a divine seal of approval or that everything done in the name of the state is morally right; but I know that whatever happens – no matter which parties form Government and which form the Opposition – the will of God shall ultimately prevail.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Romans 13:1 (ESV)

This I find reassuring. My hope does not lie in politicians, fallible as they are – it lies in the plans of the Lord. However, that is not to render what we do here on earth entirely insignificant.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7 (ESV)

It is thus my prayer that the 14,703,354 electors of the Commonwealth will exercise their duty tomorrow with careful (and where relevant, prayerful!) consideration, and that our leaders – no matter the party from which they come – shall be blessed with wisdom, skill and diligence.

So it’s bedtime for me. Polling is open from 8am to 6pm tomorrow, and remember… number every box (in the House of Representatives, at least!) to make your vote count!


  • Enrolled electors: 14,703,354 (source)
  • Election day polling places: 7,133 (source, with abolitions and duplicate locations filtered)
  • Pre-poll polling places: 867 (source, with duplicate locations filtered)
  • Overseas missions: 106 (including military polling teams) (source)
  • Mobile polling locations (hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, remote areas): 2,938 (source, with duplicates removed)
  • Antarctic polling stations: 4

The interesting problems of elections

July 29, 2013
Proposed Certificate of Citizenship (1915 Royal Commission upon the Commonwealth Electoral Law and Administration)

Totally fraud-proof. Toooootally.

So, in the course of my studies for POLS2111 Elections, Political Behaviour and Public Opinion in Australia, I came across the 1915 Report from the Royal Commission upon the Commonwealth Electoral Law and Administration (13.6MiB PDF). Commissioned by the Cook Government in 1914, this report gives an interesting insight into the history of Australia’s electoral system.

It seems that good old King O’Malley, Minister for Home Affairs and Member for Darwin (Tasmania), was at it again in the 1913 federal election, objecting to the appointment of at least 43 officials on the grounds that they were “known partisans, some who have openly taken sides in political matters”. O’Malley went further than that, however – he suggested the names of some more “suitable” appointees, including one who had previously run in a Labor preselection contest (paragraph 4). The Commissioners, unsurprisingly, took a rather dim view of this unjustified ministerial intervention, which “almost resulted in a complete breakdown of the electoral machinery for the State of Tasmania”. One Divisional Returning Officer replied, stating “I consider his selection of any one immediately disqualifies person selected [sic]“. At the time, of course, the Chief Electoral Officer and his staff did not have anywhere near the independence enjoyed by the Australian Electoral Commission today. The Commissioners recommended that “Ministerial intervention in the administration of the Act should be strictly confined to regulations approved by the Governor-General in Council” (paragraph 8).

Apart from the political issues plaguing electoral administration at the time, there were plenty of technical issues too – the report discusses such topics as ballot paper shortages (paragraph 25), lost mail bags (paragraph 26), age verification (paragraph 19), ballot paper packaging (paragraph 27), and how-to-vote cards (Maloney and Laird Smith further report paragraph 6). One of the more amusing recommendations, in this day and age at least, was to “provide for the closing of the poll at 7 p.m.” (paragraph 30). At the time, the Act prescribed 8pm as the closing time – moving it an hour earlier “would save considerable expense in lighting, and minimize the danger of destruction of records by fire”.

Among several comments about multiple voting issues, they also report an absolutely hilarious case of incredibly brazen voting fraud: “A case in which a person succeeded in impersonating another was discovered at Toowoomba. He voted as an ordinary elector in his brother’s name, and without leaving the polling booth, demanded absent voting papers in his own name, when he was detected by one of the scrutineers, who drew the attention of the Assistant Returning Officer to the irregularity. Unpardonable departmental delay was shown in taking action in this case by way of prosecution. The offender was caught in the act, with the ballot-papers in his possession. He was kept under surveillance by the police from the 31st May until the 28th June, but they had no instructions to arrest him until that date. He escaped, and is still unpunished. In such cases the Divisional Returning Officer should have power to act.” (paragraph 20) This makes one wonder how easy it would be to get away with a similar crime today – I suspect that at a busy urban polling place you might be able to hide away in the crowd…

A particularly interesting recommendation they make is found in the Addendum – the complete abolition of electoral rolls, with proof of enrolment provided by a Certificate of Citizenship (pictured above). A certificate system would have advantages – “the enormous saving effected by the abolition of rolls” (paragraph 3) and “absolute prevention” of dual voting, duplication and impersonation (paragraphs 4-6) among other things. Certificates would also save time: “At the booth we estimate that the time taken in dealing with one elector will be half that taken at present. … In some cases the elector will merely state that he is enrolled for, say, “Gippsland” Division, and perhaps the whole of the 29 subdivisional rolls for that Division will have to be searched before he is located. With this system the whole of this is done away with.” (paragraph 7) I am somewhat surprised, given the emphasis they put on “absolute prevention” of voting offences, that they didn’t consider that the certificates could simply be copied, although presumably that was a bit harder in 1915. It doesn’t appear that this recommendation was ever adopted, though.

While many of the issues of 1913 have faded from public memory today, three recommendations of the Commission have become the most distinctive aspects of the Australian electoral system today. “Under the prevailing party system, electors must either vote for the party nominee or refrain from voting. Political thoughts should not be confined in perpetuity to too narrow channels. There must necessarily be many shades of political opinion, which, in a democratic country, should be given expression to in the freest possible manner. In order that public opinion may be portrayed in distinct broad tones of thought, we strongly urge the adoption of preferential voting for the House of Representatives.” (paragraph 11) Preferential voting, also known as the Alternative Vote or Instant Runoff Voting, is only used in a handful of other countries worldwide, and was notoriously defeated in a 2011 UK referendum. In Australia, however, preferential voting was quickly adopted with the passage of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

The Commission’s recommendations for enhancing the expression of political opinion in the House were extended to the Senate, which at the time used plurality-at-large voting: “In view of the large area represented by Senators, a system of proportional representation should be adopted; applying, of course, to each separate State.” (paragraph 12) The Single Transferable Vote had been used in Tasmania since 1896, so Australians were not entirely unfamiliar with the system. Nevertheless, the Senate voting system did not change until the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1948.

Arguably the most unique feature of the Australian electoral system, however, especially among English-speaking democracies, is our relatively strong system of compulsory voting. Compulsory enrolment for federal elections was introduced in 1912, but voting was not enforced. The Commission, however, viewed compulsory voting to be “a natural corollary of compulsory enrolment” – a recommendation subsequently adopted by Parliament in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1924. To this day, compulsory voting remains rare. The Australian Election Study finds that a clear majority of the population support compulsory voting, and that there is a very strong voting culture in Australia that would result in high turnout even if compulsory voting were to be abolished.

I haven’t been able to find any other copies of the Royal Commission’s report online, so I’ve scanned it from the Parliamentary Papers Series, courtesy of the ANU Library’s Official Documents repository – it’s available here (13.6MiB PDF).

I find the history of Australia’s electoral system to be fascinating – unfortunately the current limitations of our digitised historical collections makes it somewhat difficult to piece together the original sources. Such is life, however…

Book Review: Ozonomics – Andrew Charlton

November 9, 2008

ISBN: 9781741667387

Brilliant. Really. Go down to your local library and request it, now. That’s really all I can say. If you ever thought Howard was responsible for the state of the Australian economy today, Charlton proves you wrong.

And the winner is…

September 6, 2008

…Oakeshott, in a landslide.

64.14% first preference, 74.38% TCP.

Now for the people of Lyne to get used to having, you know, representation in Parliament.


September 1, 2008

Five days until the by-election. Things are still looking OK for Oakeshott, but I’m still really annoyed with the way Rob Drew and the Nats are campaigning. Just got yet another mailout today, again using the ‘strong message to Rudd’ theme. Do the Nats think we’re stupid or something? First-time Opposition backbencher sending a strong message to Rudd? I don’t think so. Oh, and like all politicians, he claims he’ll fix Australia and make the world a better, more happy place to live, but he doesn’t have much to back that up with.

I find it suspicious that the Nats have chosen green and yellow as their colours. I wonder if there’s been any research into the effects of ‘patriotic’ colours in advertising.

Anyone in Lyne:

Vaile’s gone

July 19, 2008

Looks like Lyne will be going to the polls again.

But will Labor run a candidate? Seeing how they won’t in Mayo, where Downer has a smaller margin than Vaile, it seems unlikely.

I hope they do run, if only to provide a choice other than the Greens. If they could somehow convince Jamie Harrison to run for the ALP they’d have a good chance of getting a swing towards them – not that Harrison would do that, of course.

The Budget

May 13, 2008

Swannie’s done well for his first budget. There’s really not much I can say. All the decisions seem pretty sensible. The investment funds also seem to be a good idea, expanding on HEEF, the Telecom Fund and so on.

Now to see how Nelson and Turnbull respond. Oh, he’s on now. Oh, he’s spending more is he? Please explain. Spending on Howard-era programs being cut? How very unexpected. Increasing taxes that mostly affect the rich? Well, to me, that’s a good idea, when he’s cutting income taxes that affect the less wealthy.

The only real criticism I can make is the lack of funds for climate change. $2.3bn isn’t very much, unfortunately. I would have also thought a Climate Change Fund would be useful, and means-testing the solar rebate probably isn’t worth the savings.

Australia 2020 Youth Summit

April 14, 2008

[ NB: This is a long recount of what happened. If long recounts bore you, skip to the end where I summarise. This is also a WIP. ]

Awesome weekend.

Arrival was pretty good, except for a particular large airline who I shall not name losing my baggage at Sydney Airport. (It arrived on a flight a few hours later.) Got picked up by some DEEWR people, sent over to Parliament House, from there checked in at Rydges Lakeside.

Friday night was a good introductory activity. Hugh Evans and Kate Ellis gave speeches, we did some team building and introductions. I met with an engineering/IT student from ANU who approached me after hearing I was interested in ICT.

The main work was on Saturday, starting with the official opening, and Julia Gillard clarifying that the real reason for turning down the ‘robot teachers’ idea suggested by some Schools Summit participants was not ‘maintenance costs’ as some newspapers had reported. Hugh Mackay gave his somewhat scary but probably accurate predictions about Australian society over the next 12 years.

When we started the groupwork that morning that was where it seemed the program was thrown out the window, with some facilitators deciding to just cut to the chase and drop a few activities. It was a free-for-all with ideas being thrown in from all over. In my group, economy and infrastructure, we ended up with eight or nine whiteboards of writing. Improved transportation, social justice, equitable technology access, more freedom, less taxes and red tape, more environmental considerations, better education, more rural equality, increase in green-collar jobs, open trade – if it could be connected with the economy it was suggested.

The most exciting part was the open space melting pot. The ideas that came out of the Infrastructure sub-group included a transport revolution, improved data infrastructure, all future power needs to be met renewably, and the most interesting one, youth run infrastructure ‘for tomorrow today’.

Youth run infrastructure, or YRI as I shall refer to it, was suggested by Simon Sheikh, who works as an advisor to Michael Costa in NSW Treasury. The idea is to have combined community and business centres for young people and entrepreneurs to get advice and access to facilities. Sure, not revolutionary, but it was definitely something I hadn’t heard before. Transport, power, data are a bit more… traditional.

Action sessions were good, covering ideas in depth. I managed to get open source mentioned in connection with e-voting, which I disagreed with anyway.

Saturday night was interesting, with a networking session that ended up with me talking with a public service executive for an hour. Apparently his ‘very small program’ has a budget of $37m. He tells me a while back he was responsible for approving withdrawals from the Department’s account with the RBA, which once meant he ‘signed’ a $1.2 billion cheque. Government is quite big. Slept at 12:45 Sunday morning.

[ NB: This is ‘the end where I summarise’. ]

More action sessions Sunday morning. Three of them, rather than the two we had scheduled, since we were running behind. Voting on the best of the ideas, the highest priorities, was hard, because they were all brilliant. Integrated transport, drug patent reform, arts funding, improved education, promoting rural communities, a national sustainability challenge. Lower voting age to 16, enrol automatically, investigate e-voting. 100Mbit/s FTTP by 2012, 1Gbit/s by 2020. Feed-in tariffs in all states ASAP, promotion of microgeneration and other forms of renewable energy to meet future needs to 2020. Car-free CBDs, improved public transport, no city dweller to be any further than two kilometres from a bus station, train station or light rail. They were all great ideas.

We had photos. Lunch, where I just had hot chocolate instead. Discussion on the Australian Youth Forum. Lessons learnt. Last submissions for the communique. Then came the closing.

Then, it turned out the rumours were true, and Kevin Rudd was indeed there. Standing ovation and very loud applause. Many hands were quite sore by the time we’d gone through the winning ideas and the delegates voted to attend the main Australia 2020 Summit on our behalf.

The people I met were amazing. Just walking around, encountering a member of the NSW Board of Studies, an advisor to the State Treasurer, an UNYA coordinator, a YMCA Youth Parliament organiser. Many varieties of uni students, rurals, some high schoolers. It was great.

Back to the hotel, picked up our baggage. On the bus, back to the airport. Checked in, through security. Up to the departure lounge.

TV was on. News was on. Ten or fifteen of us delegates up there at the time. Then Kate Ellis walks in. ‘Hi everyone!’ ‘Hi Kate! Ooh, look, WE’RE ON!’ The faces on some of the other passengers were a bit WTH-ish. It was quite funny.

Flight back was turbulent. Canberra to Sydney was a few minutes late. Sydney was closed by Airservices due to lightning alert for a while. My connecting flight ended up two hours late, and before landing we were circling around for 15 minutes waiting for the storms to clear. I was rushing around Sydney Airport trying to find the right bag drop desks and the correct gates, only to find out I wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while. Oh well, I got home in the end.

It was good. Now, for results. Communique should be released any time now. If the government doesn’t take it up, we will.

Best quotes:

“You’re not just a generation of Coreys” – The Hon. Kate Ellis MP
“I’ve been back in the country for four hours, and I’ve already got some homework.” – The Hon. Kevin Rudd MP