Electoral Newsfile 72: Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act 1998: Summary of Amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

Updated: 5 December 2007

Introduction

The Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act 1998 ("the Act"), which received Royal Assent on 17 July 1998, has brought about changes to several aspects of electoral and referendum law.

This edition of Newsfile summarises the amendments made to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 by this Act. Similar amendments, where relevant, were made to the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984.

While this Newsfile provides a summary of the major provisions of the amending Act, it is not designed as a substitute for the law. Political parties, candidates and other interested persons are advised to refer to the Act for the exact details of the amendments, or alternatively, to the next official reprint of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 which will incorporate the amendments.

The next official reprint of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 is expected to be available before the next federal election.

Background

The provisions of the amending Act are based on recommendations made in reports by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. These reports covered the conduct of the 1993 and 1996 federal elections, and electoral redistributions.

The bill proposing the amendments was introduced into the House of Representatives on 3 December 1997 and was passed by the Parliament on 1 July 1998. The Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act 1998 was granted Royal Assent on 17 July 1998.

Summary of Amendments

The provisions in the amending Act are generally of a technical nature and are designed to improve operational procedures in the conduct of elections and referendums. The major provisions of the Act are summarised below:

Enrolment

  • To improve the enrolment objection process by allowing relatives and friends who do not live in the same subdivision as electors of unsound mind to apply for their removal from the roll on medical advice and without the payment of an objection deposit.
  • To allow for electors whose enrolment has been objected to, to be removed from the roll in the period between the issue of the writ for an election and the close of rolls.
  • To allow Australians living overseas for career or employment purposes and who are not currently enrolled at the time of their departure, to enrol and obtain eligible overseas status up to two years after their departure from Australia under similar criteria as that in place for itinerant electors.
  • To ensure that the personal details of silent electors will not be disclosed to persons inspecting applications for postal votes.

Nominations

  • To reduce the nomination period by one day (to not less than 10 days or no more than 27 days), with the declaration of nominations to be held 24 hours after the close of nominations. The minimum 33 day and maximum 58 day election period is retained.
  • To increase the number of signatures required in support of a nomination by a candidate not endorsed by a registered political party from six to fifty.
  • To increase the deposit for nomination from $250 to $350 in the House of Representatives, and from $500 to $700 in the Senate.

Voting

  • To allow the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) the option to use the more up-to-date method of security printing of ballot papers instead of using watermarked ballot papers which will result in considerable savings in ballot paper storage and production costs.
  • To disallow canvassing in and around hospitals that are polling places on polling day and in special hospitals during the five days before and including polling day.
  • To enable electors to vote outside a polling place if the Presiding Officer is satisfied that, because of physical incapacity, the elector cannot enter the polling place. Scrutineers will be invited to observe this process.
  • To remove section 329A which makes it an offence to advocate the marking of a ballot paper other than in accordance with section 240 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, which requires full preferential voting.
  • To remove the 'saving' provision, which allowed certain ballot papers for the House of Representatives, which were accidentally misnumbered, to be entered into the count.
  • To allow that the declaration of the poll proceeds based on the result of the two candidate preferred count where, on the basis of first preference votes, the exclusion of all but two candidates for a House of Representatives' Division is inevitable. This would be, for example, where the combined total of first preference votes of the third and lower ranking candidates is less than the total votes of the second ranking candidate.

Postal Voting

  • To allow political parties and candidates to print postal vote applications incorporating campaign material, provided that the postal vote application form as approved by the AEC (and which is completed by the elector) is reproduced exactly.
  • To provide that declaration votes received by another Divisional Returning Officer (DRO), Assistant Returning Officer, Presiding Officer or a pre-poll voting officer on or before polling day must be received by the relevant DRO within 13 days after polling day to be included in the scrutiny. However, the Electoral Commissioner has a discretion to extend the 13 day cut-off period. Previously these votes attracted no cut-off.
  • To extend the two-candidate preferred count, as conducted in polling places on polling night, to the fresh scrutiny and declaration votes scrutinies, as conducted later by DROs and for the election of candidates based on a two-candidate preferred count.
  • To provide that in Divisions in which subdivisions are proclaimed (for example in the Northern Territory and Kalgoorlie), a provisional vote cast by an elector who has moved to a different subdivision without notifying the AEC may be included in the scrutiny provided the elector is still living in the Division. However, the names of these electors will not automatically be reinstated to the roll: they will be required to fill in a new enrolment card.

Redistributions

  • To provide that the determination of State and Territory representation entitlements falls due in the thirteenth month of the first meeting of the House of Representatives rather than the tenth month.
  • To bring the membership of the Redistribution Committee for the Australian Capital Territory into line with an equivalent body for a State.
  • To provide that comments and objections in relation to a redistribution are made available for public scrutiny in a manner similar to suggestions.
  • To make existing boundaries subordinate to the other qualitative criteria such as community of interest, means of communications and travel and the physical features of the area of the proposed division.
  • To allow greater opportunity for the public to object to proposed boundaries.

Funding and Disclosure

  • To remove the requirement for registered political parties to lodge returns of electoral expenditure.
  • To allow registered political parties to lodge their audited accounts in place of the annual return, subject to the accounts containing a level of detail consistent with Part XX of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, and the format of the accounts being approved by the AEC.
  • To enable an authorised officer to issue a notice to an organisation requiring the production of documents to assist in determining whether the organisation has a financial disclosure obligation as an associated entity.

Party Registration

  • A registered political party can object to the continuing use of a party name and/or abbreviation by another party which obtained its registration by claiming related party status to the existing registered political party (the parent party), where that relationship no longer exists.
  • Where a parent party has objected to the continued use of a name and/or abbreviation by a related party, and the AEC has upheld the objection, the related party must notify, within one month, a change of name (which is likely to be accepted by the AEC) or risk deregistration.

Court of Disputed Returns

  • To allow the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns to remit part of a petition relating to questions of fact to the Federal Court or a Supreme Court.
  • To require the Court of Disputed returns to make its decision on a petition as quickly as is reasonable in the circumstances.

Operational changes

  • To enable the AEC to delegate to staff its powers to supply and charge for goods and services and provide that such goods and services may be supplementary or an alternative to those already supplied under the Joint Rolls Arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States; and to delegate its powers under any law.
  • To allow for the provision of gender information on electors to Members, Senators and registered political parties, and for use in approved medical research and public health programs.
  • To enable the release of confidential elector data to State and Territory electoral administrations.

Further Information

  • For further information on the amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984, interested people are advised to refer to the exact provisions of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act 1998 (No 94 of 1998).

'Langer-Style' Voting

One significant change arising from the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act 1998 is the effect on 'Langer-style' votes in House of Representatives elections.

The Act has amended the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 so that, while it is no longer an offence to encourage a 'Langer-style' vote (e.g. 1,2,3,3,3… etc.), such votes for the House of Representatives will no longer be counted as formal votes.

Anyone advocating that electors vote in this manner will be encouraging electors to waste their votes entirely.

Computerised Senate Scrutiny

Another change arising from the amendments is that the AEC is able to conduct the Senate scrutiny using a computer process.

The computer process, known as the Senate Scrutiny system, involves data entry of all ballot papers marked above and below the line. The Senate Scrutiny system calculates the quota, distributes the preferences and produces the result of the election.

This system provides full accountability and an 'audit trail' including reports for inspection by scrutineers. Using this system, the AEC expects to be able to declare all Senate election results no later than the fourth week after polling day.

AEC Contacts

Central Office

Electoral Commissioner
Bill Gray (02) 6271 4400

Deputy Electoral Commissioner
Andy Becker (02) 6271 4410

Director, Information
Brien Hallett (02) 6271 4415

Assistant Directors, Information
Bernadette O'Meara (02) 6271 4548
Silvana Puizina (02) 6271 4431

Editor, Newsfile
Margaret Meneghel (02) 6271 4505

State/Territory Head Offices

The administration of the election in each State and Territory is under the control of the Australian Electoral Officer (AEO) for that State or Territory.

AEOs may be contacted on the following numbers.
New South Wales
Frances Howat
Ph. (02) 9375 6333
Fx. (02) 9281 9384
Victoria
David Muffet
Ph. (03) 9285 7171
Fx. (03) 9285 7178
Queensland
Bob Longland
Ph. (07) 3834 3400
Fx. (07) 3831 7223
Western Australia
Andrew Moyes
Ph. (08) 9470 7299
Fx. (08) 9472 3551
South Australia
Geoff Halsey
Ph. (08) 8237 6555
Fx. (08) 82312664
Tasmania
Nick Tall
Ph. (03) 6235 0500
Fx. (03) 62344268
Australian Capital Territory
William Hogan
Ph: (02) 6271 4497
Fx. (02) 6271 4560
Northern Territory
Kerry Heisner
Ph. (08) 8981 1477
Fx. (08) 8981 7964