Launch of the AEC's Year of Enrolment, Parliament House

Updated: 20 March 2012

Address by Mr Ed Killesteyn, Electoral Commissioner

19 March 2012

I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders, past and present. I also welcome other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people attending today and acknowledge the contributions of Aboriginal Australians to the betterment of our democracy.

I welcome the Special Minister of State and Minister for Public Service and Integrity, the Hon Gary Gray, the Hon Mrs Bronwyn Bishop, Shadow Special Minister of State, the Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, Daryl Melham, Members and Senators, distinguished and honoured guests, and my colleagues from the Australian Electoral Commission.

I’m pleased to welcome you here this evening to launch the AEC’s Year of Enrolment.

As Electoral Commissioner I am often asked: what do you do between elections?

The answer is disarmingly simple – you get ready for the next one.

‘Getting ready’ involves months and years of preparation, planning, contract tendering, evaluation and procurement, contract administration, testing, election simulation, training, process improvement, legislative change and implementation, by over 850 full time and 1000 part-time staff who are dedicated to electoral administration, spread over many locations across metropolitan and rural Australia.

And, just as importantly, getting ready for the next election involves keeping the electoral roll as complete and as accurate as possible at all times, ready for the election the timing of which is unknown.

So, this year, we are not only celebrating 100 years since the 1912 Parliament enshrined the franchise for all Australians by making enrolment compulsory, but also 100 years of work by AEC staff past and present to ensure that franchise by maintaining the electoral roll.

And 2012 also marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of legislation to guarantee the right of Indigenous Australians to vote.

Our Year of Enrolment commemorates both of these significant events in Australia's electoral history.

The challenge of electoral roll administration to honour the intentions of Parliament 100 years and 50 years ago respectively is considerable. We estimate there are 1.5 million Australian citizens eligible for enrolment and voting who are not on the electoral roll. And, while under-enrolment is an issue across the Australian community, there are even more serious levels of under enrolment in indigenous communities.

In the 2012 Year of Enrolment we have developed a number of new initiatives that aim to remind people of their electoral rights and obligations.

The initiatives include branding and products, a seminar series, a National Indigenous Youth Parliament, an innovative education outreach program targeting secondary schools and the AEC’s biggest ever enrolment mailing to most households in Australia.

And we are drafting your support to help get the message out. Many of you will have received a supporters’ kit of enrolment promotional products that I hope you will use to spread the message.

For the 50th anniversary of the Indigenous vote, the AEC commissioned the Louder than one voice DVD. In addition to the animated history of the Indigenous vote, the DVD contains interviews with Indigenous Australians about the value of voting. It will support the work of our Indigenous Electoral Participation Program field staff, when delivering face-to-face electoral education Australia-wide.

Equalling the longevity of compulsory enrolment is the AEC’s relationship with Australia Post.

It is a relationship integral to the successful delivery of both enrolment and election services. During 2009-10, Australia Post mailed 4.5 million continuous roll update letters and delivered postal votes to nearly a million electors for the 2010 federal election.

In 2011 we extended our collaboration with Australia Post, using their new online change of address notification facility to update enrolment.

And in 2012 we will conduct our largest single enrolment mail campaign, delivered by Australia Post, to reach households never targeted by past mailings.

So we were delighted when Australia Post decided to release a commemorative stamp for the centenary of compulsory enrolment. The stamp will go into general circulation on 27 March this year.

I thank you for coming to the launch of the Year of Enrolment. My hope for this year is that we can draw attention to declining electoral participation, try new and creative ways to increase participation, and inspire many more Australians to enrol to vote.