Estimates: Electoral Commission of South Australia (2015)


Electoral Commission of South Australia, $5,819,000

Administered Items for the Electoral Commission of South Australia, $45,000

 

Membership:

Mr Speirs substituted for Mr Tarzia.

 

Minister:

Hon. J.R. Rau, Deputy Premier, Attorney-General, Minister for Justice Reform, Minister for Planning, Minister for Housing and Urban Development, Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister for Child Protection Reform.

 

Departmental Advisers:

Ms K. Mousley, Electoral Commissioner, Electoral Commission of South Australia.

Mr D. Gully, Deputy Electoral Commissioner, Electoral Commission of South Australia.

Mr R. Persse, Chief Executive, Attorney-General's Department.

 

The CHAIR: Minister, would you like to introduce your advisers?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Yes. I am joined by the Electoral Commissioner, Kay Mousley, and the Deputy Electoral Commissioner, Mr Gully. And I still have the Chief Executive of the Attorney-General's Department, Mr Persse, with me.

The CHAIR: Are you going to make a statement here, minister?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Only that elections are an important part of our democratic system.

The CHAIR: Is there a statement on the opposition side?

Mr GARDNER: No, only to welcome the commissioner to what I assume will be her final estimates, and I hope that it is a joyful experience for her. My first question while we are on the Electoral Commissioner—and, welcome again—refers to Budget Paper 4, Volume 2, page 48. The Administered Items identify two full-time equivalent employees, one of whom is, of course, the commissioner. What is the time frame for the appointment of the new commissioner?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: The time frame for the appointment of the new commissioner is, to some degree, in the hands of the parliament because the law provides that the Electoral Commissioner is one of those rare and privileged people whose appointment is filtered by the Statutory Officers Committee of the parliament; I think the others being the ICAC commissioner and the Ombudsman, if I am not mistaken. And so it is that we must wait for that committee to convene itself and to consider the matter of the progressing of an appointment of a successor. I am fortunate enough to actually be a member of that committee—much to the dissatisfaction of at least one individual I can think of—and it did come to my attention that there has been an attempt, in the last week or so, by officers of the parliament to convene a meeting of the committee. I am not exactly sure whether they have thus far been successful in finding a date when everybody can be present simultaneously.

Mr GARDNER: The ministerial statement you gave announcing the commissioner's retirement did not identify a date, just 'the later part of this year'. Do we have a date by which that must take place?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I think—and I will check with the commissioner in a moment—that the idea was that the commissioner was keen to be as accommodating as possible on the time line that the committee had to follow. So my understanding is that the committee is attempting to do its business as expeditiously as possible and, once the committee has discharged its business, I understand that the commissioner is keen to fit in with whatever. But the commissioner's intention is to go on extended leave as from the end of August.

Mr GARDNER: Very good, and we wish her well for that. Budget Paper 4, Volume 2, page 51, under highlights it says 'Published election and statistics reports on the 15 March 2014 general elections.' I assume that is a reference to the commissioner's report on the 2014 state election, which to my knowledge is not yet a public document—and I stand to be corrected if that is mistaken.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I gather it is on its way.

Mr GARDNER: It is now some time since the 2014 election has passed and last year in estimates I think the commissioner said they intended to commence the preparation of the election report in early 2015, so they would hope that 'by the middle of next year' they would have a report on the conduct of the election completed. It is now 'the middle of next year' from last year's perspective.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I gather that the fact that two by-elections have occurred has required there to be a supplementary element, or a part 2, to the report, those being the Fisher by-election in December 2014 and the Davenport by-election in January 2015. I expect the report will be ready soon. In fact, apparently it was lodged with my office yesterday for tabling.

Mr GARDNER: Then we look forward to seeing it next week.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: It is coming soon.

Mr GARDNER: As it is in your office, will it be tabled in the parliament and then become a public document or are you planning on providing copies to people before then?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Whatever the usual process is, I will follow it.

Mr GARDNER: We will look forward to seeing a scoop in The Advertiser any day now. The report includes the supplementary on the two by-elections, does it?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: It does indeed. Tantalisingly, I can see a copy from where I am, but I have not read it.

Mr GARDNER: Fortunately there are cameras in the gallery, so I am sure they are picking up of the fine detail.

The CHAIR: I hope not.

Mr GARDNER: I go to page 48 and the Workforce Summary. The 2015-16 budgeted FTE for the commission is 27.4, which is an increase of 7.7 from the figure two to its right, the 19.7 FTEs that was the actual in 2013-14. Can you explain that increase of nearly eight people, or 28 per cent?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I am advised that these were permanent staff vacancies that were not able to be filled prior to the election.

Mr GARDNER: In last year's corresponding budget papers there were 21.5 FTEs budgeted and the estimated results in this year's budget papers are 25.9. Is there a reason for these extra FTEs above what was in last year's budget papers?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I gather there has been no movement beyond the FTE caps. This is reflective of actual appointments within the existing FTE caps. There has not been a growth beyond the—

Mr GARDNER: No, but there was a growth beyond what was predicted in last year's budget. So, these positions that were vacant but were not identified in last year's budget papers have since been filled?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Yes, I am advised that there has just been reasonably quick filling of vacancies.

Mr GARDNER: At what level have those vacancies been, if that advice is possible?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I am told threes, fours and fives, if that is helpful.

Mr GARDNER: Perhaps for the Hansard record, can you identify that in slightly more detail?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I believe they are known as ASO3s, ASO4s and ASO5s.

Mr GARDNER: Going to the following page, the net cost of services, the budget in 2014‑15 was $2.895 million and the final estimated result was $4.4 million. There has been this net increase because of two by-elections, as identified. It also identifies on page 51 that there has been a carry-forward of state election activities and costs from 2013-14. Can you identify what that carry-forward of the state election activities and costs from 2013-14 was? This is things from the March 2014 election that have been paid in the 2014-15 year. What were those carry-forward costs and why were they put into the following financial year?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I will let the Electoral Commissioner respond directly on that.

Ms MOUSLEY : The carryover is related to the conduct of the analysis of ballot papers for both the state general election, the Fisher and Davenport by-elections and we also had the follow-up non-voter action that is required that falls into the following year as well. They are the carryover activities that we undertake and there is also some carryover of moneys associated with the capital expenditure requirements that we are completing with the database updates, etc. So, there are a range of activities included in that item.

Mr GARDNER: In relation to one of the things the commissioner just mentioned, the follow-up non-voter material, I recall from last year we had an interesting discussion about people being incorrectly served with notices about their failure to vote, including, I think, the commissioner herself, the Speaker and some other people. I believe the Speaker insists that he did in fact vote and I choose to believe him on this occasion. In relation to the systems errors that created all of these strange letters being provided, were any of those problems also encountered in the by-elections? Were there remedial actions taken to the systems to ensure that they would not be?

Ms MOUSLEY : I am not aware of any issues with the by-elections. The result of the general election information that we received regarding the anomalies with the non-voters database, they were remedied and we have had no issues with the two by-elections that were conducted.

Mr GARDNER: What were the extra expenses incurred by having by-elections on different days?

Ms MOUSLEY : I would not have the discrete figures of the variance between those by-elections being held on different days, but it created a degree of confusion for electors, particularly with the advertising. Also, a number of electors were concerned with the fact that they were not aware that it was compulsory to vote in the by-election. So, there were some synergies that would have been gained if they had been held together, we could have done more widespread advertising, but other than that there are direct standalone costs so that overall there would not be a big difference in the fact that they were held together or simultaneously.

Mr GARDNER: Given that with by-elections, as you have permanent staff at the Electoral Commission able to participate to a higher percentage of the total staff required in a general election (in a general election you have to employ thousands of casuals just to fill all of those roles), are you able to identify a discrete figure for the cost of each of those by-elections separately? How much did the Fisher by-election cost? How much did the Davenport by-election cost?

Ms MOUSLEY: At the moment, the by-election report has a total figure but, if you would like, I can get it broken down and give that question on notice.

Mr GARDNER: Thank you—and broken down discretely within each by-election and costs within that?

Ms MOUSLEY: Yes.

Mr GARDNER: Thank you. I think the member for Bright has a question or two.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Can I make the point, for what it is worth, that we need to recall that the case of the Fisher by-election was occasioned by the tragic demise of former member Dr Bob Such and the occasion of the Davenport by-election was by reason of the member for Davenport, Mr Evans, retiring from the parliament to pursue other things at a time of his own choosing.

Mr GARDNER: I am reminded that on Saturday night I saw former treasurer Kevin Foley wandering around with some clients—

The CHAIR: Order! What budget line is that question relating to?

Mr GARDNER: It is the same budget line because—

The CHAIR: No, the member for Bright has a question. We only have half an hour.

Mr GARDNER: —in Port Adelaide and Ramsay by-elections were also held due to the voluntary retirement of members.

The CHAIR: The member for Bright has a question.

Members interjecting:

The CHAIR: Order! I just want to hear from the member for Bright.

The Hon. P. CAICA: So do I.

The CHAIR: Order! The member for Bright has a question.

Mr SPEIRS: My question is from Budget Paper 4, Volume 2, page 61, cash outflows, Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission. Work has not yet commenced on the redistribution, and the $570,000 allocated to the redistribution had zero dollars expended last financial year and all has now been transferred to this financial year. My question is: what is the time frame for the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission to get underway, hold hearings, produce a draft report and then deliver the final report?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Some amendments were made to this a few years ago by my predecessor as attorney-general. Originally, the process was that within six months of a general election there needed to be commenced a process by which a new set of boundaries could be ascertained. My predecessor, for reasons I cannot now recall, thought that should be changed, and it was changed so that it had to be commenced within two years of the general election.

I think the reason for that, now that I am thinking about it, might have been that there was some thought that, if you had it too soon after the election, it might be that there would be too much speculation involved in population movements and other relevant data which had to be considered as part and parcel of the redistribution process. As you would appreciate, the redistribution, amongst other things, requires there to be a tolerance between the population of voters in each seat which is within 10 per cent, so the closer you are to the date of the next election the more likely it is that you will be able to accurately predict things like growth in one suburb, reduction in another suburb, opening up of this development or whatever. The answer to the question is: two years.

Mr SPEIRS: Do you have a date for when the draft report will be produced thereafter and the final report?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I stand to be corrected, but historically it takes as long as it takes and there are certain variables in that, including how many hearings there need to be, how many submissions are received, and how many people choose to come along and make representations, but generally speaking it is within a year.

Mr SPEIRS: When will the chair of the EDBC be appointed?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Again, that would be at a time closer to the process being initiated. That appointment is normally something that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court attends to.

Mr GARDNER: Given that that process is to be initiated by March next year, within this financial year and that is why it is in the budget papers, and you have allocated $570,000 to expend on the work that is going to be produced by the boundaries commission, does the government have any role in identifying the time frame at all, or are you leaving it entirely to the chief judge to determine what happens from hereon in? Does the Electoral Commission have any role, and the Electoral Commissioner as one of the members of the boundaries commission?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: To be honest, I do not know the answer to that question, so I will take it on notice.

The CHAIR: The member for Wright has a question.

The Hon. J.M. RANKINE: I just want to return to the issue of the two by-elections.

The CHAIR: Do we need to?

The Hon. J.M. RANKINE: Yes, I think we do.

Mr GARDNER: Is there a budget line?

The CHAIR: I will listen to the question and—

The Hon. J.M. RANKINE: Yes, there is, the same one that you used.

The CHAIR: Order!

The Hon. J.M. RANKINE: Can the commissioner or the minister confirm that the calling of the by-elections was the responsibility of the Speaker of the house, not the government, and that at the timing of the calling of the Fisher by-election there had been no resignation for the seat of Davenport?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: That is a very good question that the member for Wright asks, actually.

Mr Gardner interjecting:

The CHAIR: Order!

The Hon. J.R. RAU: If I am not mistaken, the member for Wright—

Mr GARDNER: If it is not within the purview of the Attorney it is not within the budget either.

The CHAIR: Order! There is only one person speaking at the moment, and that should be the Attorney. I will suspend the committee if you keep interjecting—both sides.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: The member for Wright is correct: it is a matter for the Speaker of the House of Assembly to determine the timing of a by-election, not the government; that is quite correct. The second point, I would have to check, but my recollection is in accordance with that of the member for Wright, and that is that at that point in time, when that Fisher by-election was upon us, there had not yet been an actual resignation, although there may or may not have been some speculation about it coming.

The Hon. J.M. RANKINE: So, to be clear, the member for Fisher, sadly, had passed away, and so we needed to have a by-election for that seat. The former member for Davenport, Iain Evans, came out and said that at some time in the future he was going to be standing down, but did not indicate a time. My recollection of media at the time was, 'Trust me, I will resign,' so it would be very difficult, I think, to coordinate by-elections based on, 'Trust me, I'm going to resign at some point in time,' when in fact he had stood for the election only a few months earlier.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Well, look, I do not think I can beat that.

The CHAIR: Okay; we have got some more questions on my left.

Mr GARDNER: I refer to Budget Paper 4, Volume 2, page 49. For the state election management systems identified for completion in June 2017, the total project cost is $1 million. Can you confirm if that is the same management system that is identified in Budget Paper 5, page 31, as the Electoral Commission information systems at a total cost of $1.1 million? If it is the same, is there any simple explanation as to why it seems to be more expensive in Budget Paper 5 than it is in Budget Paper 4?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: We will take it on notice.

Mr GARDNER: In relation to the management system that is due to be complete by June 2017, has the system been tendered yet? Is it going to be delivered by private providers? Is it delivered by a government department? How is that going to be procured?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: We will take it on notice, but I understand it is being done internally. It is apparently not a huge system. But we'll take it on notice.

Mr GARDNER: Being done internally within the Electoral Commission, within the Attorney-General's Department, or within the government more broadly?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: The commission.

Mr GARDNER: So, $1.1 million is for what purpose? Is it for staff, is it to buy new computers, is it to upgrade old computers, new software?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I am advised that it is to develop software.

Mr GARDNER: To develop software? Are there software analysts and IT experts within the commission who are doing that software? Perhaps if you want to take it on notice, I am happy to get a breakdown of what the $1.1 million is being spent on.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: We will get you a comprehensive answer to that.

Mr GARDNER: Will this new system have the capacity to cope with potential changes to the Electoral Act if they were to be complicated? To put it another way, how long will the Electoral Commission require, if for example there were to be changes to the Legislative Council voting system, to update their systems in order to have them ready for a general election?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Very good question. That question actually depends very much on what changes there might be to the Legislative Council voting system. If the Legislative Council voting system were to change to the highly regarded, internationally esteemed Sainte-Laguë method, which is used in many Scandinavian countries and places such as that, it is my belief, and I stand to be corrected by the Electoral Commissioner, that preschoolers could count the ballot—simply. In fact, I think even my cat could count it. It is a very, very simple system and requires very, very little in the way of IT horsepower to count. It is a marvellous system, for a whole bunch of reasons, not least of which is the fact it is so simple.

Mr GARDNER: So, not long, is the answer if it was Sainte-Laguë, but—

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Very, very quick. In fact, I think, if I am not mistaken, I did raise this with the Electoral Commissioner a while ago and she said it might be days—or very quick, extremely quick.

Mr GARDNER: Okay, but with an optional preferential, for example, it would take a year to change the systems?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: It is a magnificent system—I just wanted to emphasise that to everybody. Those of you who like simplicity like, who like clarity—

Mr GARDNER: You can take another five minutes to do so, if you want to run it out.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I cannot emphasise enough to everybody here how magnificent this is. Of course, the other great advantage of such a system is it avoids the absurd collision between preferential voting and the proportional representation system where you have a collision between the most liked and the least disliked and you have this sort of mathematical collision—

Mr GARDNER: How will it affect the Electoral Commission's computer system?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: —resulting in chaos, as we can see in Canberra now. Of course, S-L would completely eliminate that because of the total simplicity of the system and the clarity of the system. If those of us who have been reflecting perhaps, as some of us have, on the antics of the commonwealth parliament, particularly over the last few years, could just reflect on what a magnificent serenity would be introduced into that place by S-L, it just makes you feel warm.

But if you were to go for a more flawed alternative, and one could reflect perhaps on things like optional preferential voting, for instance, it would be very complicated and could take a lot of time, money and expense to be able to deal with it. It would definitely take time, because I can say this: when, before the last state election, there was some talk of the possibility of legislation which would have introduced optional preferential voting for the then forthcoming election, which I think was in November or thereabouts of 2013, my recollection is the Electoral Commissioner was very concerned that, were that to have been introduced at that point in time, it would cause major concern in being able to count such a ballot.

Mr GARDNER: Given that the methodology of optional preferential is widely used around Australia and given that this is a question that has clearly been discussed by the Attorney-General and the Electoral Commissioner, based on that answer, are you able to outline a time frame by which the parliament would need to contemplate changes for the computer system at the Electoral Commission to be able to count votes in a way that is done all around Australia?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Again, it would depend on what the system was. If the parliament went for the highly regarded and universally acclaimed system of Sainte-Laguë

Mr GARDNER: The question was specifically optional preferential, sir.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: —it would be able to be dealt with very quickly. Pardon?

Mr GARDNER: The question was specifically to optional preferential.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Again, it would depend on which variation of that theme, because optional preferential has a number of variants, but to properly prepare a computer system to do that would take at least 12 to 18 months.

The CHAIR: Are there any omnibus questions that you want to read into this—

Mr GARDNER: The omnibus questions apply to the whole of the minister's—

The CHAIR: I was just going to ask if we can count them for all lines; okay. There being no further questions, I declare the examination of proposed payments completed.

Sitting suspended from 12:29 to 13:30.