Australia is at the forefront of professional and independent electoral administration, especially when assessed in international comparative studies. However, while there is often debate about the levels of fairness provided by the various electoral systems in use throughout Australia, less scrutiny has been applied to the electoral management bodies charged with administering these systems. Although there are many similarities in the way electoral administration has developed in Australia’s nine jurisdictions (one federal, six state and two territory), there are also significant differences in their structure and operation. Since the 1980s, a major shift has occurred – away from electoral ‘offices’ which were contained within government departments – to independent statutory commissions.
While these changes are generally hailed as improving the independence of electoral administration, the degree to which these commissions are able to operate independently of political influence can vary significantly. This paper provides insight into the degrees of independence the eight commissions (and one remaining office) actually provide, with an emphasis on appointments, budgeting, and relationships between commissioners, ministers and parliaments. The paper draws on personal interviews with current commissioners, and relevant members of parliament, as well as analysis of legislative reforms and the use of parliamentary oversight committees.