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Report of the Inquiry on the future conduct of elections operating during times of emergency situations

Electoral administration Elections Sector regulation Australia

A federal election is the biggest peacetime logistical event in Australia. In each electorate, hundreds of individuals – from candidates to party volunteers, to poll workers, are required to ensure that elections proceed in a free, fair and democratic manner.

It is essential that elections are conducted in a manner which assures public trust in the electoral and democratic process. Trust in democracy and in governments at all levels can only be assured if there is trust in elections. States of disaster have the potential to significantly disrupt the conduct of elections and damage confidence in Australia's democracy.

The bushfires of the 2019-20 summer followed by the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the daily life of all Australians have focussed attention on the need for a strategy to deal with the conduct of elections during times of emergency which now must consider communicable disease outbreaks, natural disasters, and restrictions on movement and assembly.

This inquiry provided the Committee with an opportunity to examine Australia’s electoral preparedness during challenging circumstances and whether there is flexibility within the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act) to adapt to these challenges.

Report overview:

  • A number of elections were held over the course of 2020, at the local, State/Territory and Federal (by-election) level during the course of various emergency declarations. These elections have provided electoral management bodies nation-wide the opportunity to assess the legislative and logistical challenges to conducting elections in a state of emergency. Chapter Two discusses these challenges in detail.
  • Chapter Three examines what measures need to be put in place to manage elections in the event of future emergency situations. The chapter concludes by looking at specific reform proposals put to the inquiry and makes recommendations for legislative change that supports the AEC to continue to conduct safe, secure and trustworthy Australian elections.
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