Estimates: Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee (Australian Electoral Commission)
Senator RHIANNON: Thanks for outlining this. It is impressive to see how it is coming together. I was certainly impressed with the emphasis that you gave, Mr Rogers, about culture, because I think that is often lost sight of these days. It is one thing to change the rules, but it is how we actually bring them into place. With regard to storage—again I really understood you were talking about from inception to grave, right through—the integrity and protection of those ballot papers goes to the heart of what we are talking about. I would like to understand more about that, because obviously you will be getting advice from industry people with regard to the best way to do that: how to store it, how to transport it—everything. What I was interested to understand is when the AEC staff will do something and when you will be getting private companies to do it.
Mr Rogers : To be accurate, we have already taken industry advice broadly on that matter. We worked with a group of logistics consultants last year. Because we are not logistics experts we wanted to make sure that we had access to what was current. We just do not have that knowledge within the organisation. The logistics industry is a multibillion-dollar industry that moves fairly quickly, and there is technology out there that can assist us with that. There are some things that we will need to keep doing. We will always need warehousing and storage, because running an election requires things to be stored.
We had, in my mind, got into the habit of thinking that we had to do all of that, even if we did not have the expertise to do it. And the most obvious one was the long-term storage of secure ballot papers. You would have seen the photos in the Keelty report. It is painful to look at and we do not want to go back there. It developed so that we were storing things in a way that I do not think was appropriate. What we are currently doing is working on a process of completely outsourcing the long-term storage of ballot papers. That is an area that I do not wish to be involved with into the future, because frankly we do not it very well and other organisations do that very well. The way that it will work is that at an appropriate point after an election, we will then transfer responsibility for the long-term storage of those ballot papers to an appropriately accredited commercial organisation who, frankly, is better able to do it. Our initial investigation has shown that they are able to do it at a very reasonable price compared to what we are currently doing. For me, that is where that delineation of responsibility lies.
There are some other issues that we are still looking at about when we need to call forward other equipment that we need at election time. Looking at cardboard equipment—and I will look to Mr Carpay, who might jump in and correct me—how long does it take you to procure cardboard equipment? If we store cardboard equipment over the long term in our own organisation, does it deteriorate? And the answer is yes. When you are dealing with glue and cardboard, things deteriorate. So, are we best storing that stuff? Or are we best actually leaving it with the individuals who are making the equipment and having a lead time such that we know that we can access it? We are still working through that process at the moment, but I would like to have minimum holdings in our own warehousing. Other organisations, who commercially do this for a living, do it. And that is a process that we are developing at the moment.
We have had some other experiences previously where we have stored cardboard equipment, and it has failed because of the conditions in which we stored it. We do not have pristine conditions, and glue deteriorates. So we are looking at that issue at the moment, but there has to be, as you are indicating, Senator, a very clear hand-off between us and a commercial organisation so that there is no gap between the two, there is no area where accountability does not follow those ballot papers.
Senator RHIANNON: Coming back to the ballot papers and the storage, you spoke about complete outsourcing. Are you talking about outsourcing from the point that they are printed—
Mr Rogers : No, I am sorry; I am talking about completed ballot papers post the election, where we are statutorily required to keep them for a period of time. For us, the way that it works with secure storage is that if you have a low requirement to access those then the prices go down quite dramatically. And, as we know, it is not often that we need to access that. So, it is that that I am talking about.
Senator RHIANNON: Post the election storage?
Mr Rogers : Yes, post the election. Now, if you are now talking about how we—
Senator RHIANNON: From printing?
Mr Rogers : Yes, from printing. I might get Mr Carpay to talk about this, but there are kind of going to be two solutions for this matter: a 2016 solution and then a long-term solution.
Mr Carpay : We are shortly to go to the market in relation to a statement of requirements for ballot paper printing. In the past we have had a set of requirements around the printing. In relation to the Keelty recommendations, we are now looking at those statement requirements to include security aspects. At the point at which those ballot papers are printed, they then need to be moved to polling places, and this is where the linkage between the printing companies and the use of third party transport companies actually comes in. And, again, we are going to market very shortly with statement requirements to the transport industry to specify what it is that we need. So, whilst we can tell you in principle the concepts, we do not have the specific solution, because we do not yet have responses for those particular tenders. But in principle you would end up with a situation where material is printed, obviously by professional printing companies. The transport of that in large-scale to our facilities from whence it is distributed to polling places is something where we would have third-party logistics providers involved. And in the past we have actually had return of materials occur though OICs returning physical ballot papers to our premises. Again, there is potential that third-party logistics providers could get involved in that, noting that with 8,000 polling places and time frames that, often late in the evening, we have to consider seriously whether third-party providers can do that.
Broadly speaking, the advice from the logistics industry is that metro areas are fairly easy but once you start to step outside major metropolitan areas into regional and then remote there are fewer transport providers available, and therefore you have to adapt your methodologies. But in principle, they are printed by private contractors and moved where appropriate by private contractors and we then have an end-to-end view. And transport providers, of course, have their own logistics processes for track and trace and all sorts of systems. We need to link those to the printing end as well so that we have the ability to know that ballot papers have been printed and produced in X quantity, that they have transferred through us to polling places and back out of polling places for account and then fresh scrutiny and that they go from there to long-term storage. So, we have to have an end-to-end view and we are going to market very shortly on those two critical pieces.
Mr Rogers : And just to be definite about this, there is not going to be one solution, because in remote areas we might have to have a very different solution to the one that we are implementing elsewhere. So, it will be a mix; it will never be one thing or the other.
Senator RHIANNON: In talking about the third-party logistics providers, at the end of the day, somebody has to do the job. The printers are on the floor, printing off the ballot papers. They go and they are stored. The truck comes along. The forklift goes out, and all the rest. Where, in all those stages, do you have your people interacting with that? It is such an important stage when we are getting all these ballot papers done. Can you describe those interactions between AEC people and these private companies? If it is too complex—although I think it is worth us knowing—maybe you could set it out in one of these documents, which I am quite happy to read. 'Logistical providers' sounds impressive—and I am not reflecting on the workers, obviously—but, at the end of the day, they are probably paid a pretty bad wage, they come in, they pick it up and off they go. How do we sort all that out?
Mr Rogers : I might answer this in two ways. I am probably happy to do this as a table for you and provide that information later on, but I will explain it, if I can. We do not get into a relationship with a provider unless we are sure that, contractually, they have got a quality process in place that we have signed off on, and that is the critical thing.
CHAIR: To use your printing of ballot papers as a template, you do not use every printer on every street corner.
Mr Rogers : That is exactly right. We go to tender. We go through an appropriate process. We procure them appropriately. But the critical thing is the quality control of those contracts to make sure that we are involved in that process. I think Keelty was fairly clear that we were deficient in some of those areas, previously, of working with our contractors. I think part of that was a lack of knowledge. I do not think it was a lack of will on anyone's part. But it was clearly an issue, and we are determined not to repeat that. So we will be as involved as we need to be at every stage of that process to ensure that there is a quality process at the centre of it. If I look at some of the logistics providers out there that we have been talking to already, they have a very impressive suite of systems in place, far beyond what we would be able to do in any case, given the budgetary issues. I am very confident that the system that we are developing will be a significantly better system providing a greater level of fidelity of tracking right through the process than we have ever had previously. So I am comfortable with that.
Mr Carpay : I might just add two quick observations, if I may, one of which is that, for example, at printing places, we always have our staff there. But part of the trick here is around handover of custody of ballot papers and, therefore, designing steps where, if it is handed over to us, we have signing and countersigning and checks and balances to ensure what is being handed over. The other thing that we have in principle is that, as we did in Western Australia, when transport companies move materials like ballot papers, they have two people in their vehicles so that, at no point, is it just reliant upon the one person. One person can look at the material in the vehicle whilst it is being loaded whilst the other can do the unloading. Then they get us to sign to say receipt and, at the other end, as we transfer across. So there are lots of steps in there now which are all about sign over, safe custody, transfer, signing and accountability and countersigning.
Mr Rogers : A problem for us remains delivery to polling place. It is a complex thing with the 8,000 polling places. Doing that in a way that is traceable and accountable is something that will always be difficult, given where those polling places are located.
Senator RHIANNON: Yes, it is huge.
Mr GRIFFIN: Having said that we should stick to the script, now I am going to go off it. I want to walk through with you a couple of things around the question of both the need to keep ballot papers post the actual conduct of the election and whether there is anything that could or should be looked at there. My understanding—and correct me when I am wrong, and I know I will be to a degree—is that there is a need to keep Senate ballot papers for the life of the Senate on the basis that there could be a need at some stage for a re-election. In memory, that has happened once, back in the eighties.
Mr Rogers : Mr Pirani is salivating at the chance of answering that.
Mr GRIFFIN: It is not a pretty sight, but, nonetheless, something that we should not let go untested.
Mr Pirani : Prior to 1983 there was a situation where, yes, they had to go back and look at the original ballot papers for the Senate. In the case of Sue v Hill, though, when we got to the High Court, the High Court accepted the information that was held in our election management system with the results. When we went away, we ran the program excluding the disqualified senator in that matter, and that result was put back to the High Court. The High Court and all the parties accepted that.
Mr GRIFFIN: You never got the ballots out of storage—
Mr Pirani : Ballot papers were not—
Mr GRIFFIN: because the circumstances are you have a tally of the actual ticket votes in that situation, and then you enter into the system the individual votes that are below the line.
Mr Pirani : That is correct.
CHAIR: Was that 1983?
Mr Pirani : Sue v Hill was a bit later than that.
Mr GRIFFIN: It was 1998.
Mr Pirani : The situation that the AEC still has concerns about is, if—like occurred after the election in WA in September 2013—there are challenges to the actual information that is in our election management system, would we be required to produce the actual ballot papers for a recount in that situation? That is not clear. Section 393A of the Commonwealth Electoral Act has a requirement for the preservation of ballot papers. There is a time period of six months that is referred to in section 393A. The six-year period for keeping Senate ballot papers is not in our act.