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Estimates: Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee (Australian Electoral Commission)

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 24 Feb 2015

Senator RHIANNON: On 18 October 2011, Mr Rogers, your predecessor, Mr Ed Killesteyn, told estimates in relation to disclosures coming in past the deadline:

We have ... put on record a consideration that ... there would be value in consideration being given to an administrative penalty, which we believe might assist in compliance. But that is for strict objective penalties, such as late lodgement. There are other areas of offences such as misleading statements and so forth ...
Do you agree with the previous commissioner's comments?

Mr Rogers : I cannot answer that. I can only talk about what I intend to do as commissioner during my tenure. I think I am on record with this committee as stating that my view is that the purpose of the funding and disclosure regime that we have in place is to achieve disclosure, and that is something that we work towards and that is what the system is designed on. I am not exactly aware of what Mr Killesteyn may have said, but I think I am pretty clearly on record as saying that I intend to administer those provisions in the act fairly but to seek disclosure being the main outcome.

Senator RHIANNON: So have you given consideration to an administrative penalty?

Mr Rogers : No, I have not.

Senator RHIANNON: Do you intend to?

Mr Rogers : I am at a little disadvantage. I do not have the comments in front of me, so I am not exactly sure of the context in which they were made.

Senator RHIANNON: I will put it in questions on notice then. How many discrepancies have been detected between donor returns and party returns for the 2013-14 disclosure data released on 2 February this year?

Mr Rogers : Again if I could take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for taking it on notice. Could you inform the committee if the IT process has been run that enables you to identify apparent discrepancies? Has that been run through the system?

Mr Rogers : I am sure it has been. I do not have that detailed information here in front of me. I do not want to make a comment here that is inaccurate. As you know, it is not an uncommon occurrence for those amendments to be made-in fact, it is a part of the process that we have in place.

Senator RHIANNON: Mr Pirani has answered this in the past. Does he have anything to add to this?

Mr Pirani : I am no longer in charge of the funding and disclosure team, but the computer systems they have established do a matching exercise between the returns that are lodged-it tries to look for discrepancies between a donor return and a return of a recipient. As I think I have also said before, because of the different tests and the different requirements quite often that is extremely difficult to ascertain. My recollection the last time I was in charge of the program, which was in 2012, is that we went through 26,000 lines of data and looked at several thousand potential discrepancies. I do not have the final figures as to what action was taken in relation to those. The majority of the matters that we deal with quite often are just an oversight, a miscalculation or a transcription error, so most of the matters are resolved very quickly and with the cooperation of either the donor or the recipient.

Senator Ronaldson: The question has been taken on notice. Once that information is available then the commissioner can give it to you.

Senator RHIANNON: The Paul Ramsay Holdings' annual return-in the data that came out on 2 February-declared $600,000 in donations to the federal Liberal Party. Paul Ramsay Holdings also donated $50,000 to the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party. Neither of those amounts appears in the annual returns of either the federal or the New South Wales Liberal Party. Have you picked up that large discrepancy in your investigations?

Mr Rogers : I do not have that information in front of me. Senator, I must say that I missed the name you started off with.

Senator RHIANNON: Paul Ramsay Holdings.

Mr Rogers : I do not have that information in front of me, but I am happy to take it on notice and come back to you with that information.

Senator RHIANNON: I take Mr Pirani's point that many of them are just small errors. We all make those and have to put in amended returns. But periodically there are these very large discrepancies. When you have run your IT system and you come up with the discrepancies, do you give priority to the larger discrepancies in following through on those?

Mr Rogers : I can tell you that we have a risk-based matrix that we use to conduct our compliance investigations. When we come across larger issues like that we do feed that into the risk-based matrix, and we pay particular attention to those issues in the future. So the answer to that question is: yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you can take this on notice: if you have detected these discrepancies and if they have been followed up-and this was just from our research in looking at the returns that you have publicly put up on your website-where the party has disclosed the amount but the company has not. The federal Liberal Party disclosed a donation of $250,000 from the New Hope Corporation Ltd, but the company has not. The ACT branch of the Liberal Party disclosed a donation of $217,800 from the defence industry company Stratsec, which has not disclosed that. Also, the Queensland branch of the Labor Party disclosed a donation of $200,000 from NewMR, but the company did not. I was interested if you were aware of these donations that were not disclosed by the donors and if you have requested that they put in amended returns.

Mr Rogers : I will take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: I am interested with the developments in the ACT government in that, since 2012, they require the parties to submit fortnightly disclosures for elections in the ACT. This, obviously, is getting close to continuous disclosure. Have you looked at that model?

Mr Rogers : No, we have not.

Senator RHIANNON: So there have been no discussions with those who run that system?

Mr Rogers : I certainly have not, no. And it would be inappropriate to do so because that is not in our legislation.

Senator RHIANNON: But I thought that you met periodically met with other commissioners and other people to discuss all this sort of work. We all are learning from each other and trying to improve-

Ms Halton : But, Senator, you are now actually straying into an area which is policy, which is not a matter for the Electoral Commission. The Electoral Commission administers the law as it exists, but policy issues are a matter for the government. So now you have gone beyond where, I think, the commissioner can help you.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay, I will move on. But, with all due respect, it was asking nothing more than whether one jurisdiction talks to another about the complex issue of running elections and providing information. But there are always more questions. On the issue we have discussed before about the FOI request of Mr Michael Cordover relating to the Senate voting counting software source code, Senator Ronaldson stated in The Sydney Morning Heraldon 16 July:

... publication of the software could leave the voting system open to hacking or manipulation.
I had understood that the software is actually operated on a stand-alone computer not connected to the internet. Is that accurate?

Mr Rogers : I very cautious about answering any questions in this regard. I know that occasionally I say this, and I say it for good reason: this matter is currently before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Anything I say here could complicate the work of that tribunal. I am very conscious that I do not want to make any statement about that particular and specific case.

Senator RHIANNON: I will ask a general question-not about that case. If there is a stand-alone computer not connected to the internet, any software that is operating on such a-

Senator Ronaldson: I am sorry, Senator. I appreciate your change to the question but there may well be some applicability to the matter before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. In some respects, the question is hypothetical anyway. I do not think the commissioner can take the matter any further than that. I am sure you would not want this committee to be eliciting information which may prejudice the Administrative Appeals Tribunal case.

Mr Rogers : If it would be helpful, I can tell you that they will schedule a date for that hearing at some stage after April, so it will not be too much longer in the future that we can discuss these things.

Senator RHIANNON: Is the Senate vote-counting software the same as the software used to run elections for clubs and associations and unions?

Mr Pirani : That is part of the information that is before the tribunal.

Senator RHIANNON: As well?

Mr Pirani : It is, sorry, Senator.

Mr Rogers : I am genuinely not trying to be difficult, Senator.

Senator Ronaldson: It is before the AAT, and we will not discuss it any further.


Senator RHIANNON: Mr Rogers, you have spoken about the multiple voting system and, understandably, about the depths of your concerns-how it raises the perception of integrity and about your commitment to work with the AFP and how uncomfortable you are about this situation, particularly giving that emphasis to the issue of the integrity of the electoral system. Considering the discrepancies that are found in political donations and that the rules have been broken over a long time, do you have a consistent or similar position with regard to following through in restoring integrity in that area by following through and cleaning those problems up?

Mr Rogers : I can tell you that I have given a commitment to ensure that electoral integrity-and when I say 'electoral' I mean in its broadest possible sense-is at the heart of all our activities, and I take all those matters seriously.

Senator RHIANNON: So will you also be talking with the AFP about how to follow through on those many examples over the years where there have not been any cases-

Senator Ronaldson: There are legislative requirements in relation to these matters, so I am not entirely sure of the context in which you believe that would be appropriate, given that the commissioner has already taken on notice some matters that you have put to him. He has said that he will have a look at those, and anything following on from that would be a hypothetical outcome to the matters he has taken on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: It is disappointing that you have intervened in that way, Minister. It was just about making a comparison to another area that is very problematic for the public, going to the heart of the integrity of the electoral system. We really should have a cross-party commitment to clean that up, and all I was doing was saying that there is a comparison there and asking for the commissioner to comment, and I think that was a fair question.

Senator Ronaldson: I know you say you are disappointed, but I think if you go back and check the Hansard the commissioner's comments in relation to his views on these matters were put almost as his first response to your first question about these matters, and I invite you to go back and have a look at his comments. He has answered it twice now, so I do not think that my intervention is inappropriate. He made it quite clear at the start what his views were on those things.


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