Updated: 30 June 2011

The Australian Electoral Commission

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is an independent statutory authority established under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. The AEC is responsible for the operation of the federal electoral system in Australia, which includes:

  • conducting federal parliamentary elections and referendums
  • maintaining the Commonwealth electoral roll under arrangements with State and Territory electoral bodies
  • conducting elections for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, the Torres Strait Regional Authority, industrial
  • organisations and various other non-parliamentary elections as required
  • assisting with the conduct of some State, Territory and local government elections
  • providing electoral information and education programs
  • providing party registration and funding and disclosure services to parties and candidates
  • providing information and advice on electoral matters to parliament, the government, and government departments and authorities
  • conducting and promoting research into electoral matters
  • assisting in the conduct of certain approved foreign elections and referendums.

The AEC administers the following Acts:

  • Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918
  • Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984.
    The AEC also has specific functions under the Constitution and the following Acts:
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act 1989
    • Workplace Relations Act 1996.

The role of the Australian Electoral Commission at a referendum

The AEC's role at a referendum is to provide enrolment and voting services to enable Australian electors to have their say on the proposed changes to the Constitution.

The AEC as an independent statutory authority was responsible for the machinery of the 1999 referendum only.

At the 1999 referendum, the AEC provided the following enrolment and voting services:

  • processing enrolment cards
  • compiling certified lists of voters
  • printing ballot papers
  • setting up and staffing polling places
  • coordinating pre-poll voting, postal voting, overseas voting, Antarctic voting and mobile polling
  • conducting a public information campaign associated with the process of enrolment and voting
  • producing and delivering the Yes/No case pamphlet
  • counting the votes
  • releasing results.

The AEC had no involvement with the campaigns for or against the proposed changes to the Constitution, nor did the AEC have any involvement with the other Government-sponsored public information activities.

The structure of the Australian Electoral Commission

The AEC is organised on a geographic basis with the central office in Canberra; a head office in each State capital and the Northern Territory; and a divisional office in or near each of the 148 electoral divisions.

The AEC is headed by a Commission consisting of a Chairperson (who must be a judge or a retired judge of the Federal Court), the Electoral Commissioner (who performs the functions of the Chief Executive Officer) and a part-time non-judicial member (usually the Australian Statistician).

In each State and the Northern Territory, the Australian Electoral Officer (AEO) is responsible for the management of electoral activities within their State or Territory. An AEO for the Australian Capital Territory is temporarily appointed for each election and referendum period.

Each electoral division has a permanent Divisional Returning Officer (DRO) who is responsible for electoral administration in their division. The DRO was the returning officer for the 1999 referendum in their division.

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