The AEC was recently announced as #1 for both trust and satisfaction in the Australian Public Service Commission’s (APSC) 2023 survey. 91% of respondents expressed satisfaction with the services we provide – well ahead of all other agencies in the survey.
We’re very pleased with such a result of course, especially after such a big year for the agency. We successfully delivered Australia’s first referendum in 24 years, as well as two by-elections and hundreds of industrial ballots. We achieved new enrolment records, kickstarted redistribution processes in three states and continued behind the scenes on modernising our core digital infrastructure.
Unfortunately, along with the success of 2023, we also saw a significant change occur within the information ecosystem we operate in. There was a continued rise in the spread of mis and disinformation about the processes we deliver. This shift is presenting a significant challenge for both the AEC and electoral management bodies all over the world. It is becoming much more difficult to ensure public conversations about electoral processes are based on facts.
We’ve been exposed to a lot of conspiracy theories about our processes in recent times, from the plain wacky to the incredibly concerning. One of the most bizarre ideas spread during the event was the theory that the legislated, and mandatory, watermark present on the ballot paper was actually a secret Masonic symbol! Others included that the AEC was under the control of the United Nations or the World Economic Forum, that voting machines (which we don’t use) were being used to skew the vote, that the referendum Writ was illegitimate and that the AEC issues pencils so that ballots can be erased. Public conversations about what constituted a formal ballot during the 2023 referendum also, at times, did not account for the legislative boundaries within which the AEC always operates.. Conspiracy theories and misleading narratives can be dangerous and work to undermine the integrity and trust in the AEC and, more generally, Australia’s democracy.
The increasing disinformation about the processes we run make it even more pleasing to see that trust in the AEC is being maintained at a high level. These results haven’t occurred by accident though - they are the result of years of hard work to improve, strengthen and streamline electoral processes, systems, and procedures. This includes work specifically targeted at maintaining public trust such as the development and implementation of the AEC’s Reputation Management System (RMS) - which emphasise a focus on electoral integrity across all facets of the AEC. We deliver operational excellence first and foremost, and then we actively communicate about those processes to instil trust. In and around electoral events our communication activities make us one of the most, if not the most, prominent communicators in the Australian Public Service.
Australians, of course have the right to express themselves freely and this is a key part of our Democracy. However, the growing number of citizens either propagating or believing conspiracy theories about electoral processes is, of course cause for concern. Public trust in the AEC is intrinsically linked to trust in Australian electoral processes and results. Maintaining this trust is a critical part of our role in defending Australia’s democracy. This responsibility isn’t something we take lightly and is critical work that we will continue to progress.