This week on Voice for Values, how does the new Senate voting system work?

Phil Diak is the National Spokesperson for the Australian Electoral Commission and discusses how to correctly mark ballot papers, pre-poll and accessibility at the polling places.






Lyle Shelton:                         Well welcome to Voice for Values radio. It’s Lyle Shelton with you again from the Australian Christian Lobby. It’s great to have your company. We are just days out from he federal election, July 2, this Saturday. Joining me on the line to discuss this election and the running of it is Phil Diak. He’s the national spokesperson for the Australian Electoral Commission and those people who follow politics will know that every three years, Phil pops up as the voice for the electoral commission giving great information about what we all need to know about voting. Phil it’s a real privilege to have you on the line today. Welcome to Voice for Values.

Phil Diak:                               Thank you, my pleasure.   

Lyle Shelton:                         Phil, coming up to Saturday you guys at the commission are obviously very, very busy. Just tell us about some of the logistics that are involved in putting together an election for the entire Australian population.       

Phil Diak:                              Yes. It is quite possibly the largest logistical exercise that ovcvurs in Australia. We’ve got about 15.6 million Australians enrolled to vote for this election. Quite a number have had a pre-poll vote already. We’ve also got an estimated 95 per cent of possible Australians that could be on the roll, are on the roll for this election so we’re up about 950,000 people.          

Lyle Shelton:                         Wow. What are the other five per cent doing, Phil?                                     

Phil Diak:                              Well there are always some people who aren’t on the roll and that may include some Australians who are based overseas. You do need to take action to keep your entitlement if you are overseas and a range of other Australians, some who just aren’t on the roll.   

Lyle Shelton:                         And it’s too late for them now, isn’t it Phil?               

Phil Diak:                              It is. The roll closed at 8pm on the 23rd of May so that is a firm close for the roll. People attending a polling place on election day though, if they are not on the voter list and they’re voting in their home division and they believe they should be on the roll, they can be offered a provisional vote and that’s where you are provided with the ballot papers and it goes into an envelope and you make a declaration and your roll status is checked.                               

Lyle Shelton:                         Ah that’s good to know. Good to know.

Phil Diak:                              Yeah.

Lyle Shelton:                         Yeah I didn’t know you could do that. So if you might have forgotten to have yourself on the electoral roll, you can cast a provisional vote, is what you’re saying?

Phil Diak:                              You do need to be essentially not knowing that you’re not on the roll but believing that you are on the roll and for some reason you haven’t appeared on the voter list. So it’s more that case and people can be offered a provisional vote. We check your declaration and your details against the roll afterwards as we do for all declaration votes such as postal votes, they’re in a declaration envelope as well, and absent votes where you’re voting somewhere else but we may turn to that a little later in this discussion but just going on with kind of a bit of a picture, we’ve got for this election 1625 candidates of which there are 621 in the Senate, 994 in the House of Representatives so they’re just some big numbers for you.     

Lyle Shelton:                         So they’re vying for 150 places in the House of Representatives and 76 places in the Senate. There’s going to be a lot of disappointed candidates after Saturday.        

Phil Diak:                              Well there’s, as you say, 12 Senate positions in every state because this is a double dissolution where all 12 positions are being contested, that’s right, except for the ACT and the Northern Territory that have two senators a piece and they actually have to contest their re-election. We’ll have 7,000 polling places open on Saturday.  

Lyle Shelton:                         Wow.

Phil Diak:                              And we’ve still got 94 diplomatic missions overseas that are providing voting services.

Lyle Shelton:                         Wow. This is a global operation Phil. 

Phil Diak:                              It is and if you’re talking to adult children or friends or family overseas, you do need to have a look at those diplomatic mission websites. Voting does close 6pm Western Australian time. So for example, obviously Australia House is not open in London on the 2nd of July northern hemisphere time. That’s way past the close of polling in Australia. 

Lyle Shelton:                         Phil, you mentioned the Senate just now. I think the question that’s on a lot of people’s minds is to do with the changes that were made just prior to this parliament being dissolved, the changes to the Senate voting system. Can you just step us through that so there’s no confusion at all as to how we should cast our Senate vote.   

Phil Diak:                              Yes. In March this year, parliament made changes to the Senate voting system. They were the first changes since 1984. We previously had a system where it was just put a ‘1’ in the box above the line. All your preference flows then went according to a pre-lodged ticket by the parties or could be a non-party group, individuals who banded together for a square above the line. Now those preference tickets which determine the flow of your vote just when you put a ‘1’ above the line, they were abolished. The system of having above the line or below the line voting was kept those, so you choose one or the other. It’s the instructions that have changed. Now with those preference tickets gone, you decide your own preferences if you’re voting above or below the line. Above the line, the ballot paper instructs to number at least six boxes for the parties or groups of your choice. You can number more or go below the line and number at least 12 candidates, individual candidates of your choice. Now that’s the instructions on the ballot paper and that was parliament’s intent and what they passed into law. Now there’s been occasionally some community concern about understanding the new system and asking whether they can still place a ‘1’ above the line.        

Lyle Shelton:                         Phil, just hold that thought for a minute. That’s a really important thing. We’re just coming up to a break. I’m talking with Phil Diak. He’s the national spokesperson for the Australian Electoral Commission. He’s explaining to us everything we need to know for voting this Saturday. Stay with us. There’s more important information to come right after this break.

 - - -

                                                Well welcome back to Voice for Values radio. I’m speaking with Phil Diak, the national spokesperson for the Australian Electoral Commission and Phil, just on the other side of the break, you were explaining just how the new Senate voting system works and what we can do on that Senate ballot paper and sorry I had to interrupt you there but please continue.      

Phil Diak:                              So the instructions so my best advice is to read the instructions before you mark our ballot paper for the Senate and the House. For the Senate, it’s marking at least six boxes above the line where your first choices are ‘1’ and continuing through to six.   

Lyle Shelton:                         And that will be for essentially party groupings or candidate groupings above the line. Is that correct?    

Phil Diak:                              That’s right. It’s usually just about all parties above the line but when nominating candidates, two candidates or more can nominate to be in a group. They obviously don’t have a party name above the line but they have a square. 

Lyle Shelton:                         So the best thing is, so that’s a great thing to know but the best thing is to vote one to six above the line if you’re wanting to vote for parties or groupings of candidates. So that’s clear. Above the line is one to six then below the line, this is if you wanted to vote for independent Senate candidates in particular or to choose the party candidates of your choice, you would then number one to twelve below the line is what you’re saying.  

Phil Diak:                              And you can go on and number more.

Lyle Shelton:                         You can do more, yep.  

Phil Diak:                              And the aficionados that used to go below the line, a very small percentage, mark every box under the older system. They can certainly still do that.

Lyle Shelton:                         I’m pleased to hear that, Phil cause I’ve always done that when I’ve voted. I’ve always gone below the line and even when I lived in Queensland, we had sixty-plus candidates. I would number every box very carefully but I realise not everyone does that.

Phil Diak:                              And without wanting to add too much detail, again for the AEC who count the vote there is a savings provision below the line if an elector only one to six below the line, didn’t do the minimum of twelve and there are no other mistakes, that vote will be saved but I can appreciate that this is a little bit for listeners to take in that there are the voting instructions that have been legislated and then there are savings provisions that allow a vote to be saved and included in the count and that’s all part of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. People can still actually go to the AEC website and try the practice voting tool. If they put that into the search engine, practice voting tool on our website, you can actually have a little practice for the Senate and the House of Reps.

Lyle Shelton:                         That’s a great idea, Phil. You better give us your website address for that.

Phil Diak:                              Yes, it’s

Lyle Shelton:                         Very good. So as most of us who have voted before know, we will get a House of Reps ballot paper and a Senate ballot paper. You’ve just explained the Senate voting system very well, thank you. House of Reps, what should we expect and what should we do there.

Phil Diak:                              Well for experienced voters, for federal elections there’s absolutely no change. It’s still number every box, one as your first choice and going through to the number of candidates that are on the House of Reps green ballot paper. The only difference this time, and I should have mentioned that earlier, is that many parties will have little logos on the ballot paper and they would have pre-registered those before the election formerly commenced.

Lyle Shelton:                         That’s a big change, isn’t it Phil? Normally we’re not used to party advertising material on the actual official ballot papers but you’re saying their logos are now allowed on the ballot papers.

Phil Diak:                              Yes and we go through quite a formal process with that. As soon as the law was changed in March to allow that, we publicised this and parties already registered would go through another process to tender their proposed logo. We would make that available as much as we would when we’re assessing a new party application to be advertised in a newspaper circulating for a month. People would have the objection period to go if they had any objections but the objections couldn’t be just personal. They had to be grounded in terms of the Act.

Lyle Shelton:                         So what was the reason for changing the law to allow logos on ballot papers?

Phil Diak:                              These things often emerge from the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, a federal parliamentary committee, and these sorts of things including a change in the Senate system were considered over the last term in the last parliament by that joint standing committee and there’s actually a detailed report on the APH, the Australian Parliament House website, and you can see all the standing committee electoral matters reports that have been brought down on a number of things including electronic voting.

Lyle Shelton:                         Yeah ok, electronic voting. So when are we going to get that, Phil? Probably not for this election.

Phil Diak:                              No, clearly not this time. I should, two things. First of all that parliamentary committee had hearings and submissions from anyone who was interested and came down not in favour of electronic voting. One of the issues cited was a hundred per cent certainty around IT security issues and of course comparing to the current system. We do however have telephone voting and that is just specifically, excuse me, for people who are blind or have low vision and they can, it’s still not late to pre-register via an 1800 number.

Lyle Shelton:                         You have really have thought of everything, everyone and every person who faces any potential obstacle to voting. It’s quite amazing what you do to make the democratic process work for all Australians. Phil, there’ll be a lot of older listeners listening and perhaps wondering what they can do, perhaps people with mobility issues, in homes, that sort of thing. Just a couple of days out from the election, what advice would you have for older listeners who are worried about how they can get to a polling place or make sure that they can cast their vote?

Phil Diak:                              Yes. If there are older listeners with mobility issues there is the possibility still, time running out of course, to have an early vote before 6pm Friday. However the pre-polling centres will be quite busy also so in some ways it’ll probably be similar on Saturday. Polling is usually quite busy in the morning on Saturday. There’s a bit of a lull sort of over the lunch, early afternoon and then it really builds up late afternoon. So I guess the most important thing is to plan for your day and if you are not sure where your nearest polling place is, there’s the internet of course, a clear way to go to our homepage or call us on 13 23 26 or if you can get Friday’s main newspaper in each state, we have details there of the polling places. It also has disability access symbols or we can provide that information over the phone about which polling places have full or partial disability access. Now we do endeavour to get as many polling places with full access as we can. We have around 7,000 polling places. There will always be some that are not full access but I guess it just really reflects buildings across the country and what we can achieve in an election where we don’t have the date in advance.

Lyle Shelton:                         Phil just give us just your website address again for people who might be looking for their polling place in their local area. Where can they go again?

Phil Diak:                              It’s or call us on 13 23 26.

Lyle Shelton:                         Fantastic. Phil, the election is always a great community event. It connects us with our fellow Australians. There’s often a sausage sizzle and a cake stall, a bit of a carnival atmosphere. Some people might think of it as a chore. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for Australians coming together to decide the next three years for our nation and we appreciate all the work that you and your team do to make democracy possible for us in this wonderful country of Australia.

Phil Diak                                Thank you very much.

Lyle Shelton:                         Thanks Phil. We really appreciate your time. All the best for the rest of the campaign.

Phil Diak                                Thank you.