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Roles And Structure Of The Australian Electoral Commission

Last updated on December 29, 2023

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The Australian Electoral Commission was established as an independent statutory authority on February 21, 1984, following amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act (1918) by the Hawke government. The creation of the AEC was one of many significant electoral reforms introduced at that time.

AEC Roles

The AEC is responsible for the administration of federal elections and referendums. This includes:

  • maintaining and updating Commonwealth electoral rolls
  • conducting elections, referendums and industiral and other elections as required
  • enforcing the compulsory enrolment and compulsory voting provisions of the Act
  • conducting electoral education and promoting public awareness of electoral and parliamentary matters
  • providing information and advice on electoral matters to Parliament, the government, government departments and authorities
  • electoral research
  • assisting in the conduct of redistributions
  • assiting in the conduct of certain approved foreign elections and referendums

The Structure of the AEC

The AEC is organised on a geographic basis. It has:

  • a Central Office in Canberra
  • a Head Office in each State capital and the Northern Territory
  • a Divisional Office in or near each of the 148 electoral divisions

The AEC is headed by a Commission made up of three people:

  • the Chairperson (who must be a judge or a retired judge of the Federal Court) T. R. Morling QC
  • the Electoral Commissioner (who performs the functions of the Chief Executive Officer) Mr. Bill Gray AM
  • one part-time non-judicial member (usually the Australian Statistician) Mr. Bill McLennan AM

In addition to the Commission there is a Deputy Electoral Commissioner and an Australian Electoral Officer (AEO) for each State and the Northern Territory. AEOs are responsible for the management of electoral activities within their State or Territory.

Each electoral division has a permanent Divisional Returning Officer (DRO) who is responsible for electoral administration in that division, in particular, the maintenance of the electoral roll and preparations and conduct of the next electoral event.

The AEC administers the following Acts:

  • Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918
  • Representation Act 1983
  • 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

Source: Australian Electoral Commission, Electoral Pocket Book, (August 1999), pp2-3.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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