People employed to work polling stations on federal election days should be treated like Army Reservists and paid tax-free wages, the nation’s top electoral officer has told a public hearing in Canberra.
The Australian Electoral Commission isn’t paying its staff enough to cope with the high demands of their jobs as well as the increasingly aggressive antics of the voting public.
AEC Commissioner Tom Rogers told the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters that this year’s federal election was unlike previous ones and his staff had to deal with new issues.
The committee is conducting an inquiry into the election.
The Electoral Commissioner said comparatively low salaries kept people away from the agency, but that wasn’t the only factor in its inability to attract more applicants.
“We are asking the staff, in the modern era, to go into a very complex area of service delivery that’s becoming highly litigious,” he said.
“We saw in the last election for the first time, people coming into the polling place and recording interactions with our staff, shouting at our staff, and some fairly bizarre behaviour that we haven’t seen previously.”
He said polling staff were also treated badly by some political party volunteers, with some cases being reported to the police.
“At the polling place, occasionally, temperatures are inflamed and things occur,” he said.
“We do our very best to ensure our staff are aware of the importance of treating not just citizens, but everybody that comes through the door with respect.”
The Electoral Commissioner, who has served as a military officer, said polling staff should be trained long before election campaigns began and that their wages for polling work should be tax-free similar to the Army Reserves.
He said compared to salaries in state electoral commissions, AEC employees received far less, making it extremely difficult to attract staff.
The Electoral Commissioner said he did not want the AEC to get involved in regulating truth in political advertising, suggesting the task was a poison chalice as the commission would be accused of being politically partisan no matter what it did.
The committee replied that the AEC might not have a choice in the matter into the future.
On 5 August this year, Special Minister of State Don Farrell asked the committee to inquire into and report on all aspects of the conduct of the 2022 federal election.