Saturday, December 11, 2010

At what cost is the Victorian Election: Duplication of resources staff and management

Ever wondered how much it costs to hold the Victorian State election? Reports in the media have placed a price tag of $300,000 to conduct an expected by-election in the seat of Broadmeadows should John Brumby stand down and resign from Parliament next year. Multiply that by 88 and double it for the upper-house then add on the costs of maintaining a full time staff and offices and you begin to get some idea of how much it actually costs. The 2006 State election is listed as costing over 36 Million dollars with software development at 13 million dollars amortised over a five year period and this does not include the costs associated with inhouse development, staff time, office space and the like.

The Victorian Electoral Commission wastes millions of dollars in duplicated costs for staffing, resources and system development.  Millions of dollars have been spent on numerous fact finding trips, software development and cushy overpaid jobs.  The Chief Electoral Commission alone is paid somewhere between 250,000 to 300,000 a year plus allowances and other perks.  (And similar high salaries for the host of other electoral officials (Deputy Commissioner, Parliamentary Liaison officers, IT managers, Media Liaison etc etc etc there is enough senior staff to host a football match or a couple of cricket teams) What do they all do.  Hold a State Election once every four years and Local Government Election every other other second year in between. They participate in boundary reviews and perform a variety of other minor administrative tasks.

The VEC is an organisation that is not accountable to anyone for administrative matters other the Parliament.The Ombudsman has no jurisdiction of the VEC, it is exempt from review. The Auditor General does have authority for review on financial matters but rarely, if ever, undertake a full audit of the VEC affairs. (The costs charged to the City of Melbourne for software development is one that should be reviewed).

The Chief Electoral Commissioner is an officer of the parliament who falls loosely under the umbrella of the Attorney General and recently is required to report to the State Parliaments Electoral Matters Committee which was set up by the Bracks Labor Government bit may be abandoned by the incoming Liberal Government.  BEen under the Proust/Hulls review the VEC escaped consideration

Why is the Chief Electoral Commission given equal status of the Auditor General. should it not be a sub department under the auspice of the Auditor Generals Office?  Surely all the VEC needs is a secretariat to help it in policy development, planning and oversight of a central Australian electoral service provider such as the AEC?

Much of the tasks and jobs undertaken by the Victorian Electoral Commission could be readily absorbed by the Australian Electoral Commission which already has in place the systems, process and staff to conduct elections. So why do we maintain the duplication. If we scrapped the VEC and handed over its role to the Australian Electoral Commission how much would Victoria save. the 13 million price tag spent by the VEC is a duplication of costs associated with software development already in place by the AEC and the quality of reporting from the AEC is much better.

A quick reading for the published reports on the VEC web site will not help you find this information.  Nowhere is there a breakdown the costs involved in the management of the Victorian Electoral Commission. for each department. It is all reported as consolidated expenses and income.

There is no financial section in the 2006 State Election report and likewise they is little information on the cost of holding municipal elections all of which the VEC has a complete monopoly over.  You can expect some of the cost by reviewing the published financial budget statements but you have to do a lot of digging to extract the information. The cost of holding the City of Melbourne election in 2008 was well over 2 million dollars and the VEC charged the City 200,000 to modify its software hen they first introduced proportional representation.  The City of Melbourne held no proprietorship or rights over the software that they paid for. Software that was already in existence and developed by the AEC. 

So why do we still have a Victorian Electoral Commission when the task, costs and potential savings could be shifted off to the Australian Electoral Commission.  The AEC certainly does a much better job at counting and reporting on the election.  Just look at the two web sites for the Australian Senate and then compare that to the results page for the Victorian upper-house.  Which do you think is better..

The AEC site provides a breakdown of the vote by voter type - above the line versus below the line and how many votes each candidate received as a primary vote. It is clearly a much more informative and professional organisation.

Then take a look at the VEC reporting site where there is little to no  information on the breakdown of the vote.

The State Parliament needs to make sure that the report on the 2010 State election includes a detailed break down of the cost benefit analysis of maintaining a separate electoral commission as opposed to just having a secretariat that reviews  and liaises with the Australian Electoral Commission in overseeing and providing electoral services to the State of Victoria.

When the smoke has cleared and the election is over we will endeavour to dissect more of the costs involved in maintaining a duplicated Electoral Commission.

Some Interesting reading found on the Internet
2009-2010 Financial Report

Norm Kelly ANU-  2007 APSA paper  ( Overview of the Australian Electoral Administration - No financial analysis)

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