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The NSW government has stumped up $29.1 million to plug a funding shortfall at the Electoral Commission due to the delayed local government elections.
The council polls, to take place on Saturday, have been twice delayed due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock assuring the state would cushion the financial impacts on councils due to the extended lockdowns.
“This funding boost will ensure the Electoral Commission does not have to pass on additional costs, such as staffing, rent, equipment and advertising, to councils and communities already suffering financial impacts from COVID-19,” Mrs Hancock said.
The funding is on top of $57 million earlier provided to meet the cost of full-attendance voting, taking in COVID-19 requirements, after the government ruled out NSW Electoral Commissioner John Schmidt’s recommendation of conducting a full postal vote. In a report last year he estimated such measures could have produced savings of $54 million.
Mr Schmidt’s report also found that implementing COVID-19 measures will require the number of staff at polling stations to rise from about 16,900 people to more than 27,000. An additional 500 venues will also be required. Voting is compulsory and those who don’t vote face a $55 fine, which is paid to NSW Treasury.
The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is also chipping in $150,000 to meet the extra costs faced by councils running their elections through private organisations. The electoral commission charges councils fees to run elections on their behalf. In 2012, the NSW government gave councils the option of contracting private companies to run their polls. It is understood Penrith and Fairfield are the only councils to continue to do this.
Mr Schmidt also told a parliamentary hearing early this month the polling body’s cyber security wouldn’t meet the state government’s own standards in time for the council ballots.
He said he had over the past four years repeatedly called for greater funding to boost the commission’s capability to prevent cyber attacks, adding that if he were given it immediately there would be no time to comply before the December 4 elections.
Mr Schmidt expressed frustration before a budget estimates hearing on Thursday that the commission had not received the $22 million it requested in its latest business case to Digital NSW, an agency within the Department of Customer Service.
“For at least two annual reports, it’s been a very clear statement that we’re not compliant with the government cyber security policy,” Mr Schmidt said, adding it was the fourth year since he’d been commissioner the oversight body had asked for additional resources.
Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello had said the NSW government was second only to the federal government in terms of cyber-readiness, according to a recent report.
“Just in terms of money, we are putting $1.6 billion into Digital Restart phase one. Phase two was another half a billion. And $240 million of that in phase one was for cyber. Of phase two, I think it was about $75 million. So, the suggestion that the government is not taking this seriously could not be further from the truth,” Mr Dominello said.
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