The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (the RO Act) requires that every office in an organisation, and in a branch of an organisation, must be elected. It is an important way of ensuring democratic control, one of the objectives of the RO Act.
The rules of organisations must require elections for all officers and include information about:
The rules may also provide processes for the filling of casual vacancies.
Find out more about what the rules must include and access your rules here.
Conduct of elections
Elections must be conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) unless an organisation or branch holds an exemption from this requirement.
Elections are arranged by organisations lodging information with the Commission and a decision being issued by the General Manager of the Commission or their delegate. Organisations may apply for an exemption which permits them to run their own elections.
All elections must be conducted:
Arranging an election
The requirements below apply if an organisation or branch has its elections conducted by the AEC.
Prior to issuing a decision to arrange the election, the General Manager must be satisfied that an election is required to be held under the rules of the organisation.
Lodging prescribed information
Visit the tools and resources webpage to download a prescribed information template.
An organisation or branch must lodge prescribed information with the Commission at least two months before nominations are due to open in the election. The prescribed information must include:
The elections will be conducted in accordance with the rules of the organisation that are in force when nominations open.
Registered organisations and branches are strongly encouraged to advise the Commission when lodging the prescribed information if any rule alterations are lodged, or will soon be lodged. The Commission will be able to explore practical options with the organisation about making arrangements for the election.
If you require help with lodging prescribed information contact the Commission at email@example.com.
If an organisation’s rules provide for an election to a position that is not an office, the organisation may request the AEC to conduct the election.
A copy of the request must also be lodged with the General Manager together with prescribed information in relation to the election.
Download the template for the election of non-office positions.
After the election
When the election is complete, the AEC provides a declaration of results and a written post election report to the organisation or branch that it relates to.
An organisation or branch that has a website must publish a notice on the website stating that the post-election report is available.
If the post-election report identifies rules that were difficult to interpret or apply (an 'adverse report'), the organisation or branch must provide a written response to the AEC within 30 days describing what action, if any, the organisation or branch intends to take. An extract from the adverse report and the organisation's response must be made available to members within 30 days of it being provided to the AEC.
If there have been changes to office-holders following an election, the registered organisation must lodge a notification of change with the Commission within 35 days of the change taking place.
There are various offences in relation to the conduct of an election.
Refer to our election factsheet in tools and resources for more information.
Disqualification from holding office
Officers of registered organisations must maintain standards of conduct and there are restrictions on being able to hold office if they have been convicted of certain offences.
A person who has been convicted of a prescribed offence (listed in section 212 of the RO Act) may be excluded from:
Registered organisations should consider these provisions (sections 211 to 220 of the RO Act) when candidates are nominated for election to office within organisations, or when office-holders are convicted of an offence.
Questions and answers
The RO Act seeks to encourage member participation within strong, democratic organisations. It has processes to ensure elections are efficient, transparent and independently conducted by the AEC.
If you have questions about your election process, including terms, nominations, eligibility, ballots or schedules, you should first refer to your organisation’s rulebook. If you are unclear about the requirements in the rulebook, you can seek assistance from the Commission. However, organisations are responsible for their rules and the democratic structures they put in place, and for following those rules and processes.
Below are some general questions and answers that may help you meet your obligations under the RO Act.
How do I find out when nominations open?
Your rules will normally provide timeframes, dates or information about when the nominations open in a scheduled election but only some rulebooks mention when nominations open in a casual vacancy election. Timeframes may be affected by many factors, such as when the last election occurred, terms of office, duration of the ballot, timelines for the opening and closing of nominations and closing of the roll of voters. If you are uncertain, please contact us for assistance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What do I write on the prescribed information if our rules do not say when nominations open and close?
This is most common in casual vacancy and insufficient nominations elections. Please state 'To be determined by the Returning Officer' on the prescribed information. However, if the organisation has a preferred date for nominations to open or close, you can also include this, but you must make it clear it is a preferred date and is not required by the rules. The preferred date cannot be a date that is not allowed by your rules.
Casual vacancies and insufficient nominations
Do we have to have an insufficient nominations election?
You cannot appoint someone to an office if it was not filled at an election.
Unless the rules state otherwise, new prescribed information must be lodged as soon as possible and another election held to fill it (known as an insufficient nominations election).
If you think your rules are unclear about whether you can leave an office empty or if you are required to have an election, please contact us at email@example.com.
Do we have to have casual vacancy elections?
If a vacancy has occurred (casual vacancy), you must check your organisation’s rulebook to find out if that office must be filled or if it can remain vacant. If your rules are silent, the Commission's view is that an attempt needs to be made to fill offices that are essential to the functioning of the branch or organisation (for example, the Committee of Management) or to ensure there are enough officers to achieve a quorum for meetings.
Sometimes rules will allow the organisation to appoint someone into a casual vacancy once a set period of time has passed since the beginning of the term of office. The RO Act allows this to occur. However if that period has not passed or the rules do not provide for appointment, you must fill the office by election.
What evidence do I need to provide for casual vacancy because of resignation or death?
When an officer resigns, you can provide a copy of the resignation email or letter as evidence of the casual vacancy election.
If the officer has died, you can provide a declaration signed by an authorised officer.
What information needs to be in the resignation letter?
A resignation letter or email must show that the person has resigned and when the resignation took effect.
If the person holds more than one office, the resignation letter or email must clearly identify which office or offices the person is resigning from.
What if the resignation letter contains private information?
When providing resignation letters as evidence you can redact private or sensitive information. However, it must be clear that information has been redacted.
The letter must still show:
- that the resignation is from the person resigning
- that the person has resigned
- the offices the person has resigned
- when the resignation took effect.
Resignation letters or emails are not published online.
Lodging two months before nominations open
How do I lodge the prescribed information two months before nominations open in a casual vacancy election or an insufficient nominations election?
Sometimes an organisation’s rules will specify when nominations open and close for casual vacancy or insufficient nominations elections. If they do, you must comply with the timeframes in the rulebook and the prescribed information will be lodged in accordance with those timeframes.
Where the rulebook is silent, prescribed information should be lodged as soon as possible once the office is vacant.
How do I lodge prescribed information for the second or third stage (collegiate) election?
We strongly recommend that the prescribed information for all stages of an election – the direct election and all collegiate elections – are lodged at the same time (at least two months before nominations open in the first stage of the election). We can then arrange for every stage in one decision, allowing the election to progress as quickly as possible.
In what circumstances are extensions of time for lodgement of prescribed information granted?
Applications for extensions of time for lodgement of prescribed information should explain the extenuating circumstances that will cause the prescribed information to be late. The General Manager will determine on a case-by-case basis whether an extension should be granted.
As lodging prescribed information is a civil penalty provision of the RO Act, extenuating circumstances are likely to involve something significant that demonstrates why the delay could not reasonably be avoided.
What is the Election Alert program?
The election alerts program is a proactive strategy designed to remind organisations by courtesy letter about three months before a scheduled election that their prescribed information will be due soon. It is designed to help organisations achieve voluntary compliance.
While the letter is designed to help organisations, the obligation to lodge prescribed information rests with the organisation. This is a civil penalty provision and non-compliance can result in fines.
Election alerts are an aid and cannot be relied upon. If you receive an alert and you do not believe an election is due, contact the Commission. If an election is due and you haven’t received an alert, this doesn’t mean that the organisation or branch is not obligated to lodge prescribed information.
The alerts do not apply to casual or insufficient nominations elections.
The election process
How long does it take to process my election?
We try to assess the prescribed information as quickly as possible but timelines will be affected by the complexity of the election, workloads and other factors. We have a Key Performance Indicator of having election decisions issued within 40 working days, but often do so much quicker.
I have a question about how the election will be run, or how long the election will take. Who can I talk to?
Once the decision has been issued instructing the AEC to arrange the election, the Commission has no further role. Contact the AEC for information about how long the election will take or what processes are involved.