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Access to the Commonwealth electoral roll for medical research

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The Commonwealth electoral roll (ER) is the best source of representative samples of Australian adults for public health research purposes.1,2 The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 provides that ER data may be released for medical research in accordance with national privacy guidelines,3,4 on request and payment of a fee.5 The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) relies on the Federal Privacy Commissioner’s definition of medical research when making decisions regarding the disclosure of elector information.6

In July 2010, we sought a random sample of 9000 electors from the AEC for a study seeking to establish the views of Australians on privacy and participation in epidemiological research. The study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and approved by Monash University Human Research Ethics Committee (MUHREC). Over the next year, despite our cooperation in responding to numerous requests, the AEC refused to provide the sample. The AEC expressed…