Public funding and financial disclosure
Public funding for elections
Responsibility for the operation of the system of public funding is vested in the Electoral Commission.
Principal features of the provisions include:
To be eligible for public funding political parties must be registered with the Commission.
For each valid first preference vote received a specified amount is payable, which is adjusted half yearly in accordance with increases in the Consumer Price Index. For the 2016 general election the amount was 262.784 cents.
No payment is made in respect of candidates or groups who do not receive at least four per cent of the eligible votes polled (that is, valid first preference votes).
Funding for candidates endorsed by a party may be shared between the relevant State branch and the Federal secretariat of the party.
A bill was introduced in December 2017 to limit public electoral funding to demonstrated electoral expenditure.
The Commonwealth Electoral Act requires political parties, candidates and other persons involved in the electoral process to submit returns, either following elections or annually, to the Electoral Commission disclosing electoral expenditure and detailing political donations received and given. Returns are made available for public inspection on the Electoral Commission website.
In summary, returns are required from candidates, political parties and associated entities, third parties who have incurred or authorised electoral expenditure, and donors. Government departments and agencies must also provide information in their annual reports on payments made to advertising agencies, and market research, polling, direct mail and media advertising organisations.
The requirements for returns are complex. Up-to-date information on disclosure requirements is available on the Electoral Commission website.
Political donations and receipts above the disclosure threshold must be individually identified in returns. The disclosure threshold was set at $10,000 in 2006, the amount to be indexed annually to the consumer price index. From July 2016 to June 2017 the amount was $13,200.
Unlawful gifts and loans
It is unlawful to receive gifts of a value greater than the disclosure threshold where either the names or addresses of the donors are unknown at the time the gift is received. Loans of more than the disclosure threshold may not be received other than from a financial institution unless details of the source and conditions of the loan are recorded. The amount or value of a gift or loan received in breach of these provisions is payable to the Commonwealth.
A bill was introduced in December 2017 to ban political entities from receiving foreign gifts over $250 or any money transferred from foreign accounts, and from using foreign money for their political expenditure.
It is an offence punishable by a fine to fail to make a return if required to do so, to make an incomplete return, to knowingly provide a return containing false or misleading information, or to fail to retain records relating to matters which are or could be required to be set out in a return. It is also an offence to fail or refuse to comply with notices relating to investigations authorised by the Electoral Commission, or to provide false or misleading information to such investigations.
Failure to provide required returns does not invalidate the election of a candidate.