Additional comments by Kate Chaney MP
1.1The election of more community independents on the crossbench in the 2022 Federal Election sent a signal that communities want to see meaningful electoral reform to move away from enshrining or hiding vested interests.
1.2I agree with the majority report commentary that there are areas of our electoral system clearly in need of strengthening.
1.3Electoral matters have traditionally been seen through a political party lens that further enshrines incumbency and party advantage. Appendix A contains a list of identified party and incumbency advantages that are built into our existing regulatory framework.
1.4Additional reforms are required to neutralise some of these advantages to ensure our political process connects to community and meets its expectations and not those of vested commercial and political interests. These additional reforms are based on three pillars:
2Reducing financial influence; and
3Levelling the playing field.
1.5My additional comments and recommendations are provided under these three pillars below.
1.6Transparency reforms to the Federal political donations framework are long overdue. Federal reform has lagged behind reform in many states and territories.
1.7Recommendations 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 11 and 12 are transparency reforms.
1.8I support recommendations 1 (lower donation disclosure threshold to $1,000) and 2 ('real time' disclosure requirements for donations to political parties and candidates). Donations should be lodged by recipients through an effective, easy to use, transparent and searchable online system.
1.9I support recommendation 3 (amend the definition of ‘gift’ in the Electoral Act to ensure it meets community expectations of transparency in political donations). There is overwhelming community support for transparency on who is funding election campaigns. This includes capturing what is currently 'dark money' (hidden money). A system of 'pay to play' or 'cash for access' has been allowed to thrive where political fundraising dinners and 'business forums' have raised often significant funds with no disclosure. The definition of ‘gift’ needs to be amended to include all monetary and in-kind payments including fundraising dinners, cash for access 'business forums' and other events as well as membership fees above a reasonable threshold (e.g. $600) that benefit a political party or candidate. Recent examples have shown that the existing definition is confusing and provides opportunities to avoid transparency.
1.10I propose a further recommendation in terms that – the Australian Government introduces a system of more meaningful funding disclosure that will be readily available on the AEC Transparency Register by:
The donation transparency register is maintained through the AEC, and leaves something to be desired in terms of transparency. Transparency demands that not only can information be seen but that it should also be able to be interrogated and analysed.
There is not enough breakdown of the components of the donations or of electoral spending. Nor are the bodies behind them particularly transparent….
The transparency register desperately needs a clean-up of the categories of information to be reported. Additional means of searching data on the transparency register would be of assistance.
1.13I support recommendation 7 (political actors and entities be required to establish a Campaign Account for federal elections) as a positive compliance measure for disclosure and monitoring.
1.14I acknowledge recommendation 8 (a new system of administrative funding to be introduced to recognise the increased compliance burden of a reformed system) and note that any such administrative funding must be subject to reasonable limitations and fairly applied to parties and independent candidates.
1.15I support recommendation 11 (legislate truth in political advertising) and 12 (establish a new division within the AEC to administer truth in political advertising) provided that the truth in political advertising regime has regard to the matters raised by Zali Steggall OAM MP in her Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Stop the Lies) Bill 2022.
1.16In relation to transparency reforms, I propose a further recommendation in terms that – the Australian Government develops legislation, or seeks to amend the Electoral Act 1918, to regulate lobbying including expanding the lobbyist register and requiring the publishing of ministerial diaries.
1.17The majority report acknowledges a number of inquiry participants raised the need for lobbying reform as a transparency measure.
1.18Currently, at the federal level, there is an administrative system governed by the Lobbying Code of Conduct and overseen by the Attorney-General's Department. In-house lobbyists are outside the Code of Conduct and the Lobbyist Register and are able to conduct 'invisible' lobbying activity. There are currently more than 1,900 such in-house lobbyists with sponsored security passes.
1.19The UK and Canadian parliaments and the US Congress have arrangements in place to allow scrutiny of passes granted by parliamentarians (in-house lobbyists) and each jurisdiction has a legislated lobbying regime.
1.20A legislated lobbying regime should require the publishing of ministerial diaries so we know who our most senior policy makers are meeting. The publishing of ministerial diaries is consistent with the accountability principle at paragraph 1.3(iii) of the Code of Conduct for Ministers, which states:
Ministers must accept they are accountable for the exercise of the powers and functions of their office – that is, to ensure that their conduct, representations and decisions as Ministers, and the conduct, representations and decisions of those who act as their delegates or on their behalf – are open to public scrutiny and explanation.
1.21There is strong community and expert support for reducing financial influence in the Federal electoral system. Witnesses referred to the need for a level playing field, to ensure that big money cannot buy election or policy outcomes.
1.22I agree with this principle, which is acknowledged in the majority report.
1.23Another important principle, which also has broad community support, is that our democracy should remain competitive and open to new entrants. This ensures that it continues to reflect the electorate and is a fundamental requirement for a healthy democracy.
1.24Recommendations 4, 5 and 6 of the majority report propose to address the issue of financial influence and levelling the playing field through the imposition of caps on donations and spending.
1.25These recommendations risk making it significantly more difficult, or even impossible, for new entrants to participate in our political system, by enshrining party and incumbency advantages. Whether this occurs will depend on how they are implemented, at what level caps are set and whether other complementary reforms to level the playing field are undertaken at the same time.
1.26For these reasons, my support for recommendations 4 (donation caps), 5 (spending caps) and 6 (application of donation and spending caps to third parties and associated entities) is conditional upon:
1.28In relation to reducing financial influence reforms, I propose a further recommendation in terms that – the Australian Government implements any donation or spending caps informed by the principle of creating a level playing field for new entrants.
1.29Donation caps must not be set too low, as this creates another barrier to entry for independents or new entrants. This is because new entrants are dependent on ‘seed capital’ to reach critical mass in campaign viability.Unlike established parties, new entrants cannot rely on expected public funding based on a reliable estimate of expected votes.
1.30I acknowledge that there are different models for donation caps ranging from dollar limits to donor concentration limits. These different models should be considered to ensure fair application across different political actors and structures.
1.31The principles on which I support donation caps are:
1.32In addition to donation reforms, I propose a further recommendation in terms that – the Australian Government seeks to amend the Electoral Act 1918 to:
1.42The intention of applying spending caps is to create a level playing field and remove big money from our political system.
1.43But applying spending caps without considering and addressing incumbency and party advantage is likely to create further barriers to new entrants in our political system. It is likely to embed major parties even when they no longer reflect the values of the country. A political system that is open to new entrants is able to adapt and reflect evolving values. It is ultimately a more resilient form of democracy.
1.44There are various models for spending caps ranging from limits on advertising expenditure only to limits on all expenditure and applying caps on parties at a national level as well as to that party and its endorsed candidate in each electorate.
1.45A 'one-size-fits-all' spending cap unfairly favours major parties as spending cap models usually provide parties with a budget based on all electorates they are contesting.
1.46This creates the following advantages for major parties:
1.52Recommendation 9 recognises increasing public funding for parties and candidates in recognition of the reform of private funding. I agree with The Centre for Public Integrity when it says "Public funding is also fraught with risks. It may serve to fuel excessive electoral expenditure, sap the internal vitality of parties and entrench incumbents."
1.53The Accountability Round Table does "not see any increase in real public funding as justifiable" as public funding results in the major parties starting each election campaign with a large treasure chest.The Democratic Audit of Australia notes that public funding should not overly advantage incumbent political parties.
1.54If big money is taken out of the system through private funding reforms, it is unhelpful to replace it with state dependency/taxpayer funding. State dependency is the opposite of community funding and engagement which should be promoted by changes to our system.
1.55The public funding regime operates so that after each federal election the AEC distributes public funding to parties and candidates based on the number of first preference votes they received. To qualify, a candidate or party must receive 4% or more of the formal first preference vote. While the funding is intended to reimburse parties and candidates for their electoral expenditure, it can be spent for other purposes, including future election campaigns.
1.56A consequence of the reimbursement funding model is that it acts as a resource guarantee maintaining the status quo of established parties and candidates. A headstart is given to rollover funding from election to election.
1.57Public funding is less useful to new entrants, as they have a less predictable number of votes and are therefore less able to rely upon, or borrow against, the promise of future reimbursement.
1.58I am open to a review of public funding but not so that incumbency is further entrenched.
1.59One alternative to consider is ‘multiple matching’. This would involve public funding being provided to candidates based on a multiple (e.g. 6x) the funding raised through individual donations. This is used in New York City and could ‘promote constituent participation, decrease corruption, strengthen constituent-official relations and level the playing field without offending the implied freedom of political communication.
1.60Incumbent parliamentarians rarely lose their seats to challengers. Over the last three federal elections, an average of 90% of incumbent Members of Parliament have retained their seats. Of the 398 incumbents who contested their seats, 40 were unseated, and just 11 lost to challengers who were independents or from minor parties. This is partly because incumbency comes with significant financial advantages.
1.61The financial barriers to entry for new participants are already significant. The advantages of incumbency need to be accounted for in electoral law reform.
1.62I propose a number of reforms to address the benefits of incumbency. These are addressed below and include:
1.64I propose a further recommendation in terms that – the Australian Government seeks to amend the Electoral Act 1918 to enable an independent candidate to register an Independent Candidate Entity, to be treated the same way as a political party.
1.65A registered political party has a number of advantages under the Electoral Act and related legislation that are not available to an independent candidate.
1.66The establishment of an Independent Campaign Entity would enable Independents to be treated the same way as a registered political party for a number of matters including:
1.68I propose a further recommendation in terms that – the Australian Government develops legislation, or seeks to amend the Electoral Act 1918, to prohibit government advertising from 2 years after an election until the next election except in the case of a national emergency or other compelling reason as determined by an independently constituted body.
1.69Expenditure of public moneys on government advertising is regulated by the Public Governance Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (Cth). Section 71 of this Act requires that Ministers satisfy themselves that any expenditure they approve is for a proper purpose – that is, a purpose that is efficient, effective, economical and ethical. Advertising that is of a party-political nature cannot meet this threshold.
1.70However, government advertising is open to abuse by enabling party political messages to be paid for by public funds. Before the 2022 Federal Election, the Coalition Government spent $31 million on its 'Positive Energy' advertising campaign. This attracted significant criticism as it was seen as 'greenwashing' in advance of the election.
1.71A number of inquiry participants have raised concerns as to pre-election government advertising.
1.72I propose a further recommendation in terms that – the Australian Government seeks to amend the Electoral Act 1918 to ensure the independence of the postal vote process by preventing parties or candidates from achieving an advantage through the process (e.g. by restricting the use and delivery of the AEC postal vote application form).
1.73The postal vote process involves making a written application in approved form to the Electoral Commissioner. If the application for a postal vote received by the AEC is compliant, the AEC sends postal vote papers to the applicant.
1.74The postal vote process has become both unfair and confusing to a number of voters as political parties and candidates with sufficient resources have implemented application form programs aimed to gain an advantage by seeking to influence a voter and harvest that voter’s data. The programs usually involve sending voters a postal vote application form and a how to vote card at the same time. The application form invites voters to return their postal vote application to the party or candidate for processing. The voter’s data is then recorded by the party before the application is sent by the party or candidate to the AEC, which will then send the postal vote papers to the applicant.
1.75The application form sent by the party or candidate is often not the AEC form but a reproduced version. The personal information on the application form received by the party or candidate can be harvested, to be used by that party or candidate for timely communications when the applicant receives the voting forms, or at any time in the future.
1.76The independence and integrity of the postal vote process needs to be protected. Parties and candidates should not seek to use the process by creating their own application form and imposing an interim step of receiving and recording a completed application form before passing it to the AEC.
1.77In April 2022 the AEC wrote to political parties warning against distributing ‘potentially misleading’ postal vote applications to residents. There were reports of incorrect forms being distributed to voters and the AEC’s purple colour being used on some forms. Tom Rogers, the AEC Commissioner, was quoted as saying in respect of reports of misleading postal vote applications – "… the use of colour and wording means someone who doesn’t examine the material in detail could mistake it for a piece of AEC communication". Further there was no need for the mass distribution of postal ballots.
1.78I welcome any further opportunity the Committee may have to take evidence from the AEC Commissioner on concerns around the postal vote process.
1.79I propose a further recommendation in terms that – the Australian Government amends the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) to remove the exemption of a registered political party from the operation of the Privacy Act.
1.80The Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) is the principal piece of legislation governing data protection. It was introduced to promote and protect the privacy of individuals and regulate how Australian government agencies and 'organisations' handle personal information. The Australian Privacy Principles are the cornerstone of the privacy protection framework in the Privacy Act and govern standards, rights and obligations around a number of matters including the collection, use and disclosure of personal information and an organisation’s governance and accountability. Currently, an organisation with a turnover of more than $3,000,000 in a financial year is subject to the laws.
1.81The major political parties have exempted themselves from the data protection laws in the Privacy Act by a registered political party being excluded from the definition of 'organisation' under section 6C of the Privacy Act. The legislated protections for an individual’s personal information (such as use and disclosure of such information) therefore do not apply.
1.82The exemption of a registered political party from the operation of the Privacy Act should be removed.Political parties or candidates should be subject to data protection laws if they otherwise qualify as a relevant organisation.
1.83I propose a further recommendation in terms that – the Australian Government amends the Spam Act 2003 (Cth) to remove the exemption from the Spam Act of registered political parties to send unsolicited electronic messages.
1.84The Spam Act 2003 (Cth) restricts spam (specifically commercial electronic messages) with the aim to protect individuals from aggressive marketing strategies. It covers all commercial electronic messages that are not otherwise exempt.
1.85The major political parties have exempted themselves from the key operation of the Spam Act by permitting registered political parties to send ‘designated commercial electronic messages’ along with government bodies, registered charities and educational institutions (see the definition of ‘designated commercial electronic message’ in section 4 and Schedule 1 and see sections 16, 17 and 18 of the Spam Act). The exemption has not been extended to other independent members or political candidates.
1.86Individuals should be protected from unsolicited electronic messages from political parties (such as election day text messages) and, where the Spam Act allows electronic messages to be sent, the requirements of the Spam Act should apply. This includes a functional unsubscribe facility which allows the recipient to easily unsubscribe from receiving further electronic messages.
1.87The Spam Act should apply to political parties as it does to independent candidates.
1.88I support recommendation 10 (providing the AEC with additional resources to support, implement and enforce the new reforms).
1.89I support recommendation 13 (consideration of the new framework in any future terms of reference to review the next federal election).
1.90I support recommendations 14 (strengthen opportunity for electoral enfranchisement and participation particularly of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities) and 15 (resource the AEC to work directly with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community organisations).
Party advantages include:
1Public awareness/brand reinforced by national advertising.
2Public funding reimbursement model acts as a resource guarantee and enables the rollover of funding from election to election.
3Existing infrastructure such as office space and equipment.
4In any spending cap, the ability to shift costs from unwinnable/unlosable seats to battleground seats.
5Donor access to ministers/shadow ministers.
6Tax deductibility of donations at any time.
7Exemptions from data protection and spamming laws.
8Party endorsed Senators using their communications/office budget in non-election cycles to support the re-election of their House of Representative party colleagues.
9Assets built over time in associated entities formed specifically to support the party.
10When in government, the use of pre-election government advertising.
11When in government, control over the election date with the opportunity to book advertising space and use funding more strategically.
12When in government, the opportunity to ‘pork barrel’ strategic seats by funding projects in those electorates.
13Public funding reimbursement to parties is not liable to tax, whereas this reimbursement to independents may be taxable.
Incumbent politician advantages include:
1Access to the electoral roll.
2The use of resources for a parliamentarian to perform their role, including the parliamentarian's salary, office, use of communications/office budget, printing and travel allowances, and electorate and personal staff. Subject to certain limitations, these resources may be used during an election campaign whilst also providing financial security and mobility.
3Public funding reimbursement model potentially enables the rollover of funding from election to election.
4Tax deductibility of donations at any time.
5Intervening in the postal vote process and data harvesting from requiring postal voting applications to be sent to the incumbent.
Ms Kate ChaneyMP
Independent Member for Curtin
 Paragraph 2.2 of majority report.
 Susan McKinnon Foundation, "Understanding attitudes towards electoral reform in Australia", February 2023, page 130.
 ABC News, "Deal sees payment flow from Gina Rinehart’s company Hancock Prospecting to Liberal Party", 10 February 2023.
 Paragraphs 2.112 to 2.115 and 2.120 to 2.123 of majority report and Grattan Institute; Submission 367, pages 3, 4 and 5 and Grattan Institute; "Who's in the room?Access and influence in Australian politics", September 2018 pages 33, 34, 44 and 45.
 Accountability Round Table, Submission 343, page 4.
 Paragraphs 2.217 to 2.223 of majority report.
 Grattan Institute, "Who's in the room?Access and influence in Australian politics", September 2018, page 29.
 Paragraphs 2.137 to 2.141 of majority report.
 Grattan Institute, "Who's in the room?Access and influence in Australian politics", September 2018, page 66.
 The Centre for Public Integrity, Submission 351, page 7, suggests $600.
 Democratic Audit of Australia, Submission 408, page 3 (as to corporations bidding for government contracts) and International IDEA Political Financial Database.
 Division 7 of Electoral Funding Act 2018 (NSW)
 The Australia Institute, Submission 412, page 10.
 The Centre for Public Integrity, Submission 351, page 15, Transparency International Australia, Submission 413, page 4, #Our Democracy, Submission 412, page 3, Human Rights Law Centre, Submission 418, page 3.
 The Centre for Public Integrity, Submission 351, page 14.
 The Centre for Public Integrity, Submission 351, page 14.
Electoral Funding Act 2018 (NSW) section 4 (definition of ‘associated entity').
 The Centre for Public Integrity, Submission 351, page 20.
 Accountability Round Table, Submission 343, page 4.
 Democratic Audit of Australia, Submission 408, page 2.
 The Centre for Public Integrity, Submission 351, page 27.
Sections 30.242 and 30.244 of Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 (Cth).
Section 4 of Do Not Call Register Act 2006 (Cth)
 Canberra Times “Positive energy campaign to cost $31 million, run until federal election” 14 February 2022 and The Guardian “Coalition spends $31m on ads spruiking efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions” 14 February 2022.
 Accountability Round Table, Submission 343, pages 6 and 7, Grattan Institute, Submission 367, pages 1 and 8, The Centre for Public Integrity, "How to Level the Playing Field" Briefing Paper, April 2022, Page 4, Climate 200 Submission 419, Simon Holmes à Court, Committee Hansard, 3 November 2022, page 40.
 See generally Climate 200, Submissions 419.
 The Guardian "AEC warns Australian political parties over misleading postal vote applications", 16 April 2022.
 Climate 200, Submission 419.
 Climate 200, Submissions 419.
Committee SecretaryJoint Standing Committee on Electoral MattersPO Box 6021Parliament HouseCanberra ACT 2600 Phone: +61 2 6277 email@example.com
On 5 August 2022 the Special Minister of State, Senator the Hon Don Farrell, asked the Committee to inquire into and report on all aspects of the conduct of the 2022 federal election.
06 Sep 2023: Canberra02 Aug 2023: Canberra23 Jun 2023: Canberra
House of Representatives