C. Electoral donations laws in other jurisdictions
1.1Each jurisdiction around Australia has enacted some form of regulation around political donations and expenditure. This appendix provides a brief outline of the key political donation and expenditure schemes in other jurisdictions where comprehensive legislative funding and disclosure regimes have been enacted: New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia.
New South Wales
1.2Under the Electoral Funding Act 2018 (NSW), the following individuals, organisations and entities are able to make a political donation:
- individuals enrolled to vote in federal, state or government elections
- entities with an Australian Business Number (ABN), Australian Company Number (CAN) or other registered business number
- a person or entity that has been approved to make a political donation by the NSW electoral commission.
- The NSW Electoral Commission defines a reportable political donation as:
…a single donation of one thousand dollars or more; or multiple small donations to the same person or political organisation in a financial year; that, when added together, total one thousand dollars or more.
1.4Political donations can only be accepted if candidates or third-party campaigners are registered with the NSW Electoral Commission.
1.5In order to be registered, third-party campaigners must make payments of more than $2,000 for electoral expenditure incurred during the capped state expenditure period for a state election.
1.6While there is no requirement for political parties to be registered, they must comply with political finance laws.
1.7All political donations must be made to or by an authorised person or official agent responsible for the party, group, candidate or entity and paid into or from the campaign account.
1.8In NSW, political donations made to political parties, elected members, candidates, groups of candidates, associated entities, and third-party campaigners are capped for a financial year and the cap is adjusted annually for inflation.
1.9For the 2022-23 financial year, caps on political donations, donation cap exemption amounts, and indirect campaign contribution threshold amounts were:
- $7,000 – registered party or group of candidates
- $3,300 – An unregistered party (or party registered for less than 12 months), elected member or candidate
- $3,300 – Political donation cap for an associated entity or third-party campaigner.
- Donations from property developers, tobacco industry business entities, liquor or gambling industry business entities, any industry representative organisation if the majority of its members are such prohibited donors, or a close associate of a prohibited donor are banned.
- The provisions of the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act 1981 (NSW) that imposes restrictions on private funding of political candidates and parties in State and local government elections was challenged in 2015 in the Hight Court.
- As outlined in the reported decision of the High Court, the ‘plaintiffs contended that the provisions in the NSW Act were invalid for impermissibly infringing the freedom of political communication on governmental and political matters, which is an implication from the Australian Constitution.’ The High Court upheld the constitutional validity of the challenged provisions.
- There is a range of political donations, loans or indirect campaign contributions that are considered unlawful under the NSW Act including:
- Political donations in the form of cash over $100
- Failure to record details of a reportable political donation
- Anonymous reportable political donations
- Identity of donors
- Indirect campaign contributions valued at more than the allowable amount
- Political donations to more than three third-party campaigners
- Political donations by a party etc to independent candidates
- Failure to record details of reportable loans
- Prohibited donors
- Donations exceeding the caps.
- In 2021, the ‘NSW Electoral Commission implemented an online system that allows the electronic lodgement and management of: disclosures of electoral expenditure and political donations and funding claims.’ In July 2021, ‘disclosures were able to be lodged by stakeholders online for the first time.’
1.15Under the Electoral Act 1992 (Qld) and the Local Government Electoral Act 2011 (Qld) all donations, loans, and expenditure incurred for an election campaign must be reported to the Electoral Commission Queensland.
1.16Candidates (or their agent), groups of candidates (or their agent), agents of registered political parties, financial controllers of associated entities, third party campaigners, and political donors are required to make a disclosure.
1.17The threshold for gifts and loans in the Queensland Act for ‘political parties and State candidates is $1,000 (cumulative between January – June, and July – December each year), and $500 (cumulative) for local government elections.’ Prior to the 2015 state election the disclosure cap was $13,000; ‘changes to the Queensland Act in February 2017 set the disclosure threshold for gifts and loans at $1,000.’
1.18In Queensland, registered political parties and third parties must disclose a gift or loan within seven business days of receipt. Registered political parties have an additional requirement to disclose a gift or a loan within 24 hours of receipt during the seven days prior to election day.
1.19The disclosure period for independent candidates commences:
- 30 days after the election day for the last general election or by-election
- if the candidate has not contested an election in the past four years – the day they announce or otherwise publicly indicate their intention to be a candidate, or the day they nominate as a candidate in the election, or the day they otherwise indicate their intention to be a candidate in the election (for example, by accepting a donation towards their campaign).
- For registered third parties and other third party campaigners, the disclosure period ‘ends 30 days after election day for a State election or by-election.’
- It is unlawful for a candidate to receive anonymous gifts totalling $200 or more and a registered political party to receive $1,000 or more. If a candidate or registered political party is found to have accepted an anonymous gift ‘an amount equal to the amount, or value, of the gift/s is payable to the State.’
- Political donations in Queensland are capped and donors must not make political donations of more than $6,000 to an independent candidate or party endorsed candidate or $4,000 to a registered political party, including either a single donation or aggregate donations made by the same donor between 1 July 2022 and 25November 2024. The cap amount adjusted after each general election in line with the Consumer Price Index, 30 days after the polling day for a State general election.
- Third parties are not subject to a cap on donations but are subject to expenditure caps – ‘the amount of electoral expenditure that can be incurred during the capped expenditure period for a State election.’
- Expenditure caps apply to registered political parties, their endorsed candidates, independent candidates and, as noted above, third parties. The expenditure cap for the 2024 State Election is:
- registered political parties – $95,964.09 multiplied by the number of electoral districts for which the party endorses a candidate (but must not spend more than that amount in one district)
- endorsed candidate – $90,748.65 for a by-election
- independent candidate – $90,748.65
- third parties – $90,748.65 per electoral district, a total of $1,043,087.97 across Queensland, and $90,748.65 for a by-election.
- Significant penalties apply for non-compliance with electoral expenditure caps including financial and potential prosecution.
- Before paying for any electoral expenditure, all registered political parties and candidates must:
- establish a dedicated State campaign bank account with a financial institution,
- use the account to pay for all electoral expenditure, and
- use the account to receive all political donations.
- The Electoral Commission Queensland must be notified of the details of the state campaign account within five business days of registering, only permitted amounts can be deposited into the account and all electoral expenditure must be paid from that account.
- In 2016-17 Queensland engaged the services of an external provider to create and maintain an Electronic Disclosure System that enables donors, registered political parties, candidates, and other electoral participants to lodge disclosures. The system went live in February 2017 replacing the former paper-based reporting. The Disclosure System was purchased by the Electoral Commission Queensland in April 2022 and is now maintained through internal staff and external contractors. Disclosure information is made available to the public in near real time.
- In 2018 the Queensland Act’s provisions relating to the disclosure of gifts received by a party registered under the Commonwealth Electoral Act was challenged in the Supreme Court of Queensland; in particular whether Queensland law could impose a lower declaration limit on donations intended for federal elections. The Supreme Court found that the State Act’s disclosure law was valid and did not conflict with Commonwealth law.
- The provisions of the Queensland Act that prohibits specified political donations of property developers was also challenged in the High Court in 2019. The High Court of Australia upheld Queensland’s ban on political donations by property developers.
1.31South Australia introduced a regulatory disclosure scheme in 2013 with the passing of the Electoral (Funding, Expenditure and Disclosure) Amendment Act 2013 (SA). The amendments to the Electoral Act 1985 (SA) placed a requirement on ‘political parties, their associated entities, candidates, groups and third party campaigners to disclose certain financial information on a regular basis.’
1.32Registered political parties, unendorsed candidates, associated entities and third parties have different obligations under the South Australian Act.
1.33Registered political parties must appoint an agent that is ‘responsible for ensuring that the party meets its funding and disclosure obligations.’ The responsible agent must:
- Maintain a State campaign account and ensure all gifts are deposited into that account and all political expenditure is paid from that account (sections 130K, 130L and 130N).
- Ensure that a special assistance funding payment is not deposited into the State campaign account or used for political expenditure (section 130W).
- Record information about gifts of $200 or more and loans of $1,000 or more (sections 130ZJ and 130ZK). For more information, see our Records and evidence page.
- Lodge an annual political expenditure return, if the party's political expenditure during a financial year is more than [$5,838] (indexed) (section 130ZR).
- Lodge half-yearly political party returns within 30 days of the end of each half-yearly period (section 130ZN).
- In the year of a general election, lodge additional political party returns (section 130ZN). For more information, visit our Political party and third party returns page.
- Lodge a capped expenditure period return within 60 days of polling day if the party's total amount of political expenditure during the capped expenditure period exceeded [$5,838] (indexed) (section 130ZQ).
- Provide audit certificates for all returns lodged (section 130ZV).
- Ensure that the party does not receive an amount of more than $500 for entry to an event, where the event is intended to raise money for the benefit of the party and it is advertised or promoted as an event where attendees will be given access to a Minister of the Crown or a Member of the Parliament of South Australia or a member of staff of the Minister or Member (section 130ZL).
- Unendorsed candidates may also appoint an agent to manage their funding and disclosure obligations. Irrespective of whether they have appointed an agent or not, candidates must:
- Operate a State campaign account.
- Record information about your gifts of $200 or more and loans of $1,000 or more.
- Lodge campaign donation returns to disclose gifts and loans greater than [$5,838] (indexed).
- Lodge expenditure returns to report your political expenditure if you have spent more than [$5,838] (indexed).
- Provide audit certificates with all returns lodged.
- Associated entities are not required to maintain a state campaign account unless they receive a gift which must be paid into a campaign account. Associated entities and third parties have additional obligations under the South Australian Electoral Act which include:
- Record gifts of $200 or more and loans of $1,000 or more (sections 130ZJ and 130ZK).
- Lodge half-yearly returns within 30 days of the end of each half-yearly period (sections 130ZO and 130ZP).
- In the year of a general election, lodge additional returns (sections 130ZO and 130ZP).
- Lodge an annual political expenditure return (section 130ZR) if the entity's political expenditure during a financial year is more than:
- [$5,838] (indexed) - for associated entities
- $10,000 (indexed) - for third parties
- Provide audit certificates for all returns lodged (section 130ZV)
- Lodge a donor return if they have made a gift or loan with an amount or value totalling more than [$5,838] (indexed) to a candidate or member of a group during a disclosure period. For more information, visit our Donations to candidates or groups page.
- Lodge a capped expenditure period return within 60 days of polling day if the third party’s total amount of political expenditure during the capped expenditure period exceeded [$5,838] (indexed) (section 130ZQ).
- Donors must also lodge a return with the South Australian Electoral Commission for donations of more than $5,838 (indexed) to a candidate or relevant entity (a registered political party, associated entity or third party). Donors must also declare if they have received any foreign donations.
- Donation disclosure reports are required half-yearly outside an election period (January and July). In an election year, returns are required by period commencing from the start of the disclosure period for the election until the start of the designated period for the election ‘and thereafter on a weekly basis until 30 days after election day. Returns must be accompanied by an audit certificate. Donors must also submit half-yearly returns.’
- As part of the legislative change made in 2013, South Australia also introduced a voluntary public funding scheme designed to ‘partially reimburse political parties, candidates and groups for political expenditure incurred during the campaign period.’ Registered political parties, candidates and unendorsed groups or candidates who have opted into the scheme are subjected to political expenditure caps.
- The funding entitlement for the 2022-23 financial year (indexed amounts effective 1July 2022) are:
- $4.09 (indexed) for each eligible vote received that falls within the first 10% of the total primary vote; and
- $3.51 (indexed) for each eligible vote received in excess of 10% of the total primary vote.
- Election funding, expenditure and disclosure returns are submitted through an electronic funding and disclosure portal. The portal allows stakeholders to complete and lodge returns online, manage lodged returns, drafts, and audit processes; and allows members of the public to view returns and generate various types of reports. Once loaded onto the portal, returns are published at the end of 3 business days after the return due date.