Report No. 255
2.26.1. There are no limits on expenditure by political parties or candidates.73
73. IDEA, Political Finance Data for Australia,
2.26.2. There are no contribution limits, and no ceiling on how much a donor can contribute, or a party can raise. Further, there is no ban on donations from foreigners, trade unions or government contractors.74
2.26.3. Section 306 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, 1918 makes it unlawful for any political party or candidate or their representatives to receive a gift greater than the disclosure threshold, unless the name and address of the donor or giver of the gift are provided to the donee. Thus, anonymous donations in such cases are barred.
2.26.4. Finally, section 327(2) prohibits and criminalises the discrimination of a donor by a person of the opposite party by denying such donor work, access to membership of some trade union/club/other body, intimidating or coercing them, or subjecting them to other detriment.
2.26.5. Both parties and candidates are required to publicly disclose their expenditure; and both donors and parties have to disclose the contributions over a "disclosure threshold", currently at AUD 12,800. 75 Pertinently, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2010, which has now lapsed, provided for reducing the disclosure threshold to AUD 1,000 and permitting anonymous donations below AUD 50 when they were received at a general public activity or private event.76
75. Australian Electoral Commission, Disclosure Threshold,
76. Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2010,
2.26.6. Returns filed by individual candidates to the Electoral Commission must include:
(a) the total amount of the donations received;
(b) the total number of donors;
(c) all the individual donations received above the disclosure threshold
(d) the details of donations (such as date of receipt, amount, and name and address of donor) for donations above the disclosure threshold; and,
(e) electoral expenditures, primarily advertising, printing and direct mail costs incurred between the issue of the writ and polling day.77 From 2006-07, third party expenditure above the disclosure threshold is also required to be filed in an annual return.78
77. Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth), sections 303-309, 313-314, 314AA-314AEC.
78. Australian Electoral Commission, Financial Disclosure Overview,
2.26.7. Political parties must file annual returns with the Commission including:
(a) the total values of their receipts;
(b) the details, including names and addresses, of the donors and the donations above the disclosure threshold;
(c) the total value of payments; and
(d) the total amount of debt as on 30th June of that particular year.79
2.26.8. Further, vide Sections 304, 305A and 305B, Commonwealth Electoral Act, 1918, all in kind donations must be disclosed to the Australian Electoral Commission by the donors and agents of candidates within 15 weeks of the date of polling; and by parties, within 20 weeks after the financial year. This includes the total value of the gifts and the relevant details, if the value is greater than the disclosure threshold.
2.26.9. Interestingly, section 311 provides that even Commonwealth Departments have to furnish statements with complete particulars and details of the amounts paid to
(a) advertising agencies;
(b) market research organisations;
(c) polling organisations;
(d) direct mail organisations; and
(e) media advertising organisations; and others.
2.26.10. Thus, to conclude associated entities, donors to political parties, and 'third parties' that incur political expenditure also have annual disclosure obligations; while candidates are required to file election returns.80
80. Australian Electoral Commission, Financial Disclosure Guide for Political Parties: 2013-2014 Financial Year,
2.26.11. Moving from the disclosure of donations to the disclosure of expenditure, section 309 provides that an agent of a candidate shall furnish the details of all its electoral expenditure, in relation to the election incurred by or with the authority of the candidate, within 15 weeks from the date of polling.
2.26.12. On public inspection, section 320 provides that election disclosure returns (of both donations and expenditure) shall be made available for public inspection on the expiry of 24 weeks after the date of polling and on the website.81 Similarly, annual disclosure returns are made available for public inspection until the first working day of the February of the calendar year after the return is furnished.
81. AEC, Financial Disclosure Overview, supra note 78.
2.26.13. Section 315 of the Act deals with offences and sub-section (1) provides that failure to file a return, by a person required to do so under Divisions 4, 5, or 5A of Part XX of the Act, will result in a fine payable by such guilty perso.- of AUD 5,000 in case of an agent of a party; or AUD 1,000 in other cases. Similarly, section 315(2) criminalises furnishing an incomplete return or failing to retain records for three years (under section 317) by a fine up to AUD 1,000. In both sub-sections, the offence is a strict liability offence.
2.26.14. Section 315(3)-(4) criminalises the furnishing of false or misleading information in a claim or return "to the knowledge of the agent" of the party with a fine up to AUD 10,000 payable by such agent of a political party; and AUD 5,000 payable by any other person if the offence is committed by them.
2.26.15. Similarly, Section 316 deals with the Commission's powers of investigation into compliance with disclosure obligations and the consequent power to issue notice for the production of documents, which has to be statutorily complied with. Sub-section (2D) makes it mandatory for the Australian Electoral Commission to investigate a gift or the disposition of property of AUD 25,000 or more to a registered political party or candidate. Further, the section stipulates providing false or misleading information during a compliance investigation results in a fine up to AUD 1,000 or/and imprisonment up to six months.82
82. AEC, Financial Disclosure Guide, supra note 80.
2.26.16. At the conclusion of an investigation, the Commission is empowered to refer the evidence and its opinion to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, if it considers that the particular party acted unreasonably in its non-compliance with Part XX of the Act.