Electoral Newsfile 98: Recent Changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 - Summary of Amendments

Updated: 23 March 2011

Introduction

Since the 1998 Federal Election, a series of amendments have been made to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the CEA). These amendments were made by the following Acts:

  • Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act (No. 1) 1999
  • Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Act (No. 1) 2000
  • Criminal Code Amendment (Theft, Fraud, Bribery and Related Offences) Act 2000
  • Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act (No.1) 2001
  • Finance and Administration Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Act 2001.

This edition of Electoral Newsfile summarises the amendments made to the CEA by these Acts. While this Newsfile provides a summary of the major provisions of these Acts, it is not designed as a substitute for the law. Political parties, candidates and other interested persons are advised to refer to the relevant Acts for the exact details of the amendments.

The Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act (No. 1) 1999 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act (No. 1) 2001 stem from various recommendations made by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM).

The Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Act (No. 1) 2000 and the two Acts relating to the Criminal Code were introduced into the Parliament as Government initiatives.

Summary of Amendments

Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act (No.1) 1999

The majority of this Act received Royal Assent on 13 October 1999. The provisions of this Act:

  • allow for the provision of date of birth and salutation details of electors to Members, Senators and registered political parties;
  • increase the penalties for commercial use or unauthorised disclosure of elector information provided on tape or disk;
  • allow for use of elector information, by Members of the House of Representatives, Senators and registered political parties for 'research regarding electoral matters';
  • provide that the preliminary scrutiny of declaration votes may commence on the Monday prior to polling day;
  • provide that the failure of an alternative method of delivering postal voting material is not grounds for the voiding of an election, or declaring a person not duly elected;
  • amend the definition of associated entity to include 'operates wholly or to a significant extent for the benefit of one or more registered political parties';
  • in relation to returns of electoral expenditure to be lodged by individuals, amend the period of time so that gifts received at any time and used for electoral expenditure have to be reported;
  • make it unlawful for political parties, candidates and groups, and those acting on behalf of political parties, candidates and groups, to receive a loan of $1 500 or more, except from a financial institution, as defined, unless specified records are kept by the receiver of the loan;
  • provide the ability to ensure consistency of treatment for loans, regardless of whether they are sourced from traditional or non-traditional financial institutions;
  • clarify that, in the case of loans that result from credit card usage, the threshold figure of $1 500 relates to each credit card transaction; and
  • increase the threshold of particular gifts to $1 500 which must be counted toward a total gift of $1 500 needing to be reported in a political party's annual return.

Commonwealth Electoral Legislation (Provision of Information) Act 2000

This is a stand-alone piece of legislation, which did not amend the CEA. It received Royal Assent and came into effect on 26 October 2000. In summary, this Act authorises past unlawful use of elector information provided to prescribed authorities (particular Commonwealth government agencies and authorities) in electronic format.

Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Act (No. 1) 2000

This Act received Royal Assent and came into effect on 26 October 2000 to:

  • specifically allow for the provision of a wide range of elector information, in addition to name and address information, to Members of the House of Representatives, Senators and federally registered political parties;
  • specifically allow for the provision of age-range extracts from the Roll for use in approved medical research and public health screening programs;
  • require the AEC to include in its Annual Report, details of all persons and organisations to whom it has provided elector information on tape or disk under paragraph 91(4A)(e) and the purposes for which the elector information was provided;
  • require all political parties applying for registration from 3 October 2000 to prove that they have 500 members;
  • provide for a fee of $500 for registering a party or for making a change to the Register of Political Parties;
  • change the definition of parliamentary party so that members of a State Parliament or Territory legislature may no longer be relied upon for party registration purposes;
  • provide that currently registered parliamentary parties which are registered on the basis that they have a party member in a State Parliament or Territory legislature have a period of 6 months from 3 October 2000 in which to satisfy the Australian Electoral Commission that they have 500 members or be deregistered; and
  • require that the members used by a political party for registration purposes cannot be used by another party for registration purposes.

Criminal Code Amendment (Theft, Fraud, Bribery and Related Offences) Act 2000

The provisions of this Act affecting the CEA, came into effect on 24 May 2001. This Act repealed subsections 184(6) & (7), 184A(5) & (6), 339(1)(f), (h) & (k), 339(3) & (4) and section 344 (offences of theft, fraud, bribery, forgery, or false or misleading statements) from the CEA as these offences will now be dealt with under the general offences relating to theft, fraud, bribery, forgery, or false or misleading statements in the Criminal Code.

Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act (No.1) 2001

This Act received Royal Assent on 28 April 2001 and was proclaimed (came into effect) on 16 July 2001. The provisions of this Act:

  • allow persons who are enrolling or voting from overseas to provide a certified copy of particular sections of their current passport as verification of their identity in the case where they cannot find an authorised witness;
  • provide that Divisional Returning Officers (DROs) and Australian Electoral Officers (AEOs) may reject applications for enrolment from persons who have changed their names to something 'inappropriate' (e.g. fictitious, frivolous, offensive or obscene). However, there are be appeal rights against a decision to reject such a name;
  • allow for the provision of electronic lists of postal vote applicants to candidates and registered political parties following a general election. There will be end-use restrictions on the use of such information and penalties of commercial use and unauthorised disclosure;
  • allow for the amendment, withdrawal or replacement of a Group Voting Ticket (GVT) or Individual Voting Ticket (IVT) statement up until the closing time for lodgement of such statements;
  • provide that Senate nomination deposits are to be returned to the person who paid the deposit;
  • allow, prior to the close of nominations, for the substitution of a candidate in a bulk nomination, where a candidate who was part of that bulk nomination withdraws their consent, or dies prior to the close of nominations;
  • provide that where a person has cast multiple declaration votes, and these are detected at the preliminary scrutiny, that only one of the votes will be admitted to the further scrutiny;
  • provide that all ballot papers are to be initialled on the top of the front (in practice this will be the top right-hand corner);
  • allow for the display of GVT and IVT information in pamphlet form as well as in poster form;
  • provide that the registered abbreviation of a political party name may be only an acronym or a shortened version of the party name; and
  • provide the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) with a power to review the continuing eligibility of registered political parties.

Acts passed by Parliament but still to be proclaimed, or still to come into effect

Items 10, 11 and 12 of Schedule 1 of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act (No. 1) 1999

  • provide that a person witnessing an enrolment application must be an elector in a prescribed class of persons;
  • require that new electors are required to produce one original form of identification at the time of enrolment as prescribed;
  • require applicants for enrolment who claim to be Australian citizens by grant to provide evidence of that grant as prescribed; and
  • allow for the lodgement of enrolment forms with 'agents' with receipt by the 'agent' before the close of rolls being deemed as receipt by the AEC.

The Electoral and Referendum Amendment Regulations 2001, which were made on 13 September 2001, set out the categories of prescribed witnesses, the acceptable forms of identification, the method of verifying citizenship and the 'agents' with whom electoral enrolment forms may be lodged and be deemed to have been received by the AEC at the close of rolls. These regulations will not become effective until Proclamation of Items 10, 11 and 12 of Schedule 1 of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act (No. 1) 1999.

Finance and Administration Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Act 2001

This Act received Royal Assent on 17 September 2001 and the provisions which affect the CEA take effect on 15 October 2001. This Act amended a number of offence provisions in the CEA to make them consistent with the principles of the Criminal Code in regard to the structure of offence provisions.

Bills before the Parliament

(These Bills lapsed on the dissolution of Parliament for the 2001 election, but may be reintroduced if the Government is re-elected.)

Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2001

This Bill was introduced into the House of Representatives on 9 August 2001. It passed the House on 22 August and was introduced into the Senate on 23 August. On 29 August it was referred to the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee for report by 18 September. The report was tabled on 19 September but the Bill was not debated further. The Bill contains amendments to the CEA that will provide that the agent of the Liberal Party of Australia may, before polling day, provide a written notice to the Electoral Commission specifying the percentage of public funding that is the 'federal percentage', and the percentage that is the 'state percentage' for a specified State Division of the Liberal Party.

Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2001

This Bill was introduced into the House of Representatives on 26 September 2001. It has not yet been debated. It is intended to implement the more controversial recommendations of the JSCEM's report on the conduct of the 1998 election:

  • early close of rolls (new enrolments at issue of writ, changes to enrolment 3 days after issue of writ);
  • removal of voting rights for prisoners serving a sentence of full-time detention;
  • provide for address based enrolment;
  • removal of the nexus between provisional voting and reinstatement (i.e. no automatic reinstatement, instead the elector will be required to complete an enrolment form);
  • increase a number of disclosure thresholds to $3000, effective 1 July 2001;
  • amend the multiple voting provisions to provide a higher penalty for 'intentional' multiple voting;
  • prohibit scrutineers from actively participating in assisted votes; and
  • allow for the declaration of HOR nominations to be held at a place other than the DRO's office, with the AEO's approval.

National Media Enquiries

Assistant Commissioner (02) 6271 4477
Information and Research
Brien Hallett (acting)

Director, Information (02) 6271 4415
Anthea Wilson (acting)

Editor, Newsfile
Shirley Weber (02) 6271 4720