1.1 This report has been prepared by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) in accordance with subsection 17(2) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Act). It reviews the operation of the election funding and financial disclosure schemes at the 3 October 1998 federal election and the 21 November 1998 Newcastle supplementary election. As usual, the opportunity is also taken to review the related operations of the annual disclosure scheme, disclosure compliance audits of political parties and their associated entities, and party registration.
1.2 Since the 2 March 1996 federal election, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act 1998 received Royal Assent on 17 July 1998 and resulted in some important legislative changes. Amendments to the disclosure provisions of the Act were:
Other amendments to the Act relevant to this report were to:
1.3 The AEC draws attention to the recommendations it made in the Funding and Disclosure Report Following the Federal Election held on 2 March 1996 (the 1996 Report) and urges their consideration in conjunction with this report. Rather than reproduce large sections of the 1996 report, the AEC has included a list of the recommendations at Appendix 1 and suggests readers consult the 1996 report for detailed discussions of the issues.
1.4 The AEC has also discussed issues and made recommendations on disclosure and party registration matters to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquiring into the 1998 federal elections that are relevant to issues discussed in this report. These are contained in submissions numbered 88 of 12 March 1999 and 176 of 4 May 1999 and can be viewed at the AEC's website under 'Parliamentary Committees – Submissions and Reports'. The report of this inquiry is expected in early 2000.
1.5 The AEC's experience is that, since the inception of a national disclosure scheme more than 15 years ago, there has been an unwillingness by some to comply with disclosure; others have sought to circumvent its intent by applying the narrowest possible interpretation of the legislation. More recently there has been an increasing trend for some to misuse the party registration provisions. Wherever possible the AEC has sought to respond administratively to challenges in these areas, but there is a limit to how much can be achieved in this manner alone.
1.6 To adequately respond to these challenges and to prevent potential exploitation of loopholes in the legislation, there is a continuing need for greater legislative rigour. This unfortunately will necessitate the imposition of additional levels of procedure and detail into what started out as comparatively simple and straightforward processes. It will also demand greater intrusion by the AEC to ensure compliance. The AEC regrets these developments and is conscious of concerns about volunteers who make up a great bulk of sources for political party reporting but exploitation of the current more relaxed code leaves little alternative in our view.
1.7 In this report the AEC is again making a number of recommendations for further legislative change. Coupled with recommendations contained in the 1996 Report, these are seen as comprising the minimum changes necessary to respond to specific developments and maintain the efficacy of the funding, disclosure and party registration systems.