Part XI of the Act provides for the registration of political parties and the maintenance by the AEC of a public Register of Political Parties.
Sixty-four parties were registered under Part XI of the Act for the 2001 federal election. A list of these parties, with those who contested the 2001 election highlighted by asterisk, is at Appendix 2.
Twenty-one of these registered political parties were branches or divisions of other registered parties. This reflects the flexibility of the Act, which enables parties to choose whether to separately register their State and Territory branches or to only register a parent party. State branches have identical disclosure obligations regardless of whether they are separately registered.
The benefits of registration are that the party is entitled to have its name or abbreviation printed beside candidates' names on ballot papers; the party is entitled to election funding where sufficient votes are received by its candidates; the party is entitled to receive printed and electronic copies of the Commonwealth Electoral Roll; and the party is entitled to an electronic list of postal vote applicants.
Registration by the AEC as a political party is for federal electoral purposes only and is separate and distinct from State or Territory registration requirements.
Amendments to Part XI of the Act in the period leading up to the 2001 election:
On 6 August 1999 an application was received for the registration of a party named 'liberals for forests'. This application was refused by the AEC on the basis that the name so nearly resembled the name of a recognised political party (the Liberal Party of Australia) that it was likely to be confused or mistaken for that party's name.
The 'liberals for forests' applied to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for a review of the AEC decision. On 6 March 2001 the AAT overturned the AEC decision in Woollard and Australian Electoral Commission and Liberal Party of Australia (WA Division) Inc 2001 AATA 166 (6 March 2001). The party was registered on 1 May 2001.
Considerable publicity was given to the actions of the State Electoral Commission of Queensland when it deregistered Pauline Hanson's One Nation party and the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions undertook legal action against members of the party.
Consequential questions were raised with the AEC about its registration of this party for federal electoral purposes. The Queensland action was not relevant in the Commonwealth context as the party was registered by the AEC as a Parliamentary party (i.e. its registration was based on it having a member who was a member of the federal Parliament).
Subsequent to the 1999 NSW State election, concerns were raised that the same members could be used to register multiple parties. This was seen as a potential abuse of the party registration system and a threat to the integrity of the Register of Political Parties.
The Act required that parties wishing to be registered for federal elections must have either at least one member who is a member of Parliament, or at least 500 members who are entitled to be enrolled for federal elections.
The legislation was amended in 2000 to require that any supporting membership information provided by a party must be unique to that party. Thus, whilst a person is not restricted from being a member of as many parties as he or she may choose, a person may only be used by one party at a time to support the registration of that party.
The AEC undertakes a program of review of the ongoing eligibility of parties to remain registered.
The AEC's authority to carry out such reviews was disputed by the Democratic Labor Party of Australia (DLP) when it refused to provide information sought to confirm its ongoing eligibility. The DLP challenged the AEC's powers in the Federal Court, which ordered on 8 June 2001 that the AEC take no further action in relation to the deregistration.
Amendments to the Act proclaimed on 16 July 2001 clarified the AEC power to review the eligibility of parties to remain registered and the AEC re-commenced its review of the registration of the DLP, and of other parties. Deregistration action was subsequently commenced against some parties, including the DLP, who failed to comply with an AEC review notice.
The DLP lodged an application with the Federal Court for an order of review and writ of prohibition in early 2002. This challenge included the contention that section 138A of the Act (dealing with the review of eligibility of parties to remain in the Register) was unconstitutional on the grounds that it contravened the right to freedom of political association. A tenet of this argument was that, without federal registration, ballot papers would not carry the DLP party endorsement alongside its candidates' names. The other primary argument advanced by the DLP was that the minimum 500 members and the 'no overlap' rules infringed implied freedom of association, participation and privacy.
This court action, which included a DLP appeal to the High Court, will be addressed in the 2004 election funding and disclosure report. The AEC suspended action on deregistering the DLP while the court action was in progress.