Election returns

Updated: 14 November 2011

The financial disclosure scheme requires election disclosure returns to be lodged with the AEC after each federal election and by-election by:

  • Candidates – all candidates must lodge a return of donations received and electoral expenditure (the electoral expenditure of members of Senate groups is included in the return of the Senate group as a whole rather than in individual candidate returns). In the majority of cases, candidates endorsed by a registered political party lodge a 'nil' return as their transactions are included in the party annual return.
  • Senate groups – independent and jointly endorsed Senate groups must lodge a return substantially similar to candidate returns. Information in respect of groups endorsed by a single party (the majority of Senate groups) is incorporated into the annual return of the endorsing party.
  • Election donors – people and organisations (excluding registered political parties, associated entities, a candidate or member of a Senate group) that make donations of amounts in excess of the disclosure threshold to candidates and Senate groups must report specific details of those donations. They are also required to report donations received above the threshold used in whole or in part to make donations to parties or candidates.

Financial disclosure returns are prepared on a cash accounting and GST inclusive basis.

Candidate and Senate group returns

Candidates and Senate groups (other than groups endorsed by a single party) must lodge returns setting out the total amount and number of donations received, details of donations received of more than the disclosure threshold and total payments made across certain categories of 'electoral expenditure'.

There were 1 198 candidates at the 2010 federal election, comprised of 849 House of Representatives candidates and 349 Senate candidates. There were 136 Senate groups of which 24 were independent or jointly endorsed groups, and therefore required to lodge election disclosure returns. Two unendorsed Senate groups – one in NSW and one in Queensland – had not submitted their disclosure returns as at 30 June 2011.

If no donations are received or expenditure incurred, candidates (or their agents) are still required to lodge a 'nil' return. The majority of endorsed candidates lodge 'nil' returns as all donations received and expenditure incurred by campaign committees for endorsed candidates are reported by their endorsing political party in their annual return.

Candidate and Senate group returns must be lodged within 15 weeks after polling day. The AEC has no discretion within the provisions of the Act to extend this deadline. However, returns received after this date are duly processed and made available for public inspection on the AEC website.

Information about candidate and Senate group disclosure obligations is included in the Funding and Disclosure Guide for Candidates and Senate Groups which was made available to candidates as they nominated for the election. The guide is also available on the AEC website.

Prior to the close of nominations, the AEC emailed or wrote to all known candidates who had not lodged candidate agent appointment forms to remind them of the deadline for appointing an agent and of their disclosure obligations.

A letter was sent to each candidate and independent or jointly endorsed Senate group (and their agents where appointed) on 1 October 2010, advising them of their disclosure obligations and reporting deadlines.

Candidates with outstanding returns were sent reminder letters on 19 November 2010, more than two weeks before returns were due on 6 December 2010. Candidates who had not lodged returns by the due date were sent notification of their failure to lodge on 14 December 2010.

Candidates who have not lodged returns to date continue to be investigated. Investigations into three candidates have been finalised and briefs of these cases for failure to lodge a return have been referred to the CDPP for consideration of legal action.

A list of those candidates who had not lodged a disclosure return as at 30 June 2011, along with the name of their endorsing party (where applicable), is provided at Appendix 4.

Table 13 provides a summary of the number of election returns received, including 'nil' returns.

Table 13 – Summary of election returns
  2007 federal election 2010 federal election
Candidate returns Number % Number %
Number of candidates 1 421   1 198  
Number of returns received 1 399 98 1 184 99
Number of outstanding returns 22 2 14 1
Number of 'nil' returns 1 083 77 914 77
Number of non-'nil' returns 316 23 270 23
Senate Group returns
Number of groups 136   136  
Number of groups required to lodge 24   24  
Number of returns received 24 100 20 83
Number of outstanding returns 0 0 4 17
Other returns received
Returns of donations made 5   6  
Returns of donations received 0   0  
TOTAL ELECTION RETURNS 1 428   1 214  

As can be seen at Table 13, fewer candidates contested the federal election in 2010 compared to 2007. However, a similar percentage of election returns were lodged following both events.

Total donations

Table 14 provides a summary of the total number and total amount of donations reported by candidates at the 2007 and 2010 federal elections.

Table 14 – Total donations received
  2007 federal election 2010 federal election
Candidate returns
Total number of donations reported 3 088 1 324
Total amount of donations reported $1 489 461 $686 598
Number of individually declared donations 36 18
Percentage of number of donations individually declared 1.17% 1.36%
Total of individually declared donations $606 425 $138 224
Percentage of amount of donations individually declared 40.71% 20.13%
Senate Group returns
Total number of donations reported 537 58
Total amount of donations reported $236 831 $69 477
Number of individually declared donations 1 1
Percentage of number of donations individually declared 0.19% 1.72%
Total of individually declared donations $40 000 $38 584
Percentage of amount of donations individually declared 16.89% 55.53%

The threshold for the 2007 federal election was amounts of more than $10 500, while for 2010 it was amounts of more than $11 500.

The number and value of donations reported following the 2010 federal election was significantly lower than what was reported for the 2007 election. This can be attributed to the 2007 figures including a number of endorsed candidates who reported significant expenditure and receipts separate to what would be included in the party annual return whereas this did not occur in 2010.

As indicated earlier in this report, the majority of endorsed candidates lodge 'nil' returns as all donations received and expenditure incurred by the candidate's campaign committee is reported by their endorsing political party.

Table 15 provides an aggregation of the electoral expenditure disclosed by candidates and Senate groups.

Table 15 – Candidate and Senate group electoral expenditure
Category Candidates ($) Senate groups ($)
  2007 2010 2007 2010
Broadcast advertisements 697 536 399 346 107 020 4 566
Published advertisements 689 857 371 149 87 925 57 071
Displayed advertisements 12 704 13 007 0 0
Production of campaign material 394 522 197 347 11 669 728
Direct mailing 697 042 525 071 113 863 16 107
Polling & Research 48 517 4 786 5 454 1 766

This is not a complete picture of expenditure as items such as travel and office accommodation are not included and expenditure by endorsed candidates is generally incorporated into party annual returns.

Following disclosure of election returns the AEC often receives requests from the media and other interested parties for information on receipts and expenditure by candidates and parties on a divisional basis. Enquirers are generally frustrated when advised that transactions for endorsed candidates are very rarely reported outside the grouped information contained in the party's annual return.

Candidate agents

Section 167 of the Act provides for nominations for the House of Representatives to be made to the Divisional Returning Officer (DRO) for the division in which the candidate is standing for election; for nominations for the Senate to be made to the Australian Electoral Officer (AEO) for the state or territory in which the candidate is standing for election; and for bulk House of Representatives and Senate nominations to be made to the AEO for the state or territory in which the candidates are standing for election.

With the exception of a Senate group endorsed by a single party, candidates and Senate groups who wish to appoint a candidate agent must lodge the candidate agent appointment form with the principal office of the AEC in Canberra. Agent appointment forms must be received at the AEC's principal office by the close of nominations in the state or territory in which the election is being held.

Where no agent appointment is in force, the candidate is deemed to be their own agent. In the case of an unendorsed or jointly endorsed Senate group, if no agent appointment is in place the candidate whose name appears first on the ballot paper is deemed to be the group agent.

It is the responsibility of the candidate or Senate group agent to lodge the election return on behalf of the candidate or Senate group.

Subsection 287(2) of the Act requires all returns, notices and appointment of agent forms to be lodged at the AEC's principal office in Canberra. However, while the AEC makes a considerable effort to inform candidates and Senate groups of the requirement to lodge agent appointment forms with the AEC's principal office before the close of nominations, the majority of these forms are handed to the division or state office with the nomination form. This places an extra workload on that office to send the appointment form to the AEC's principal office before the close of nominations, otherwise the appointment of the agent is not valid.

In many cases the party agent will be appointed as the candidate or Senate group agent so the separate appointment is considered to be an additional administrative measure that appears to cause confusion in some parties.

RECOMMENDATION 23

The Act be amended to allow for the appointment of Senate group agents to be lodged at the state or territory office of the AEC in which the Senate group is standing for election.

RECOMMENDATION 24

The Act be amended to allow for the appointment of candidate agents to be lodged at the state or territory office, or the divisional office, where the candidate nomination was lodged.

RECOMMENDATION 25

The Act be amended to deem the party agent of an endorsed candidate to be the candidate agent unless a different agent is appointed by that candidate.

RECOMMENDATION 26

Nomination forms described at s.166 and in Schedule 1 of the Act be amended to include the ability to appoint candidate and Senate group agents.

Election donor returns

Persons and organisations who make donations totalling more than the disclosure threshold to individual candidates or to a member of a Senate group are required to lodge a disclosure return providing details of the donation. The return also requires disclosure of donations received in excess of the threshold used in whole or in part to make such donations.

As required by s.17(2A) of the Act, the names of the persons who in the opinion of the AEC were required to furnish an election donor return are listed at Appendix 5.

All known election donors who had an obligation to furnish an election return have done so. The returns were required to be lodged within 15 weeks after polling day. Any donor who also made a donation to a political party may also be required to lodge a separate annual return, due by 17 November 2011.

Table 16 provides an analysis of donations to candidates as reported in candidate returns.

Table 16 – Analysis of detailed disclosures
Donation amount Number and percentage of donations Amount and percentage of donations
Federal election 2007   % $ %
Less than $10 500 26 72 21 033 3
$10 501 to $24 999 7 20 112 697 19
$25 000 or more 3 8 472 695 78
TOTAL 36 100 606 425 100
Federal election 2010   % $ %
Less than $11 500 13 72 46 185 33
$11 501 to $24 999 4 22 62 039 45
$25 000 or more 1 6 30 000 22
TOTAL 18 100 138 224 100

Unlawful loans and donations

Loans of $11 500 or more from people or organisations other than financial institutions must be properly documented. Anonymous donations of $11 500 or more made to a candidate, Senate group or political party are unlawful and must be forfeited to the Commonwealth. Advice to this effect is included in the candidate return and other material provided to candidates.

No unlawful loans or anonymous donations have been identified.