Election Funding and Disclosure Report - Federal Election 2013: Financial disclosure

Updated: 29 May 2014

Authority

Divisions 4 and 5 of Part XX of the Act set out the requirements for financial disclosure. The relevant provisions which apply in respect of an election are sections 304, 305A and 309. These sections are set out in full, along with other relevant legislative provisions relevant to this report, in Appendix C. A summary of these provisions however, is set out below in order to provide a context for the operation of these provisions in relation to the 2013 election.

Operation of the relevant provisions

Candidates and Senate Groups

Section 304 requires that the agent of each person (including a member of a group) who was a candidate in an election or by-election shall, within 15 weeks after polling day in the election, furnish to the Electoral Commission a return, in an approved form, setting out the total amount or value of all gifts, the number of persons who made gifts, and the relevant details of each gift above the disclosure threshold, received by the person during the disclosure period for the election.

Section 321A of the Act provides for the indexation of the dollar amounts of the disclosure threshold referred to in sections 304(5)(b)(ii), 304(5)(c), 304(6)(b) and (c) and 305A. For the 2013 election the dollar amount was $12 400.

Section 304(3) provides that subject to subsection (3A), the agent of each group shall, within 15 weeks after the polling day in the election in relation to which the members of the group had their names grouped in the ballot papers, furnish to the Electoral Commission a return, in an approved form, setting out the total amount or value of all gifts, the number of persons who made gifts, and the relevant details of each gift above the disclosure threshold, received by the group during the disclosure period for the election.

Subsection 304(3A)(a) provides that in the case of a group of all whose members were endorsed by the same registered political party, the gift will be taken to have been received by the relevant State branches of the party where there are two or more branches. Under s.304(3A)(b) it will be taken, in any other case, to have been received by the party.

Section 304(4) requires that in providing details of members of various types of groups (such as an unincorporated association or a trust fund) which make gifts, names and addresses of members of the executive committee or names or addresses of the trustees of the trust must be provided. An exemption if provided however, under s.304(5) to the general disclosure requirements of s.304, where the gift is made in a private capacity to a candidate and the candidate has not or will not use the gift solely or substantially for a purpose related to an election or by-election.

Section 309 requires returns of electoral expenditure by agents of each group or candidate in an election to be furnished within 15 weeks of polling day. Section 309 does not require details of expenditure on ancillary activities in relation to an election, such as hire of temporary office space, staff, equipment hire, and phone costs.

Under s.309 the agent of each person who was a candidate in an election, other than those that were members of a Senate group, is required to lodge a return concerning electoral expenditure. Returns by candidates and Senate groups that are either, jointly endorsed or are not endorsed by a party, are required under both s.304 and s.309, in an approved form. The AEC has developed one form for both returns under s.304 and s.309 so that candidates and Senate groups can furnish such return requirements simultaneously.

Sections 307 and 313 of the Act both provide that where no details are required to be included in a return by a candidate or Senate group under the applicable Division, (these being Divisions 4 and 5, which respectively, concern disclosure of donations and disclosure of electoral expenditure), the candidate or Senate group shall, nevertheless, lodge a return and include a statement to the effect that no gifts or expenditure of a kind that is required to disclosed were received or expended. These returns are termed "nil" returns.

Historically, in the majority of cases, candidates endorsed by a registered political party have lodged a 'nil' return as their financial transactions are made by their party campaign committees and therefore fall within the scope of s.287A. Section 287A provides that campaign committees are to be treated as part of a State branch of a party under Divisions 4, 5 and 5A of the Act. This means that information concerning gifts received by candidates through a campaign committee is included in the annual return lodged by the party under s.314AB of the Act. Section 314AB requires disclosure of such information to the AEC within 16 weeks of the end the financial year in which the gift is received.

Sections 304(3A) and 309(1) require that financial transactions in respect of Senate groups endorsed by a single party (which in actual terms constitute the majority of Senate groups) are incorporated into the annual return of the endorsing party lodged under s.314AB. These financial transactions are therefore not included in a return under s.304(3A) or s.309(1A).

Donors to candidates

Under s.305A a person (excluding under s.305A(1A)(c)), a person who is a registered political party or a State branch of a registered political party, an associated entity, a candidate in an election or member of a Senate group) who donates amounts in excess of the disclosure threshold to candidates, including members of Senate groups, must report details of those donations. Under s.305A(2) election donors are also required to report donations that they received above the disclosure threshold and used, in whole or in part, to make donations to candidates including to members of Senate groups.

Table 6 summarises the information that was required under the various provisions of the Act in candidate, Senate group and election donor returns for the 2013 election.

Table 6: Information required in candidate, Senate group and election donor returns – 2013 election
Election returns
Candidates
s.304(2) Number and amount of donations received
s.304(4) Details of donations received of more than $12 400
s.309(2) Amounts of electoral expenditure spent on certain categories
Senate groups
s.304(3) Number and amount of donations received
s.304(4) Details of donations received of more than $12 400
s.309(3) Amounts of electoral expenditure spent on certain categories
Donors
s.305A(1)&(4) Details of donations totalling more than $12 400 made to candidates
s.305A(2)&(4) Details of donations received of more than $12 400 used to make donations to candidates

Note: For endorsed groups (other than jointly endorsed groups) transactions are included on the party's annual return.

Table 7 shows the dates by which information was required to be disclosed and the publication of returns which applied to the 2013 election in accordance with the time frames prescribed under the Act.

Table 7: Key dates for disclosure of information and publication of returns for the 2013 election
Return Disclosure date Period covered Public release
Candidates 23 December 2013
(1st working day, 15 weeks after polling day – s.304(2))
Donations received
commencement date to 30 days after polling day
Expenditure
from the issue of the writ until election day
24 February 2014
(1st working day, 24 weeks after polling day)
Senate groups 23 December 2013
(1st working day, 15 weeks after polling day – s.304(3))
Donations received
From the date the request to the AEC to be grouped until 30 days after polling day
Expenditure
from the issue of the writ until polling day
24 February 2014
(1st working day, 24 weeks after election day polling day)
Donors 23 December 2013
(1st working day, 15 weeks after polling day – s.305A(3)(a))
The disclosure period relating to the candidate to whom the gift was made. That is, from the announcement of their candidacy 24 February 2014
(1st working day, 24 weeks after polling day)

Disclosure returns for the 2013 election

Candidate and Senate group returns

There were 1 717 candidates at the 2013 election, comprising 1 188 House of Representatives candidates and 529 Senate candidates. There were 227 Senate groups of which 10 were independent or jointly endorsed groups and therefore were required to furnish election disclosure returns.

For the 2013 election 1 277 candidates (74%) lodged a 'nil' return. The high percentage of 'nil' returns was due to the majority of gifts being made directly to political parties or their campaign committees and those political parties and campaign committees incurring expenditure on behalf of their endorsed candidates. Annual returns for the financial year during which the 2013 election occurred are due to be lodged by political parties, pursuant to s.314AB, by 20 October 2014.

Subsections 304(2), 304(3), 309(2) and 309(3) of the Act require candidate and Senate group returns to be lodged within 15 weeks after polling day. For the 2013 election this date was Saturday 21 December 2013. As the last day to lodge candidate and Senate group returns fell on a Saturday, s.36(2) of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (Interpretation Act) applies. Section 36(2) of the Interpretation Act, provides that where an act allows or requires a thing to be done and the last date for doing the thing falls on a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday, then the thing may be done on the next day that is not a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday. Therefore candidate and Senate group returns could be lodged until 23 December 2013.

Table 8 provides lists the number of candidate, Senate group and election donor returns which were furnished for the 2013 election.

Table 8: Candidate, Senate group and election donor returns – 2013 election
Candidate returns Number % of total
Number of candidates 1 717  
Number of returns received 1 707 99
Number of outstanding returns 10 1
Number of 'nil' returns 1 277 75
Number of returns disclosing transactions 430 25
Senate Group returns
Number of groups 227  
Number of groups required to lodge 10  
Number of returns received 10 100
Number of outstanding returns 0 0
Other returns received
Returns of donations made 9  
Total election returns received as at 19 March 2013 1 726  

Tables 9 and 10 provide a summary of data as reported in candidate and Senate group returns for the 2013 election.

Table 9: Summary of donations – 2013 election
Candidate returns
Total number of donations reported 4 641
Total amount of donations reported $1 768 054
Number of individually detailed donations 72
Percentage of number of donations individually detailed 1.55
Total of individually detailed donations $1 100 037
Percentage of amount of donations individually detailed 62.26
Senate Group returns
Total number of donations reported 53
Total amount of donations reported $61 354
Number of individually detailed donations 0
Percentage of number of donations individually detailed 0
Total of individually detailed donations 0
Percentage of amount of donations individually detailed 0
Table 10: Summary of expenditure – 2013 election
Category Candidates ($) Senate groups ($)
Broadcast advertisements 625 327 24 654
Published advertisements 852 618 152 369
Displayed advertisements 34 271 0
Production of campaign material 1 258 010 57 366
Direct mailing 108 673 2 210
Polling & Research 125 269 0

Publication

Section 320(1) of the Act requires the Electoral Commission to keep a copy of returns furnished under Divisions 4 and 5. The AEC meets this requirement by keeping the returns in hard copy and also publishing returns on its website. Section 320(4) does not allow a person to peruse or obtain a copy of a return under Division 4 or 5 until after the end of 24 weeks after the polling day in the election to which the return relates. At the end of the 24 week period the AEC makes returns available on its website. Returns relating to the 2013 election were published on the AEC website on 24 February 2014.

Supporting compliance with Part XX

The AEC has introduced a number of initiatives to support compliance of lodging disclosure returns under Part XX. These initiatives include:

  • the promotion of eReturns to agents of candidates and groups as a means of lodging their return, including eReturns Quick Reference Guides
  • publication of financial disclosure guides which include both details of the financial disclosure requirements and step by step instructions on how to complete a return
  • the adoption of email as the primary means of correspondence with agents of candidates and groups to enable fast turnaround of advice and support
  • an early notification and follow-up approach to advising agents of candidates and groups of their obligation to lodge a return with subsequent reminder notifications; and
  • prompt follow-up with agents of candidates and groups who fail to lodge by the due date and identifying appropriate opportunities for the AEC to assist them to lodge returns where possible.

For the 2013 election, as a result of these initiatives the level of compliance at key points in the disclosure cycle increased significantly from the previous federal election. Table 11 provides a comparison of the number of returns received by the due date and public release date for the 2010 and 2013 federal elections.

Table 11: Comparison of returns received by the due date and public release date for the 2010 and 2013 elections
Category 2010 2013
Total number of candidate returns expected 1 198 1 717
Candidates outstanding at due date 610 116
Candidates outstanding at publication date 72 12
Total number of Senate group returns expected 24 10
Senate group returns outstanding at due date 12 2
Senate group returns outstanding at publication date 6 Nil
Total number of election donor returns expected 7 11
Election donor returns outstanding at due date 6 5
Election donor returns outstanding at publication date 3 2

Election donor returns

Section 17(2A) provides that a report under s.17(2) must include a list of the names of all persons who, in the opinion of the Commission, are or may be required to furnish a return under subsection 305A (1) or (1A)4 in relation to that election. There were nine election donor returns furnished pursuant to s.305A(1) in relation to the 2013 election. Pursuant to s.17(2A), in the opinion of the Commission, these nine persons and a further two further persons should have furnished returns in accordance with s.305(A) and s.305(1A) in relation to the 2013 election.

Table 12: Persons required to furnish returns under s305(A)(1) for the 2013 election
Donor name Return status
Australian Services Union – National Office Received
Booth, Don Received
Chung-Nan Su Outstanding
Creasy, Mark Gareth Received
Dickinson, Doug Received
Gulf Coast Aviation Pty Ltd Received
Heath, Peter Received
Katter, Mrs S Received
Nioa Nominees Received
OGNIS Pty Ltd Received
Ping Hu Gui Outstanding

Section 305(A)(3) requires that returns required to be provided under s.305A must be provided to the Electoral Commission in an approved form before the end of 15 weeks after the polling day for the election. Under s.305B gifts totalling more than $12 400 (as indexed in accordance with s.321A) to political parties must be disclosed.

Table 13 provides a summary of donations to candidates as reported in returns lodged by election donors for the 2013 election in accordance with s.305A(3) and s.305B.

Table 13: Summary of donations to candidates for the 2013 election
Donation amount Number and percentageof donations Amount and percentage of donations
No. % $ %
Less than $12 400 99 86 189 451 21
$12 401 to $24 999 13 11 257 509 28
$25 000 or more 3 3 469 110 51
Total 115 100 916 070 100

  1. Section 305A(1A) relates to donations made to any person or organisation specified by legislative instrument by the Electoral Commission. No person or organisation is presently specified so currently, there is no requirement for any return to be lodged under s.305A(1A).