Election Funding and Disclosure Report - 2014 WA Senate election: Financial disclosure

Updated: 11 June 2015

Authority

Divisions 4 and 5 of Part XX of the Electoral Act set out the requirements for financial disclosure. The relevant provisions which apply in respect of an election are ss.304, 305A and 309 of the Electoral Act. These sections are set out in full, along with other relevant legislative provisions relevant to this report, in Appendix B. A summary of these provisions however, is set out below to provide a context for the operation of these provisions in relation to the 2014 WA Senate election.

Operation of the relevant provisions

Candidates and Senate Groups

Section 304 of the Electoral Act 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 AEC 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 Electoral Act provides for the indexation of the dollar amounts of the disclosure threshold referred to in ss.304(5)(b)(ii), 304(5)(c), 304(6)(b) and (c) and s.305A. For the 2014 WA Senate election the dollar amount was $12 400.

Subsection 304(3) of the Electoral Act 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 AEC 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) of the Electoral Act 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.

Subsection 304(4) of the Electoral Act 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 of the Electoral Act 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 of the Electoral Act 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 to be in an approved form. The AEC 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 Electoral 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 be 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 of the Electoral Act. 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. 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 Electoral Act. This 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) of the Electoral Act 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 of the Electoral Act (excluding under s.305A(1A)(c)), a person who is not 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 3 summarises the information that was required under the various provisions of the Electoral Act in candidate, Senate group and election donor returns for the 2014 WA Senate election.

Table 3: Information required in 2014 WA Senate election returns
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 4 shows the dates by which information was required to be disclosed and the publication of returns which applied to the 2014 WA Senate election in accordance with the timeframes prescribed under the Electoral Act.

Table 4: Key dates for disclosure and publication of the 2014 WA Senate election returns
Return Disclosure date Period covered Public release
Candidates 21 July 2014
(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 polling day
22 September 2014
(1st working day, 24 weeks after polling day)
Senate groups 21 July 2014
(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
22 September 2014
(1st working day, 24 weeks after polling day)
Donors 21 July 2014
(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 22 September 2014
(1st working day, 24 weeks after polling day)

Disclosure returns for the 2014 WA Senate election

Candidate and Senate group returns

There were 77 candidates at the 2014 WA Senate election. This was comprised of 32 party endorsed groups and 1 unendorsed group along with 2 ungrouped independents. All 77 candidates, as well as the unendorsed Senate group, were required to lodge returns with the AEC (the finances of endorsed Senate groups are disclosed in the annual returns of the relevant political party).

For the 2014 WA Senate election 68 candidates (88 per cent) 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. Political parties, pursuant to s.314AB of the Electoral Act, must have lodged annual financial disclosure returns for the 2013–14 financial year by 20 October 2014.

Subsections 304(2), 304(3), 309(2) and 309(3) of the Electoral Act require candidate and Senate group returns to be lodged within 15 weeks after polling day. For the 2014 WA Senate election this date was Saturday 19 July 2014. 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. The effect of s.36(2) of the Interpretation Act is to allow disclosure returns to be lodged by a candidate and Senate groups on the first business day after Saturday 19 July 2014, this being Monday 21 July 2014.

Table 5: Candidate, Senate group and election donor returns – 2014 WA Senate election
Candidate returns Number % of total
Number of candidates 77  
Number of returns received 77 100
Number of outstanding returns 0 0
Number of 'nil' returns 69 90
Number of returns disclosing transactions 8 10
Senate Group returns
Number of groups 33  
Number of groups required to lodge 1  
Number of returns received 1 100
Number of outstanding returns 0 0
Other returns received
Returns of donations made 0  
Total election returns received as at 1 October 2014 78 100

Tables 6 and 7 provide a summary of data as reported in candidate and Senate group returns for the 2014 WA Senate election.

Table 6: Summary of donations – 2014 WA Senate election
Candidate returns
Total number of donations reported 17
Total amount of donations reported $5 120
Number of individually detailed donations 0
Percentage of number of donations individually detailed 0
Total of individually detailed donations 0
Percentage of amount of donations individually detailed 0
Senate Group returns
Total number of donations reported 53
Total amount of donations reported 0
Number of individually detailed donations 0
Percentage of number of donations individually detailed 0
Total of individually detailed donations 0
Percentage of amount of donations individually detailed 0
Table 7: Summary of expenditure – 2014 WA Senate election
Category Candidates ($) Senate groups ($)
Broadcast advertisements 5 074 0
Published advertisements 875 0
Displayed advertisements   0
Production of campaign material 3 088 0
Direct mailing   0
Polling & Research 200 0

Publication

Section 320(1) of the Electoral Act requires the AEC 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 2014 WA Senate election were therefore published on the AEC website on 22 September 2014.

Supporting compliance with Part XX

The AEC has introduced a number of initiatives to support compliance of lodging disclosure returns under Part XX of the Electoral Act. 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 approach of providing early notification to, and follow-up with, agents of candidates and groups to remind them of their obligation to lodge a return, 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.

Election donor returns

Subsection 17(2A) of the Electoral Act 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 ss.305A (1) or (1A)4 in relation to that election.

Candidate and Senate group returns for the 2014 WA Senate election did not identify any persons that may be required to furnish such a return and no returns were lodged with the AEC. The Commission therefore did not provide a list of persons under s.17(2A) of the Electoral Act.


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