Candidates Handbook: Election funding and financial disclosure

Updated: 19 May 2016

The Act

  • Part XX, 'Election funding and financial disclosure'

Some candidates will be eligible to receive payment of election funding following a federal election but all candidates are required to lodge a compulsory financial disclosure return. Candidates can appoint an agent to receive their election funding (if eligible) and complete the financial disclosure return on their behalf.

This section gives a brief overview of candidate agents and Senate group agents, financial disclosure obligations and payment of election funding.

Further detailed information on election funding and candidate financial disclosure can be obtained from the AEC website.

Agents

Appointing an agent

Agent appointment forms are available on the appointment of agents page or by contacting the AEC.

A party agent is not automatically appointed as a candidate or Senate group agent unless individually appointed by each endorsed candidate of that party.

It is your responsibility to ensure that your agent appointment form is received by the AEC's National Office in Canberra before the close of nominations. Completed forms can be faxed to 02 6293 7655, scanned and emailed to fad@aec.gov.au, or sent by post. Postal address details are available on the forms.

Agent appointment forms should only be sent to the AEC's National Office, not sent to any other office.

An agent cannot be appointed if their appointment form is received by the AEC's National Office after the close of nominations. In this case, individual candidates will be responsible for completing their own financial disclosure return.

The appointment is valid for a single election only.

Candidate agents

Each candidate may appoint an agent whether or not they are endorsed by a party. Candidates who do not appoint an agent are deemed to be their own agent.

Senate group agent

Senate groups, the members of which have been endorsed by a single party, are not required to appoint an agent for the group or lodge a disclosure return. All receipts and expenditure of a Senate group should be included in the annual return of that party, however, individual members of such a group may appoint an agent.

An agent is not the agent of the individual members of the group unless separately appointed as such.

If no agent is appointed for a Senate group, or the agent appointment form is received by the AEC's National Office in Canberra after the close of nominations, the first candidate listed in the Senate group is deemed to be the agent.

Senate groups endorsed by more than one party may appoint an agent for the group. If no appointment is made the person whose name appears first on the ballot paper is deemed to be the agent.

Unendorsed Senate groups can appoint an agent for the group. If no appointment is made the person whose name appears first on the ballot paper is deemed to be the agent for the group.

Eligibility of an agent

To be eligible for appointment as an agent, the nominated person must:

  • be at least 18 years of age,
  • not have been convicted of an offence under the funding and disclosure provisions of the Act,
  • have signed a consent to the appointment, and
  • have signed a declaration of eligibility for appointment.

A person may be appointed as the agent for multiple candidates, including a Senate group, but a separate form must be completed for each appointment.

Election funding

Candidates who receive four per cent or more of the formal first preference votes in an election are entitled to receive election funding. For Senate groups, the group as a whole must receive at least four per cent of the formal first preference votes in their state or territory in order to be eligible for election funding.

The amount to be paid is calculated by multiplying the number of formal first preference votes received by the funding rate. The funding rate applicable to this election is available on the AEC website.

At least 95 per cent of election funding is paid in the fourth week after election day on the basis of votes counted as at the 20th day after election day. The balance is paid when the count is finalised and verified, and when the full entitlement is known.

In the case of independent candidates or Senate groups, payment is made to the agent of the candidate or group. If no agent is appointed, payment is made to the candidate or the member of the Senate group placed first in the group.

In the case of endorsed candidates and Senate groups, funding is paid to the party agent of the endorsing party or parties.

Detailed information about the payment arrangements for parties endorsing candidates or Senate groups can be obtained from the AEC website.

Financial disclosure returns

Following an election, candidate and Senate group agents must lodge financial disclosure returns with the AEC. Further information, including comprehensive funding and disclosure guides, is available on the AEC website.

If a candidate or Senate group does not appoint an agent or the appointment form is received by the AEC's National Office in Canberra after the close of nominations:

  • the candidate is deemed to be their own agent.
  • the first person listed in the Senate group is deemed to be the group agent.

Failure to lodge a disclosure return is an offence which may be referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

Election donations

Election donations may be in cash (money, direct deposit or cheque), or 'in-kind' such as professional services or office equipment provided free of charge or at less than normal commercial value. Donations may be received directly by the candidate or by someone acting on behalf, or with the authority, of the candidate or Senate group.

In-kind donations must be disclosed at the normal commercial or sale value of the item or service.

People or organisations making donations to a candidate in excess of the applicable disclosure threshold are also required to lodge a financial disclosure return with the AEC.

If a person or organisation makes a donation to the campaign committee of an endorsed candidate, this is treated as though the donation is made to the relevant political party and is therefore required to be reported in the party's annual disclosure returns rather than the candidate's election return.

Electoral expenditure

All electoral or campaign expenditure incurred in each of the following categories must be reported:

  • broadcasting advertisements (including production costs)
  • publishing advertisements (including production costs)
  • displaying advertisements at a theatre or other place of entertainment (including production costs)
  • costs of campaign material that was used or distributed where the name and address of the author, or the authorising person, is required (such as how-to-vote cards, pamphlets or posters)
  • direct mailing
  • opinion polling and other research relating to the election.

Certain other campaign expenditure (for example, hire of premises or equipment, freight, telephone and travel costs) does not have to be reported.

Candidates

All candidates, including the individual members of a Senate group, have a financial disclosure obligation after the election.

All candidates must lodge a financial disclosure return even when no donations were received or expenditure incurred. In this case 'nil' returns must be lodged.

The financial disclosure returns of candidates must include the following:

  • the number of donors and total amount of all donations received
  • the names and details of people and organisations who made donations in excess of the disclosure threshold (this information is available on the AEC website)
  • all amounts spent on certain types of electoral expenditure.

The only exception is for electoral expenditure incurred by candidates who stand as part of a Senate group. These candidates do not separately disclose electoral expenditure as the expenditure of all members of the group is consolidated and reported as part of the group financial disclosure, or by the party if all members of the group are endorsed by the same party.

Senate groups

All Senate groups must lodge a disclosure return with the exception of Senate groups whose members are all endorsed by the same party. These groups report through their political party. Disclosure returns must be lodged even when no donations were received or expenditure incurred. In this case 'nil' returns must be lodged.

The financial disclosure returns of Senate groups must include:

  • the number of donors and total amount of all donations received
  • names and details of people and organisations who made donations in excess of the applicable disclosure threshold
  • all amounts spent on certain types of electoral expenditure.

Where and when to lodge returns

Returns can be prepared and lodged online via the eReturns portal. The eReturns portal can be accessed from https://ereturns.aec.gov.au or via the AEC website. The easiest way to lodge a return accurately and on time is to use the eReturns portal. It is quick, secure, environmentally friendly and allows importing of files which eliminates transcription errors. To assist with completing a return online, a step-by-step guide is available on the AEC website.

If a candidate or agent is unable to lodge a return online via the eReturns portal the relevant forms may be downloaded from the AEC website. Alternatively, contact the Funding and Disclosure team by email at fad@aec.gov.au or phone on 02 6271 4552 and forms can be emailed, faxed or posted to the agent or candidate.

Financial disclosure returns, including 'nil' returns, must be lodged with the AEC's National Office in Canberra within 15 weeks after election day. The AEC has no discretion to extend this deadline.

Disclosure period

The period covered by a return varies for election donations and electoral expenditure, for new and previous candidates, and for candidates and Senate groups. Details are on the financial disclosure return form.

Administration

Candidate record keeping

Candidates and Senate groups must give consideration to financial recording systems and procedures that are appropriate to their needs and circumstances and will enable the Candidate or Senate Group Return to be completed accurately.

All transactions should be individually recorded, supported by source documents and, where possible, reconciled to bank statements.

Examples of source documents are:

  • receipts
  • tax invoices
  • loan documents
  • wages records
  • bank deposit books and cheque butts
  • bank account statements
  • credit card statements.

Source documents should contain sufficient information required to complete the return, such as the:

  • date of the transaction
  • name of person and/or organisation from whom a gift/donation was received
  • name of person and/or organisation to whom a payment was made and what the payment was for
  • name and address of an organisation that has provided a loan to the candidate
  • total payment made or amount received
  • amount of goods and services tax (GST)
  • merchant fees.

Retention of records

All relevant records, whether formal or informal, that support disclosures made in returns must be kept for a minimum of three years. Receipt books, bank records, receipt registers, source documents and working papers must be kept for this period.

Offences

Section 315 of the Act contains penalty provisions for offences against the funding and disclosure provisions. These include

  • failure to lodge a disclosure return
  • late lodgement
  • incomplete and inaccurate returns
  • failure to retain supporting records for three years.

Public inspection

Election financial disclosure returns are available for public inspection 24 weeks after election day on the AEC website.