This advice sets out the Australian Electoral Commission's (AEC's) conclusions in relation to the matters described below.
Whether there was an outstanding disclosure obligation in relation to seven advertisements and pamphlets published during the 2004 federal election that have been linked to the Exclusive Brethren. The seven advertisement and pamphlets were:
Senator Bob Brown first raised the matter on 12 September 2005 in the Senate. Senator Brown identified two pamphlets published during the 2004 federal election for which he believed the expenditure had not been disclosed.
In correspondence with the AEC, Senator Brown identified a total of seven items for which he believed the expenditure had not been disclosed.
There are two sections of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Act) relevant to this matter.
Subsection 309(4) of the Act requires that a person who incurs electoral expenditure, and does not do so with the authority of a registered political party, a candidate or a member of parliament, must submit a return to the Electoral Commission setting out the sums spent on a number of categories of electoral expenditure.
Section 305 of the Act requires that a person who incurs electoral expenditure and does not do so with the authority of a registered political party, a candidate or a member of parliament, must submit a return to the Electoral Commission after each federal election setting out the details of all gifts made to that person that were used to fund the expenditure.
In administering these two requirements, the AEC combines these two returns in what is called a 'third party return'. The third party return contains details of political expenditure by third parties and donations to third parties for use in political expenditure.
This inquiry has taken twelve months to complete. Inquiries into whether electoral expenditure has been disclosed routinely take longer to complete than inquiries into whether gifts have been disclosed. Because only the sum of electoral expenditure is required to be disclosed, additional investigative steps are needed to complete the inquiry.
For this matter, the AEC corresponded with: Senator Brown; the people who authorised the advertisements and pamphlets; the newspapers in which the advertisements appeared; and people identified with the Exclusive Brethren.
The AEC also used its investigative powers under section 316 of the Act, and held a meeting with Senator Brown and Senator Milne to discuss the matter.
The AEC has found that expenditure on all seven advertisements and pamphlets was disclosed in a third party return by Willmac Enterprises following the 2004 federal election, and that consequently no outstanding disclosure obligation exists in relation to these advertisements and pamphlets.
Further, there is no evidence that Willmac Enterprises received any gifts or donations from other sources that contributed to the costs of the advertisements and pamphlets.
Date: 19 December 2006