The AEC has a series of powers under section 316 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Act) to undertake investigations into compliance with the disclosure obligations contained in Part XX of the Act. These investigations are initiated through the issuance of a formal notice requiring a person to provide documents and other evidence, in writing or orally, in a manner and at a place and time specified in the notice.
The power most often used is under s316(2A) of the Act where the AEC conducts routine compliance reviews of a sample of annual disclosure returns lodged by political parties and associated entities. They are not considered to be investigations in the common understanding of that word in that they are not triggered by any actual or suspected failure in the disclosures being examined, hence their title of 'compliance reviews'.
Section 316(3) of the Act does, however, provide the AEC with wider investigatory powers where there are reasonable grounds for believing that there has been, or may have been, an offence committed against the disclosure provisions of the Act.
The AEC also has power under section 316(3A) of the Act to inquire into the operations of an entity for the purposes of determining whether it may have disclosure obligations as an associated entity.