1.1 This report is furnished in accordance with subsection 17(2) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Act). It provides an analysis of the election funding and financial disclosure schemes as they operated at the 2 March 1996 federal election. It also includes chapters on annual disclosures, compliance audits and party registration.
1.2 Since the 1993 federal election, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Act 1995 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act 1995 have been passed by Parliament amending funding and disclosure legislation. Specific amendments are discussed at the commencement of each section of this report to which they relate.
1.3 The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) invited all registered political parties to attend briefing sessions conducted in each capital city explaining the amendments to the Act and the impact that these would have on parties and their donors.
1.4 The AEC's explanatory handbooks and return forms have been comprehensively revised, not only to incorporate the legislative amendments but also in an attempt to make them more user-friendly with the ultimate goal of improving the accuracy of information disclosed. The new handbooks and forms have been well received, and the AEC has undertaken a survey in order to obtain more comprehensive feedback and suggestions.
1.5 The AEC conducted a limited trial of disclosure on the Internet following the 1996 election. Election funding payments and electoral expenditure returns of political parties were released onto the Internet on the date for public inspection for this election (19 August 1996). This information was chosen not only because it was anticipated that this is where the most attention would be centred, but also because it was comparatively easy and inexpensive to post onto the AEC's home page.
1.6 The AEC sees much value in using the Internet in parallel to existing arrangements. Many interested persons, in particular journalists and academics in regional centres, do not have easy access to the copies of returns which are made public at the AEC's central office in Canberra and at each of its State/Territory head offices. The AEC is currently investigating options to further expand the Internet service beyond this trial stage, although this would require a substantial and recurrent investment of resources beyond those currently available.