The AEC has investigatory powers under the Act to determine whether a person with financial disclosure obligations has complied with those obligations. The AEC undertakes a regular compliance review program, and also investigates disclosure matters that come to its notice through other means where this appears to be warranted.
Subsection 17(2C) of the Act specifically requires that the AEC include in this report particulars of the operation of subsection 316(2A), which provides authority for the AEC compliance review program.
AEC compliance reviews apply the principles set out in the Australian Auditing Standards to provide assurance as to whether a political party, associated entity or donor has met its disclosure obligations under the Act. Eighty-five compliance reviews were conducted in 2000–01 and 30 were conducted in 2001–02. Compliance reviews are not carried out during a federal election period.
Three main issues arose out of these routine compliance review activities:
In addition, compliance reviews highlighted to the AEC the diverse nature of parties, ranging from those that are large and mature with well-established systems through to those that are emerging, or are in decline. The reviews provide an opportunity for the AEC to inform parties about their disclosure obligations, and to gain an understanding of some of the issues parties face in meeting their compliance obligations.
While the majority of parties have satisfactory records and systems, there remain a number of parties (both small and large) which cannot, or will not, meet their statutory obligations in a timely way. The number of amended disclosure returns lodged (see Table 3) is in large part an outcome of the compliance review program.
A number of matters were raised with the AEC (e.g. at Senate Estimates hearings) or in the media about whether certain financial transactions were being correctly reported in the appropriate return.
Matters raised at Senate Estimates hearings included issues and transactions related to the Citizens' Electoral Council (a registered political party), the National Club, the Millennium Forum, the Greenfields Foundation and Austereo. These matters were examined by the AEC through the compliance review program and additional investigatory activities as appropriate. Amended returns were obtained where necessary.