For a number of years the AEC has implemented media activities to support the release of annual and election financial disclosure returns. The activities for 2011 were similar to those developed for the 2007 federal election returns release in 2008, and the annual returns releases in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
The media approach prior to the public disclosure of 2009–10 included the conduct of an information training session for parliamentary press gallery journalists. The session covered general information about annual and election return requirements and training in the navigation of the annual and election returns locator services available on the AEC website.
In addition to providing guidance on the annual returns and election returns locator services on the AEC website, the intention of the media training session was to proactively address some of the immediate demand for media enquiries anticipated on 1 February 2011 (annual returns disclosure) and 7 February (election returns disclosure), and to continue to increase the level of knowledge within the media of the financial disclosure system.
While the training sessions for journalists were not well attended it is important to note that the workshop represents an opportunity for the AEC to engage with media stakeholders. Invitations containing key disclosure dates and general funding and disclosure information were distributed widely to the federal parliamentary press gallery which alone increases awareness amongst the media of the annual and election returns schemes. The distribution of this information also allows the AEC to proactively promote the availability of the returns on the AEC website and who to contact for further information on the disclosure scheme.
Three media releases were issued to inform stakeholders about the publication of the annual and election financial disclosure returns:
All media releases were issued to national metropolitan, suburban and regional press and broadcast media outlets, the federal press gallery and federal MPs and Senators.
The AEC Media Unit in National Office received numerous media enquiries in the lead up to, and following, the public release of 2009–10 annual returns on 1 February 2011. Calls prior to the release were general enquiries seeking information about when the returns would be made publicly available, the information that would be available and where it could be found on the AEC website.
The majority of calls following the release of the data were in relation to apparent discrepancies in disclosure between returns lodged by political parties and those lodged by donors. In many instances, this was due to different reporting requirements, but in some cases was as a result of late lodgement of returns.
Returns lodged after the public release date are made available on the AEC website as soon as possible after they have been processed.
The majority of calls received for the release of election returns resulted because the AEC experienced a minor delay in publishing the data due to technical difficulties. As the data was not made available until 11am on Monday 7 February 2011, several media outlets called between 9am and 11am to check when the information would be made available. Following the release of the data, a small number of media requests were received seeking clarification on disclosure obligations with regard to the high number of 'nil' returns listed on the election returns system.
The AEC often receives enquiries from the media and other parties interested in determining the amount of revenue and expenditure on a divisional (or electorate) basis. As this information is reported on a state basis through a party's annual return there is no way for the AEC to extrapolate this data from the state or territory totals.
A total of 162 media items regarding annual (146) and election (16) disclosure returns were reported between 1 January and 15 February 2011. This included 97 press items, 54 broadcast items and 11 online items.
The majority of coverage focused on analysis of disclosure data, with particular metropolitan and national media interest in the contributions made by the mining industry to the Coalition in the lead-up to the 2010 federal election. A number of articles also focused on calls for reforms to political donation legislation.