Compliance & Enforcement Activities

The AEC is responsible for the administration and regulation of Australia’s electoral system. To ensure activities relating to federal electoral events and referendums are compliant with the relevant legislation, Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984, the AEC undertakes compliance and enforcement activities as per our Regulatory Action Policy.

This page sets out the AEC’s compliance and enforcement actions. An annual summary of significant enforcement activities is also in the AEC Annual Report.

Warnings – Authorisation of electoral and referendum matter

During electoral and referendum events, the AEC can send warnings to people or entities who do not properly authorise certain electoral or referendum matter. Communications containing electoral or referendum matter that must be authorised include: 

  • paid advertisements
  • print communications (e.g. stickers, fridge magnets, leaflets, flyers, pamphlets, corflutes, notices, posters and how-to-vote card), and
  • communications by, or on behalf of, a disclosure entity (e.g. a political party, candidate, member of parliament). 

For more information about the authorisation requirements see Electoral Backgrounder: Electoral and referendum communications and authorisation requirements. 

The AEC investigated 414 authorisation matters between 30 March and 31 October 2023 (47.6% related to print media communications; 32.4% cent related to social media communications). Warning letters were sent in relation to 178 identified authorisation breaches (43% of matters investigated). The following Table provides a breakdown of the breaches identified by communication type.

Referendum authorisation investigations and breaches detected

Communication type 

Communications investigated 

Breaches detected

Social media

134

72

Signs and print

197

93

Other communications

83

13

Total

414

178

For the 178 authorisation breaches detected, the following Table outlines action by the AEC.

Referendum authorisation breaches – Action taken*

Communication type 

Action taken on breaches 

No. of actions 

Breaches Remedied 

Social media 

Education letter

12

12

Warning letter  

40

34

Referred to social media platform for action 

Signs and print 

Education letter

9

9

Warning letter  

34

27

Other communications 

Education letter

1

1

Warning letter  

8

7

*Please note:

  • warnings and education letters were sent to people or entities to request action to rectify or remove improperly authorised communications:
    • education letters were sent to first time referendum participants and contained more information about the regulatory requirements.
    • warning letters were sent to referendum participants who regularly participate in electoral events or were previously sent information about the referendum authorisation requirements.
  • the number of warning and education letters sent do not correspond to the number of breaches detected (178) in the first referendum breaches table, as some letters addressed multiple breaches 
  • the table does not record educational letters sent in response to public enquiries or the AEC’s proactive authorisation education drive in the lead up to the referendum
  • where breaches have not been remedied, this is a person or entity responsible for the communication has not been identified.

For more information on the authorisation breaches identified at the referendum, the person or entities contacted and the outcomes see this Table.

The AEC investigated 900 electoral communications complaints from 11 April 2022 (issue of writs) to 23 June 2022 (return of writs). 826 of these complaints related to the authorisation of electoral communications (56% related to print media communications; 22.4% cent related to social media communications).

Warning letters were sent in relation to 180 identified authorisation breaches (21.8% of matters investigated). The following Table provides a breakdown of the breaches identified by communication type.

2022 Federal Election authorisation investigations and breaches detected

Communication type 

Communications investigated 

Breaches detected

Social media

185

69

Signs and print

462

98

Other communications

179

13

Total

826

180

Enforceable Undertakings

In the event of an alleged contravention of Part XX or XXA of the Electoral Act, the AEC may, as an alternative to court proceedings, accept an enforceable undertaking given by the person who is alleged to have committed the contravention in accordance with Part 6 of the Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) Act 2014 (Regulatory Powers Act). Co

An enforceable undertaking is a legally binding agreement between the AEC and the person who gives the undertaking. Once accepted by the AEC, the enforceable undertaking obliges the person to carry out specific activities outlined in the enforceable undertaking.

Enforceable Undertakings that have been accepted by the AEC are published on the Transparency Register and outlined in the below Table.

Enforceable undertakings

Name of party

Date of acceptance

Legislative provisions

Enforceable undertaking

Senator Pauline Hanson as party agent for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation

15 June 2021

Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 – section 317(1)

Pauline Lee Hanson – Enforceable undertaking [PDF - 802KB]

Ms Kim Swanson

3 March 2021

Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 – sections 304 and 309

Kim Swanson – Enforceable undertaking [PDF - 369KB]

Mr Christopher James

26 February 2021

Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 – sections 304 and 309

Christopher James – Enforceable undertaking [PDF - 389KB]

Mr Tony Pecora

10 February 2021

Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 – sections 304 and 309

Tony Pecora – Enforceable undertaking [PDF - 378KB]

Ms Briony Davis as financial controller for EMILY’s List

21 October 2022

Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 – sections 134AEA(1), 316(5) and 317

Briony Davis – Enforceable undertaking [PDF – 262KB]

Multi-voting and Designated Electors

The Electoral Commissioner (or a delegate) may declare an elector reasonably suspected of voting more than once in the same election or referendum as a ‘designated elector’ under section 202AH(1) of the Electoral Act . This declaration can be made whether or not the elector has been convicted of a multiple voting offence under section 339(1A) or (1C) of theElectoral Actor section 130(1A) or (1C) of the Referendum Act.

Designated electors

Event

Number of declared designated electors

2019 federal election

1287

2022 federal election

37

Aston by-election

1

2023 referendum

TBC

Total

1325

Injunctions

The Electoral Commission, and ‘candidates’ in an election, are able to seek an injunction under section 383 of the Electoral Act against any conduct that is contravening or would contravene the Electoral Act. A court ordered injunction can prohibit certain conduct or to require certain conduct to be performed.

If an injunction is granted against a person, failure to comply with the injunction order may constitute contempt of court, for which the Federal Court can order arrest and detention.

Civil Penalties

There are civil penalties for the offences in Parts XX and XXA of the Electoral Act. Section 384A of the Electoral Act provides that civil penalty provisions are enforceable under Part 4 of the Regulatory Powers Act. These offences include:

The Electoral Commissioner may apply to a relevant court for an order that a person, who is alleged to have contravened a civil penalty provision, pay the Commonwealth a pecuniary penalty.

Pecuniary penalty orders are published on the Federal Court’s Digital Law Library and outlined in following Table.

Civil actions

Matter

Date of Order

Legislative provisions

Judgment

Electoral Commissioner v Futter [2021] FCA 876

29 July 2021

Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 – section 304 and 309

Barry Futter - Civil Penalties

Electoral Commissioner v Wharton (No 3) [2021] FCA 742

1 June 2021

Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 – sections 304 and 309

Wayne Wharton – Civil Penalties

Electoral Commissioner of the Australian Electoral Commission v Laming (No 2) [2023] FCA 917

9 August 2023

Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 – section 321D(5)

Andrew Laming – Civil Penalties

Other civil actions

Following the 2022 federal election, the AEC commenced civil proceeding against the former member for Hughes in relation to the candidate’s corflute signage displayed during the 2022 federal election. The AEC considered this signage was not properly authorised and was still on display at prepoll voting centres and on polling day after our requests to rectify.  The AEC took the decision because, in the AEC’s view, there was a lack of apparent effective engagement or remediation.

As a regulator, the AEC must weigh up apparent breaches of the Act and appropriate action - including regulating in a manner that results in fair and equitable treatment of all stakeholders. When notified of non-compliance with the authorisation requirements: parties, candidates and their campaign workers almost always amend or remove the non-compliant communication. This is often done by the application of stickers with legible authorisations statements.

The AEC respects the Federal Court’s judgment. The AEC will utilise the decision to inform and refine our education and compliance activities around the authorisation of electoral and referendum campaign material.

Criminal Penalties

Parts VIII, XV, XVA, XVI, XX, XXA and XXI of the Electoral Act establish the following electoral offences:

Compulsory enrolment requires all Australian citizens aged 18 years to be enrolled on the Commonwealth electoral roll. British subjects who were enrolled on 25 January 1984 are also entitled to remain on the electoral roll. Under section 101 of the Electoral Act, an eligible individual who fails to enrol to vote may be issued a fine not exceeding 1 penalty unit.

More on enrolment.

It is an offence under section 245 of the Electoral Act if the elector fails to vote at an election without a valid and sufficient reason for that failure. Electors who fail to vote will be sent a penalty notice seeking the confirmation whether the elector voted, has a valid and sufficient reason for not voting, or failing that pays an administrative penalty of $20.

Where an elector fails to do any of these things, the elector may be prosecuted in accordance with section 245(15) of the Electoral Act.

More on compulsory voting.

It an offence under section 189B of the Electoral Act to obtain the information about postal vote applicants without a permitted purpose. Senate or House of Representative candidates and registered political parties can be provided a list of postal vote applicants for the purposes listed in section 189B.

The Electoral Act requires that scrutineers must not interfere with voters, or attempt to influence any voter within a polling place and must not exhibit or leave any printed material that directs, instructs or is intended to influence an elector on how to vote. Scrutineers must not disclose any knowledge or information they have acquired about how an elector has voted. The penalty for misconduct by scrutineers is 6 months imprisonment or 10 penalty units, or both.

More on the role of scrutineers

With one limited exception the Electoral Act does not regulate truth in electoral advertising. Section 329(1) of the Electoral Act makes it an offence to print, publish or distribute, or cause, permit or authorise to be printed, published or distributed, any matter or thing that is likely to mislead or deceive an elector in relation to the casting of a vote. The maximum penalty for a contravention of section 329(1) is a fine not exceeding 100 penalty units or imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years, or both, for a person; or a fine not exceeding 500 penalty units for a body corporate.

More information on misleading or deceptive publications.

The Electoral Act also lists a range of other criminal offences including bribery in relation to voting or interfering with a voter attempting to vote.

More information on polling place and other offences can be found on our website here and in the Electoral Act.

The AEC may refer a person engaging in activity that may breach an offence to the AFP for investigation. The AFP may then refer the matter to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration, in accordance with the Commonwealth Prosecution Policy, as to whether a prosecution is initiated.

Criminal investigations of contraventions, or possible contraventions of electoral offences can be found here on our website. Prosecutions of criminal offences are outlined in the following Table.

Name of Matter

Date of Report

Legislative provisions

Investigation Report

Black Bull QLD Pty Ltd

20 December 2018

Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918
section 316

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and Others

R v Cheng FAN 2 June 2022 Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 –
Breach of section 329
AEC Statement: Sentencing of Mr Cheng Fan
2022 Federal Election – Failure to Vote As at 08 February 2024 Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918  - section 245 (15) 225 electors convicted and fined
Updated: 8 February 2024