Candidates Handbook: About this handbook

Updated: 30 May 2018

Are you thinking of standing or assisting someone to stand for election to the Commonwealth Parliament in either a federal election or a by-election? If so, you will need a clear understanding of the legislative requirements you must meet, and of your role and responsibilities under the law.

Remember, you and your supporters can play a significant role in helping to ensure, as far as possible, that every vote cast in an election counts.

The Candidates Handbook

This handbook is published by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), the Commonwealth agency which maintains the electoral roll and conducts federal elections, by-elections and referendums. The handbook covers the stages for the electoral process relevant to candidates.

Each chapter in the handbook lists the relevant parts of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Act), detailing how the electoral law applies to candidates and those assisting them.

The AEC suggests that you consult the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act (the Constitution), the Act and other legislation, including the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 referred to for the exact provisions.

Candidates must satisfy themselves about their own legal position and, if necessary, refer to the exact provisions of the Constitution and the Act, and consult their own lawyers.

You can access this handbook, the Constitution and the Act via the AEC website.

Offences relating to the election, whether they occur before or during the election, are listed in Appendix 1. Some electoral offences apply at all times, while others apply to specific periods.

The AEC can assist you by providing information of a general nature about the nomination process and campaign activity. However, we cannot provide you with formal or informal legal advice.

Abbreviations and acronyms have been kept to a minimum. However, seven are used throughout this handbook:

  • AEC – Australian Electoral Commission
  • AEO – Australian Electoral Officer
  • ARO – Assistant Returning Officer
  • DRO – Divisional Returning Officer
  • the Act – Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918
  • HoR – House of Representatives
  • CSS – the Central Senate Scrutiny

The words 'voter' and 'elector' are used interchangeably.

At the end of this handbook you will find a glossary which explains terms that may be unfamiliar to you.

How this handbook can help you

The handbook explains the steps you will need to take to qualify as a candidate and to comply with the law before, during and after an election.

At the end of this introductory section you will find a checklist that takes you through important details you will need to know and the activities you will need to undertake as a candidate, and indicates where in the handbook you can find more information.

Again, the handbook is intended to assist candidates standing for election by explaining relevant processes and procedures. It is not, however, a substitute for the law.

Public inspection

You need to be aware that many of the documents you submit in relation to your candidacy will be made available for public inspection. These include your nomination form and your financial disclosure return. Exceptions may apply in certain circumstances.

AEC website

Because information can change during the life of a publication, the AEC website is the best source of up-to-date information.

All forms and publications referred to in this handbook are available from the website or by contacting the AEC on 13 23 26.

AEC National, State, Territory and Division Office contact details

You will find office contact details on the AEC website.

What's new at this election?

Longstanding authorisation requirements for federal electoral advertising changed on 15 March 2018.

New rules now apply when providing authorisations in federal electoral advertisements and other communication defined under legislation, including broadcasting of political matter.

The Electoral and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2017 (the EOLA Act) commenced on 15 March 2018, extending the application of previous authorisation requirements to modern communication channels and methods, including online platforms, bulk text messages and robo-calls.

Descriptions of specific communication channels and the corresponding authorisation requirements are contained in the EOLA Act and in the Commonwealth Electoral (Authorisation of Voter Communication) Determination 2018.

A consolidated summary of the requirements is available in the Electoral Backgrounder: Electoral communications and authorisation requirements, which is available on the AEC website or from AEC national and state offices.

On 30 May 2018, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Eligibility) Regulations 2018 (the regulations) came into operation. The regulations were designed to improve the existing candidate nominations process for elections.

The regulations amend the candidate nomination form by adding a qualification checklist to the nomination form. If you are seeking to nominate as a candidate, you may voluntarily complete the qualification checklist to demonstrate your eligibility to be elected to Parliament under section 44 of the Constitution.

The candidate nomination form is made public at the declaration of nominations. Subject to your consent, the qualification checklist will be published on the AEC website as soon as practicable after the declaration of nominations until the expiration of the 40-day period for filing a petition disputing the election. Any additional information provided will be published during this period.

Increasing transparency of information relevant to the status of candidates for election under section 44 of the Constitution is important for maintaining public confidence in Commonwealth democratic processes, as well as reassuring voters that their elected representatives are qualified to sit in Parliament.

Feedback welcome

The AEC welcomes your views on the usefulness of the Candidates Handbook and any specific information provided in these pages. We invite you to send your feedback via the AEC website.

The AEC also publishes Electoral Backgrounders on specific aspects of electoral law. Copies of these AEC publications can be accessed by visiting the AEC website or by phoning 13 23 26.

Timing of the election

Federal elections

The constitutional and legislative frameworks that govern Australian federal elections determine both the election timetable and electoral processes.

Both Houses of Parliament have separate provisions reflecting their different constitutional roles. A House of Representatives term expires three years from its first official meeting, but can be dissolved earlier. Once the term expires or is dissolved, the Governor-General will issue the writs for an election.

The Senate is a continuing body with senators for each state elected for a six-year term. A rotation system ensures that half the Senate is retired or up for election every three years. Two senators represent the Australian Capital Territory and two senators represent the Northern Territory. These senators are elected concurrently with the members of the House of Representatives. The duration of their term of office also coincides with the members of the House of Representatives.

Usually the House of Representatives and the half Senate elections are held at the same time. However, the Governor-General may dissolve both Houses simultaneously upon certain conditions having been met under section 57 of the Constitution, resulting in a general election for the House of Representatives and all of the Senate. This is known as a double dissolution.

The key dates in the election timetable are available on the AEC website.

By-elections

Whenever a vacancy occurs in the House of Representatives because of the death, resignation, absence without leave, expulsion, disqualification or ineligibility of a member, a writ may be issued for the election of a new member. A writ may also be issued when the Court of Disputed Returns declares an election void.

The guiding principle in fixing the date of a by-election has always been to hold the election as early as possible so that the electors are not left without representation any longer than is necessary.

Checklist

  Section
  I am aware of key dates in the election period following the issue of the writs The writ
  I have familiarised myself with the law relating to electoral offences Appendix 1
  I have confirmed that I am qualified to nominate Nominations
  I have obtained the endorsement of a registered political party; or I have obtained the signatures of eligible electors (for candidates who are not endorsed by a registered political party only); or I am an incumbent independent and have obtained the signature of an eligible elector Nominations
  I have appointed an agent (optional) Nominations
  I have made a request to be included in a group on the Senate ballot papers (optional) Nominations
  I have provided all my personal information required on the nomination form Nominations
  I have requested on the nomination form that the word 'Independent' be printed on the ballot paper next to my name (this is optional for ungrouped Senate candidates who are not endorsed by a registered political party) Nominations
  I have lodged my nomination form by the required deadline Nominations
  I have completed the checklist at the end of the nomination form and provided additional documentation to demonstrate my eligibilty to be elected under s.44 of the Constitution (optional) Nominations
  I have lodged my nomination deposit by the required deadline Nominations
  I am aware of my responsibilities with regard to electoral communications and authorisations, particularly in relation to How to Vote Cards Voting
  I have nominated a Candidate Agent or assume this responsibility myself Election funding & financial disclosure
  I have, or my agent has, lodged my financial disclosure return by the due date (within 15 weeks after election day) Election funding & financial disclosure
  I have appointed scrutineers (optional) by completing and signing the form Scrutineers
  I am aware of the circumstances and procedures that may lead to a recount of votes in an election Recounts & disputed returns