Exclusive Brethren, sources of campaign funds

Updated: 23 December 2010

This advice sets out the Australian Electoral Commission's (AEC's) conclusions in relation to the matter described below.

The Matter:

Whether Willmac Enterprises Pty Ltd, members of the Exclusive Brethren or other persons, had an obligation under the political disclosure provisions in Part XX of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Electoral Act), to disclose the sources of the funds used to place 2004 election campaign advertisements authorised by members of the Exclusive Brethren. For details of the advertisements, see the AEC advice headed "Exclusive Brethren".

When Matter Raised:

Senator Bob Brown first raised this matter in the Senate during Question Time on 12 September 2005 asking whether the expenditure on election campaign advertisements by the Exclusive Brethren had been disclosed. On 22 December 2006, the AEC wrote to Senator Brown advising that the expenditure had been disclosed in a Third Party Return of Electoral Expenditure lodged by Willmac Enterprises Pty Ltd in January 2005. The details of this enquiry are included in the AEC advice headed "Exclusive Brethren".

The AEC was concerned by the possibility that further disclosure of the sources of the funds used by Willmac might have been required under the Electoral Act and, on 22 May 2007, referred that question to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for skilled investigation.

Legislation:

There were two sections of the Electoral Act relevant to this investigation as a whole.

Subsection 309(4) of the Electoral Act at that time required a person to lodge a return with the AEC for public inspection if they incurred electoral expenditure above the threshold without the authority of a registered political party or a candidate in the election. The return was required to disclose certain categories of electoral expenditure, essentially advertising during the campaign.

Section 305 of the Electoral Act at that time required that person to lodge a return with the AEC for public inspection if they used gifts received to incur the expenditure reported under subsection 309(4). The return was required to disclose the amount of the gift, the date on which it was made and the name and address of the person who made the gift.

The AEC combined both returns into the one form headed Third Party Return.

AEC Process:

The AEC's original enquiry revealed no reason why sources of the funds used by Willmac needed to be disclosed, but the AEC did not have sufficient information on those sources to confirm that no disclosure was required. For this reason and given considerable media speculation that Willmac had no operating funds of its own, the AEC continued its enquiry into the sources of the funds. The AEC used its investigative powers under section 316 of the Electoral Act but was still unsure it had identified the original sources of the funds used. On 22 May 2007, the AEC asked the AFP to conduct a more skilled investigation.

On 3 January 2008, the AFP replied that its investigation had identified the sources of the funds received by Willmac as being from legitimate business transactions and that no disclosure of those sources was required under the Electoral Act.

AEC Conclusion:

The AEC has now concluded that the Third Party Return of Electoral Expenditure lodged by Willmac Enterprises Pty Ltd in January 2005 is the only political disclosure required under the Electoral Act in regard to the advertisements authorised by members of the Exclusive Brethren during the 2004 election campaign.

15 October 2008

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