The financial disclosure scheme established under Part XX of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Act) was introduced to inform the public about the financial dealings of parties, candidates and others involved in the electoral process.
It requires candidates and Senate groups, registered political parties and their associated entities, and donors and third parties to lodge disclosure returns with the Australian Electoral Commission (the AEC).
There are two cycles of returns: annual returns and election returns.
Annual returns (covering each financial year) are required to be lodged by:
Election returns are required to be lodged by:
The following sections provide an overview of who must complete these returns. More detailed information regarding the specific requirements of each return can be found by downloading the relevant handbook for each form.
Political parties registered with the AEC and their State or Territory branches are required to lodge an annual Political Party Disclosure Return by 20 October each year.
For the purposes of disclosure, organised State or Territory branches of registered political parties are treated as being separate to the registered party and must complete their own annual return form.
A number of State and Territory jurisdictions have their own disclosure schemes. These are separate to the federal disclosure scheme administered by the AEC.
An associated entity is defined as an entity:
Examples of associated entities include '500 clubs', 'think tanks', registered clubs, service companies, trade unions and corporate party members.
Associated entities are required to lodge an annual Associated Entity Disclosure Return by 20 October each year.
Third parties are people or organisations (other than registered political parties, candidates and Federal government agencies) who incur political expenditure as defined in the Act.
Political expenditure is expenditure incurred by a person or organisation, or with their authority, on:
Other expenditure (for example, on administration or travel) is not political expenditure for reporting purposes.
Where political expenditure reaches the disclosure threshold, third parties are required to lodge an annual Third Party Return of Political Expenditure by 17 November each year.
Political donors are people or organisations (other than registered political parties, associated entities and candidates) who make donations to political parties.
Subject to the disclosure threshold, donors must lodge an annual Donor to Political Party Return 17 November each year.
After each Federal election (including by-elections), candidates, unendorsed Senate groups and Senate groups endorsed by more than one registered political party must lodge disclosure returns with the AEC.
People or organisations making donations to candidates or to a member of a Senate group in excess of the disclosure threshold must also lodge a return.
The following paragraphs may assist in deciding whether certain transactions are to be included in an annual return or an election return.
Where a donation has been made to a political party, this transaction is to be disclosed in an annual return by both the political party and the donor. This applies regardless of whether the donation was made in relation to an election.
The following situations illustrate where donations are considered to have been made to a political party (and therefore disclosed in an annual return):
In contrast, transactions are included in election returns where the donations are directly received by a candidate (i.e. in a "private capacity") and are not "passed on" to a registered political party, campaign committee or used to incur expenditure with the authority of a party. These transactions are not required to be disclosed by the political party.