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Updated: 23 December 2010

Financial disclosure scheme

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:

  • Political Parties
  • Associated Entities
  • Third Parties incurring political expenditure
  • Donors

Election returns are required to be lodged by:

  • Candidates
  • Senate groups
  • Donors

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.

Annual Returns

Political parties

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.

Associated entities

An associated entity is defined as an entity:

  • that is controlled by one or more registered political parties; or
  • that operates wholly or to a significant extent for the benefit of one or more registered political party; or
  • that is a financial member of a registered political party; or
  • on whose behalf another person is a financial member of a registered political party; or
  • that has voting rights in a registered political party; or
  • on whose behalf another person has voting rights in a registered political party.

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 incurring political expenditure

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:

  • public expression of views on a political party, candidate in an election or member of the Federal Parliament by any means;
  • public expression of views on an issue in an election by any means;
  • printing, production, publication, or distribution of any material that is required by section 328 or 328A of the Act to include a name, address or place of business;
  • broadcast of political matter in relation to which particulars are required to be announced under sub-clause 4(2) of schedule 2 to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992;
  • opinion polling and other research relating to an election or the voting intention of voters.

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.

Donors

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.

Election Returns

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.

Donations – Annual or Election 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):

  • Campaign committees – donations received by the campaign committee of an endorsed candidate or Senate group;
  • Endorsed candidates – donations received by an endorsed candidate that are "passed on" to the political party or used to incur expenditure with the authority of the party;
  • Endorsed Senate groups – donations received by a Senate group whose members are endorsed by a single political party.

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.

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