Financial disclosure overview

Annual disclosure

Annual returns

Registered political parties and their state and territory branches, associated entities, political campaigners, third parties and donors are required to lodge an annual return with the AEC.

Political parties, associated entities and political campaigners

Annual returns for political parties, associated entities and political campaigners must disclose:

  • the total value of receipts;
  • details of amounts received that are more than the disclosure threshold;
  • the total value of payments;
  • the total value of debts as at 30 June;
  • details of debts outstanding as at 30 June that total more than the disclosure threshold; and
  • details of any discretionary benefits received from the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory during the financial year.

The details to be disclosed for amounts received that are more than the disclosure threshold are:

  • full name and address details of the person or organisation from whom the amount was received;
  • the sum of amounts received from that person or organisation; and
  • whether the receipt is a ‘donation’ or ‘other receipt’.

The details of debts outstanding as at 30 June that total more than the disclosure threshold are:

  • full name and address details of the person or organisation that the debt is owed to;
  • the amount that is owed; and
  • whether the debt is to a financial institution or non-financial institution.

In addition to the above, political campaigners must show the total amount of electoral expenditure incurred by, or with the authority of the campaigner.

Third parties

Annual returns for third parties must include:

Electoral matter and electoral expenditure

There are two definitions that are relevant to disclosing electoral expenditure and determining what electoral communications need to be authorised for the purpose of Part XXA of the Electoral Act.

  • Electoral expenditure is expenditure incurred for the dominant purpose of creating or communicating electoral matter.
  • Electoral matter is matter communicated or intended to be communicated for the dominant purpose of influencing the way electors vote in a federal election.

Where expenditure is incurred to create or communicate electoral matter, in addition to other reasons, the dominant purpose of the expenditure must be considered.

In general, any expenditure incurred by a political entity, a member of the House of Representatives or a Senator in relation to a federal election will be electoral expenditure.

Communications that have the dominant purpose of educating their audience, raising awareness of, or encouraging debate on a public policy issue are not considered electoral matter.

The Explanatory Memorandum contains some helpful examples of electoral matter and electoral expenditure.

Donors

Annual returns for organisation and individual donors to political parties and political campaigners must disclose details of:

  • donations, including gifts-in-kind, made to registered political parties or political campaigners totalling more than the disclosure threshold; and
  • donations received of more than the disclosure threshold and used (wholly or partly) to make the donations disclosed in the return.

Foreign donations

From 1 January 2019 the Electoral Act restricts foreign donations. A foreign donor is defined as:

  • a body politic of a foreign country, or part of such a body politic;
  • a body politic of a part of a foreign country, or part of such a body politic;
  • a foreign public enterprise;
  • an entity (whether or not incorporated) that does not meet any of the following conditions:
    • the entity is incorporated in Australia;
    • the entity’s head office is in Australia;
    • the principal place of activity of the entity is, or is in, Australia;
  • an individual who is neither an elector, nor an Australian citizen, nor an Australian resident, nor a New Zealand citizen who holds a Subclass 444 (Special Category) visa.

Political entities and political campaigners are restricted from receiving donations of $1,000 or more without obtaining written affirmation, and if the amount is equal to or above the disclosure threshold, appropriate information to establish that the donor is not a foreign donor.

Political entities, political campaigners and third parties are restricted from receiving foreign donations of $100 or more if the purpose of the gift is to be used for electoral expenditure or for creating or communicating electoral matter.

Third parties must not receive donations from foreign donors equal to or above the disclosure threshold, which are then used for the purposes of incurring electoral expenditure or for the dominant purpose of creating or communicating electoral matter.

Foreign donors are restricted from making gifts to political entities, political campaigners and third parties.

Relationship between federal, state and territory electoral donation and disclosure laws

Section 302CA - Immunities relating to the giving and receipt of gifts

The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Act 2020 (Miscellaneous Measures Act) took effect from 1 December 2020 and makes a number of amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act).

Section 302CA of the Electoral Act has been amended by the Miscellaneous Measures Act to establish immunities from state and territory electoral laws for donors, gift recipients and the agents of gift recipients in relation to the offering, seeking, giving, receipt, retention and use of gifts expressly for federal purposes.

A federal purpose means the purpose of incurring electoral expenditure, or creating or communicating electoral matter.

An expression of purpose could be conveyed by various methods including for example by correspondence, electronic messages, information on a donation form, correspondence or a receipt that confirms the purpose.

Receipt of gifts of money

The effect of the amendment is that with regard to the receipt of gifts of money, despite any state or territory electoral law a regulated entity, or a person on behalf of a regulated entity, may receive a gift of money if:

  1. the money is deposited into a federal account as soon as practicable after the money is received; and
  2. the money is not transferred or withdrawn out of the account except:
    1. to use the money for federal purposes; or
    2. to transfer the money to another federal account.

A regulated entity, in relation to section 302CA of the Electoral Act, is a political entity, political campaigner or third party.

A federal account means an account where:

  1. The only amounts deposited into the account are amounts to be used only for a federal purpose; and
  2. The only amounts withdrawn or transferred from the account are amounts:
    1. withdrawn or transferred for a federal purpose; or
    2. transferred to another federal account.

Gifts from donors which are expressly given for state or territory electoral purposes, or unconditional gifts that the recipient intends to allocate to state or territory electoral purposes, must not be placed into a federal account.

Receipt of non-monetary gifts

The effect of the amendment is that with regard to the receipt of non-monetary gifts, despite any state or territory electoral law, a regulated entity, or a person on behalf of a regulated entity, may use or authorise the use of non-monetary gifts for federal purposes if the gift has been continuously kept for federal purposes since it was received.

Section 314B - Immunities relating to disclosure

Section 314B of the Electoral Act has also been amended by the Miscellaneous Measures Act to establish immunities from state and territory electoral disclosure laws for donors, gift recipients and the agents of gift recipients in relation to the amounts and expenditure.

A regulated entity, in relation to the disclosure of amounts given under section 314B, is a political entity, political campaigner, a third party or an associated entity.

Disclosure of gifts of money

The effect of the amendment is that with regard to receipts of money, despite any state or territory electoral law, a regulated entity is not required to disclose under that law an amount of money, or information relating to amounts of money including gifts or loans, if the amount received by, or for the benefit of, a regulated entity is expressly provided for federal purposes.

Disclosure of non-monetary gifts

The effect of the amendment is that with regard to non-monetary gifts, despite any state or territory electoral law, a regulated entity is not required to disclose under that law the value of a non-monetary benefit, or information relating to a non-monetary benefit, if the benefit received by, or for the benefit of, a regulated entity is expressly provided for federal purposes.

Further detailed explanation can be found in the Revised Explanatory Memorandum.

Election disclosure

Election returns

Candidates, unendorsed Senate groups and Senate groups endorsed by more than one registered political party must lodge election disclosure returns with the AEC.

The returns must show:

  • the total value of donations received;
  • the total number of donors;
  • all individual donations received above the disclosure threshold;
  • the details of donations including:
    • the date on which each donation was received;
    • the amount or value of each donation;
    • the name and address of the donor;
  • the total amount of electoral expenditure incurred by or with the authority of the candidate or Senate group; and
  • details of any discretionary benefits received from the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory during the period of 12 months before polling day.

People or organisations making donations to candidates or Senate groups in excess of the disclosure threshold must also lodge an election donor return.

Penalties

The Electoral Act imposes civil penalties and in some cases criminal penalties if a person or entity contravenes the requirements of the Electoral Act.

Public inspection

  • Annual disclosure returns are made available for public inspection from the first working day in February on the Transparency Register.
  • Election disclosure returns are made available for public inspection 24 weeks after polling day on the Transparency Register.
Updated: 6 May 2021
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