If you are active in campaigning or making donations for the 2023 referendum from 11 March to 14 October 2023, you may have an obligation to disclose that information.
The purpose of the referendum disclosure scheme under Part VIIIA of the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 (Referendum Act) is to promote accountability and transparency and inform the public about the financial dealings of entities and donors involved in the referendum process.
Following a referendum, referendum entities must lodge returns that provide details of donations received and expenditure incurred during the referendum expenditure period. Referendum donors must lodge returns for donations made.
What is referendum matter and referendum expenditure?
- Referendum matter is matter communicated or intended to be communicated for the dominant purpose of influencing the way people vote in a referendum.
- Referendum expenditure is expenditure incurred for the dominant purpose of creating or communicating referendum matter.
Where expenditure is incurred to create or communicate referendum matter, in addition to other reasons, the dominant purpose of the expenditure must be considered.
What is a referendum entity?
A referendum entity is a person or organisation that incurs referendum expenditure over the referendum disclosure threshold during the referendum expenditure period.
What is the referendum expenditure period?
The referendum expenditure period:
- starts on the day that is six months before the writ for a referendum is issued; and
- ends on the voting day for the referendum.
The referendum expenditure period relating to the 2023 referendum:
- starts on 11 March 2023, and
- ends on 14 October 2023.
What is the referendum disclosure threshold?
Disclosure of certain information (e.g. expenditure, details of donations) by referendum entities and donors is required if it is above the disclosure threshold.
The threshold applies to the referendum expenditure period.
The disclosure threshold for the 2023 referendum:
What is a referendum donor?
A referendum donor is a person or entity that makes one or more donations totalling more than the disclosure threshold to a referendum entity during the referendum expenditure period and the donor intends the gift or gifts to be used for the dominant purpose of incurring referendum expenditure or creating or communicating referendum matter.
Lodging a referendum return
Referendum entities and donors will lodge returns after voting day through the eReturns portal. Further guidance and a link to the eReturns portal will be available for referendum entities and donors after voting day for the referendum.
Referendum returns are due by 29 January 2024.
Other key topics
Referendum entities are prohibited from receiving foreign donations of at least $100 during a referendum expenditure period, if:
- the referendum entity knows the donor is a foreign donor; and
- the referendum entity knows that the foreign donor intends the gift to be used to incur referendum expenditure, or for the dominant purpose of creating or communicating referendum matter; or
- the gift is accepted with the intent of using it to incur referendum expenditure, or for the dominant purpose of creating or communicating referendum matter; and
- acceptable action is not taken in relation to the gift within the specified timeframe.
Find out more about the definition of a foreign donor and restrictions on foreign donations:
Restrictions apply to foreign campaigners that incur referendum expenditure or conduct fundraising for referendum expenditure.
A foreign campaigner means a person or entity that is:
- 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.
A foreign campaigner is limited from directly incurring referendum expenditure or fundraising for the purpose of incurring referendum expenditure of $1,000 or more in a financial year.
The Referendum Act imposes civil penalties, and in some cases criminal penalties, if a referendum entity or donor contravenes the requirements of the Referendum Act.
Referendum returns are published on the Transparency Register 24 weeks after voting day for the referendum.
Publication date for the 2023 referendum: 1 April 2024
Part VIIIA of the Referendum Act deals with the referendum disclosure scheme requirements for referendum entities and donors.
Australian Electoral Commission
Ph: 02 6271 4552
10 Mort Street
Canberra ACT 2601
Locked Bag 4007
Canberra ACT 2601