The AEC receives and processes financial disclosure returns and makes them available for public inspection on its website.
The AEC also conducts compliance reviews of the disclosures made by political parties and associated entities. After each election or by-election, the AEC pays public funding entitlements to candidates and parties as required by the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.
The funding and disclosure provisions of the Electoral Act are intended to make the flow of money in the political process transparent by obliging participants in the process to disclose specified types of financial transactions.
The AEC receives and processes financial disclosure returns and makes them available for public inspection on its website. The AEC also conducts compliance reviews of the disclosures made by political parties and associated entities. After each election or by-election, the AEC pays public funding entitlements to candidates and parties as required by the Electoral Act.
Table 14 summarises the AEC's results against the performance information set out for Output 2.1.3 in the 2008–09 Portfolio Budget Statements.
|Key performance indicators||Targets||Results|
|Election funding calculated and paid in accordance with the legislation||Correct payments are made in a timely manner||A total of $477 000 in election funding was paid, within the statutory timeframes, for the Gippsland, Lyne and Mayo by-elections.|
|Financial disclosures obtained and placed on the public record||Disclosures released in accordance with legislated timeframes||Candidate returns for the Gippsland, Lyne and Mayo by-elections were received on time and made publicly available in accordance with legislated timeframes.
At the time of public disclosure on 2 February 2009, annual returns for the 2007–08 disclosure period had been received from:
During 2008–09, there was a large increase in the number of disclosure returns received by the AEC. Those returns, which were made available for public inspection in February 2009, were for the 2007–08 reporting period, and included activities for the 2007 federal election. The AEC enhanced the disclosure website and provided training on the new facility to media commentators before the February 2009 release of disclosure returns, resulting in fewer inquiries on how to access data from the returns.
The threshold for the 2008–09 disclosure returns was $10 900, an increase compared to $10 500 for the previous year.
The AEC received 785 returns and 89 amendments from political parties, associated entities, donors and third parties who incur political expenditure during the 2007–08 reporting period. The significant increase of 213 returns and 52 amendments from the numbers received the previous year was because the 2008–09 disclosure returns included the 2007 federal election.
Seventy-three political parties lodged returns, and 15 of those parties subsequently lodged one or more amended returns. On 30 June 2007, 35 registered parties were due to lodge returns in 2007–08. On 30 June 2008, 52 registered parties were due to lodge returns in 2008–09. (Each of those parties and its state and territory branches needed to lodge returns). The increase of 17 registrations resulted from:
Associated entities lodged 238 returns in 2008–09, which was a slight increase from the 230 returns lodged in 2007–08.
A total of 399 donors lodged returns in 2008–09, a significant increase from 226 in 2007–08. This increase could be largely attributable to stimulation of donations for the 2007 federal election campaign, reportable in 2008–09.
Third parties (people or organisations other than political parties or candidates) lodged 75 returns in 2008–09 disclosing political expenditure for the 2007–08 financial year, an increase from 65 returns lodged in 2007–08 for the 2006–07 disclosure period. Again, this increase could be largely attributable to activities relating to the 2007 federal election.
Annual returns for 2007–08 were publicly disclosed on the AEC's website on 2 February 2009.
An additional 61 annual disclosure returns and 30 amendments for the 2007–08 reporting period (the 2006–07 financial year) were also received and processed during 2008–09.
Election funding of $178 174 was paid on 21 July 2008 for the Division of Gippsland by-election conducted on 28 June 2008. Payment was calculated at the value of 214.018 cents per first-preference vote, using an indexed sum. Disclosure returns were made publicly available on 15 December 2008.
Election funding of $152 110 for the Division of Lyne and $146 801 for the Division of Mayo for the by-elections conducted on 6 September 2008 was paid on 29 September 2008. Three candidates of the eight who nominated for Lyne and four candidates of the 11 who nominated for Mayo achieved the 4 per cent threshold for election funding, which was paid at the rate of 218.940 cents for each first-preference vote received by those candidates. Disclosure returns were made publicly available on 23 February 2009.
Disclosure returns cover gifts to, and expenditure by, candidates. Five of the eight candidates who nominated for Lyne and seven of the 11 candidates who nominated for Mayo were endorsed by registered political parties. Of these, two candidates for Lyne and three candidates for Mayo lodged 'nil' returns.
The independent candidate elected for Lyne, Mr Robert Oakeshott, reported the highest expenditure for the by-election ($125 367). Most of that expenditure was for broadcasting, publishing and campaign material costs.
The highest amount of expenditure for Mayo was recorded by independent candidate Ms Diane Bell ($25 349). Most of that expenditure was for campaign material costs.
The AEC undertakes a program of reviews of disclosure returns lodged for registered political parties, their state and territory branches and associated entities to assess compliance with the disclosure provisions of the Electoral Act. These reviews involve examining the financial records of political parties and their associated entities.
In 2008–09, the AEC conducted a total of 44 compliance reviews of political parties and associated entities. That figure is not directly comparable to the total quoted in the 2007–08 annual report, as the method of counting reviews was changed for 2008–09. A compliance review of a political party includes reviews of a sample of party units (such as local branches). Previously, a review of a political party that included reviews of a sample of 10 party units would have been counted as 11 compliance reviews; under the new approach, used in this annual report, it is counted as a single review.
The AEC has sought greater efficiencies and effectiveness in compliance reviews by conducting 'desktop' reviews of financial records at its premises in Canberra and by using computerised audit software. The use of audit software has seen the AEC move to requesting financial records in electronic format if political parties and associated entities maintain computerised accounts. There has been a mostly smooth transition to this approach, although the AEC was in discussion with the national bodies of the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal Party of Australia at 30 June 2009 to address their concerns raised over the security of electronic records they will be providing the AEC.
In addition to conducting routine compliance reviews, the AEC responds to instances of possible breaches of disclosure provisions. Allegations of possible breaches may be received directly by the AEC or raised through the media or the parliament. They can also arise out of evidence gathered during compliance reviews. In every case, the AEC conducts a preliminary assessment to determine whether it has sufficient evidence to warrant a formal investigation. Information on the conduct and outcomes of public special investigations is published on the AEC's website.