The funding and disclosure provisions of the Electoral Act are intended to improve the integrity of the electoral process. The AEC receives and processes financial disclosure returns and makes these 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.
The AEC produces return forms and guides for political parties, associated entities, donors, third parties that incur electoral expenditure and candidates who contest federal elections and by-elections, to enable them to report relevant financial transactions as required by the Electoral Act. The AEC website provides an analysis tool for the public to access the returns and analyse the information.
The AEC is empowered to ensure that returns lodged by registered political parties, their state and territory branches and associated entities comply with the provisions of the Electoral Act. The AEC does this by reviewing a sample of the returns lodged each year. Where errors or omissions are identified in the course of these compliance reviews, the AEC seeks amendments to correct the public record.
In addition, the AEC has broader powers to investigate possible breaches of the disclosure provisions. The AEC makes preliminary assessments of possible breaches, including allegations made to the AEC or raised in the media or parliament, to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to enable it to use its formal investigative powers. During a preliminary assessment the AEC will also make a judgement as to whether the potential breach may compromise public disclosure to a sufficient degree to justify diverting resources to conduct an investigation.
Based on disclosure returns made by the participating candidates and parties after each election or by-election, the AEC pays public funding entitlements to participants as required by the Electoral Act.
Table 22 summarises the AEC's results against the performance information set out for Program 2.3 in the 2009–10 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 $0.260 million of election funding was paid within the statutory timeframe for the Bradfield and Higgins by-elections.
Financial disclosures obtained and placed on the public record
Disclosures released in accordance with legislated timeframes
Candidate returns were received from all 22 candidates for the Bradfield by-election and from nine of the 10 candidates for the Higgins by-election.
Annual financial disclosure returns for the 2008–09 financial year were received from:
By-election and annual disclosure returns were made publicly available in accordance with the relevant legislated timeframes.
During 2009–10 the AEC received considerably fewer annual disclosure returns than it received during 2008–09. This was expected, because the returns received during 2008–09 were for the 2007–08 disclosure period and included the high number of returns associated with the 2007 federal election.
A decrease in the number of associated entities lodging returns may also be partly explained by a change in the membership structure of the National Party of Australia which meant that individual farming business ceased to be treated as separate associated entities.
Annual returns were made publicly available on the AEC website on 1 February 2010 and election returns were released on 24 May 2010. Any returns or amendments received after the public release date are made available on the website once processing has been completed, usually within 48 hours.
Table 23 summarises the AEC's workload for annual returns in the past three reporting periods.
|For expenditure in the previous financial year|
|No. of returns lodged by:|
|Total returns lodged||564||785||567|
|Total amendments to returns||46||89||32|
|For expenditure in the financial year two years previous|
a The peak in activity associated with the November 2007 federal election is reflected in the results for 2008–09.
b 'Third parties' are people or organisations other than political parties or candidates, who incurred political expenditure.
c Results are not comparable because of legislative changes in 2006.
Compliance review coverage of political parties and associated entities is performed over a three year cycle, roughly matching the electoral cycle. The program of coverage seeks to review at least one disclosure return lodged by each registered political party and each state branch of a political party. When a review is conducted of a political party's disclosure return, the returns of the associated entities linked to that party are normally also reviewed.
In 2009–10, the AEC completed compliance reviews of 47 political parties and associated entities.
On 24 May 2010, the AEC released the disclosure returns for the by-elections held in the federal divisions of Bradfield (New South Wales) and Higgins (Victoria) in December 2009.
In order to qualify for public funding a candidate must obtain 4 percent of the formal first preference vote. In both by-elections, only the candidates standing for the Liberal Party of Australia and the Australian Greens achieved that. The Australian Labor Party did not nominate a candidate to contest either by-election.
The rate of election funding applicable at the by-elections was 224.851 cents per first preference vote received. In Bradfield, the Liberal Party of Australia was paid $89 524.43 and the Australian Greens was paid $40 021.23, for a total of $129 545.66 in election funding. In Higgins, the Liberal Party of Australia was paid $81 895.23 and the Australian Greens was paid $48 630.77, for a total of $130 526.00 in election funding. The total amount of public funding to political parties for the two by-elections was $260 071.66.
In Bradfield, Australian Greens candidate Ms Susie Gemmell reported the highest expenditure, $21 016. The majority of the expenditure was for direct mailing and campaign material costs.
In Higgins, Democratic Labor Party (DLP) of Australia candidate Mr John Mulholland recorded the highest electoral expenditure, $8 054. The majority of the expenditure was for the production of campaign material.