Parliamentary Joint Committee Inquires into New Election Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill

Friday 15 December 2017 @ 9.00 a.m. | Legal Research

Minister for Finance the Hon Mathias Cormann introduced the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017 (Cth) into the Senate, on December 7 in the final sitting week of Commonwealth Parliament.  The Bill is currently the subject of an inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, who are scheduled to report back about the Bill by 2 March 2018.  The Bill aims to improve the consistency of regulation applying to the financing of electoral campaigns and to restrict the funding of election campaigns by foreign money.

Introducing the Bill into Parliament, Senator Cormann said:

“I am pleased today to present this bill, that will significantly reform the electoral funding and disclosure regime in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. Reform is necessary to support the integrity of Australia's electoral system, and Australia's sovereignty, by ensuring that only those with a meaningful connection to Australia are able to influence Australian politics and elections through political donations. It will also ensure that the Commonwealth's electoral funding and disclosure regime keeps pace with international and domestic developments and provides transparency for Australian voters.”

The Bill follows a number of reviews conducted by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters into the conduct of the 2016 Federal Election.  In particular, the Bill implements a number of recommendations from the Second interim report on the inquiry into the conduct of the 2016 federal election: Foreign Donations.  See TimeBase’s earlier article for more information on these reports.

The Bill

As outlined in the Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum, the Bill:

“a) establishes public registers for key non-party political actors;

b) enhances the current financial disclosure scheme in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Electoral Act) by requiring non-financial particulars, such as senior staff and discretionary government benefits, to be reported;

c) prohibits donations from foreign governments and state-owned enterprises being used to finance public debate;

d) requires wholly political actors to verify that donations over $250 come from:

i. an organisation incorporated in Australia, or with its head office or principal place of activity in Australia; or

ii. an Australian citizen or Commonwealth elector;

e) prohibits other regulated political actors from using donations from foreign sources to fund reportable political expenditure;

f) limits public election funding to demonstrated electoral spending;

g) modernises the enforcement and compliance regime for political finance regulation; and

h) enables the Electoral Commissioner to prescribe certain matters by legislative instrument.”

The Government estimates that the measures in the Bill will cost approximately $70 million to implement going forward.

The Inquiry

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has announced that the Minister for Finance has referred the Bill for inquiry and report by Friday 2 March 2018.  In a media release, Committee Chair Senate Linda Reynolds said:

“Australia already has rules in place to ensure political parties disclose where they receive donations from, but the political landscape has changed since the last major amendments to the Electoral Act in 1984…

There are now a number of political actors that do not qualify as a political party and are therefore not covered under the existing legislation.

We must ensure the legislation stays up to date with these changes.”

Public submissions to the inquiry close on Thursday 25 January 2018, and the Committee is currently planning to hold public hearings in early February 2018.

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Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017 (Cth) - available on TimeBase's LawOne service

Media Release: New inquiry on Electoral Amendment Bill (Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, Parliament of Australia,13 December 2017)

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