QLD Legislative Assembly Considers Bill to Improve Electoral Accountability and Integrity Measures

Tuesday 18 February 2020 @ 11.41 a.m. | Legal Research

On 28 November 2019, the Electoral and Other Legislation (Accountability, Integrity and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2019 (Qld) (‘the Bill’) was introduced to the Queensland Legislative Assembly by Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Hon Yvette D'Ath (‘the Attorney-General’) . The Bill was subsequently referred to the Economics and Governance Committee ('the Committee') and on 7 February 2020, the Committee published their Report and recommendations concerning the Bill. The Bill is part of the Queensland government’s rolling reform agenda to improve accountability and integrity measures.

Purpose of the Bill

In the first reading of the Bill, the Attorney-General stated that the Bill “contains fundamental reforms to the financing of electoral campaigning” in order to “enhance the actual and perceived integrity and public accountability for state elections and support public confidence in state electoral processes and public institutions”. Among the wide range of reforms for electoral matters and ministerial responsibility proposed by the Bill, some of the most significant reforms include:

  1. Registered political parties, associated entities, candidates and third parties will be subject to monetary caps on political donations and electoral expenditure.
  2.  In order to reduce reliance on private donations for funding, the dollar amount of public election funding per first preference vote will be increased and the threshold for entitlement will be decreased.
  3. Overall, the policy development funding pool will double to total $6 million per annum and will accessible to elected Independent members for more equitable funding.
  4. Amendments to the use of signage at State elections are intended to promote a more neutral environment.
  5. New criminal offences for dishonest conduct of ministers and councillors are intended to ensure public confidence in government and generally promote “transparency, integrity and consistency”.

Amendments Relating to Funding and Expenditure for State Elections

The Bill proposes to cap the maximum monetary value of a political donation a registered political party can receive over one parliamentary term from a single donor to $4000. A candidate on the other hand, may receive $6000 per parliamentary term. The Bill proposes that donations to candidates from the same party are subject to aggregation such that the donation sum made by a single entity or person to several candidates from the same party cannot exceed the $6000 limit. The Bill states that a donor can only make donations to a maximum of 6 third party campaigners and each donation cannot exceed the sum of $4000. A contravention of the donation caps will incur a penalty of 200 penalty units.

Secondly, the Bill proposes to implement electoral expenditure caps for state elections to “level the playing field for electoral campaigning so that alternative voices are not drowned out”. Electoral expenditure covers all expenditure for the purpose of influencing voting at an election including creation, production and distribution of advertising and electoral material, costs of opinion polls, research and third party expenditure where the dominant purpose is to influence voting. The proposed cap varies depending on the type of election (general or by-election and whether it is for an electoral district) and the status of the election participant (registered party, candidate or third party). For example, the proposed cap for a registered political party for a general election is $92,000 multiplied by the number of electoral districts for which the party has endorsed a candidate in the election.

Amendments Relating to Signage for State Elections

In the introduction of the Bill, the Attorney-General referred to the signage “arms race” of election day and the need for a “more neutral environment” akin to the signage laws in Victoria. The Bill proposes a range of restrictions including:

  1. A restricted signage area which comprises the entire are where voting compartments or polling booths are located and all areas within 100 metres of any designated entrance to the building or grounds where voting occurs.
  2. In a restricted signage area, for any candidate or party, there can be a maximum of 2 signs. A sign may simultaneously endorse a candidate and a party which will contribute to the signage count of both the candidate and the party. The signs are subject to size restrictions, must not be fixtures and must be accompanied by a responsible person.
  3. A person cannot display an election sign or set up any furniture or structure to be used for election purposes before 6am on the polling day.

Under the provisions of the Bill, the contravention of signage restrictions within a restricted area or timing restrictions for the display of election material will be criminal offences with a maximum penalty of 10 penalty units.

Dishonest Conduct

The Bill also intends to give effect of two of the recommendations outlined by the Crime and Corruption Commission by proposing two new criminal offences to the Integrity Act 2009 and the Parliament of Queensland Act 2001 respectively:

  1. A Minister who knowingly fails to disclose a conflict of interest with the intent to dishonestly gain a benefit for themselves or another person or to cause detriment to another person commits an offence.
  2. Where a Minister fails to comply with the obligations of Members of Parliament to register their interests with the Registrar (the Clerk of Parliament), with a dishonest intent to obtain a benefit for themselves or another person, or cause detriment to another person, the Minister commits an offence.

The proposed penalty is a maximum of 200 penalty units ($26,690) or two years imprisonment with the possible added consequence of a Member of Parliament losing their seat if their sentence for either one of the offences exceeds 1 year. The stakeholder analysis provided by the Committee’s Report referred to a mixed response to the proposed offences with a focus on the “merits of incorporating an intent element”. Notably, the Bill adheres to the Crime and Corruption Commission’s recommendation for a strict liability scheme.

The Bill proposes that similar offences are introduced for councillors in the Local Government Act 2009 and the City of Brisbane Act 2010 that will make the failure to comply with conflict of interest and register of interest requirements or, the provision of false or misleading information when submitting those requirements a criminal offence. The proposed penalty is identical to the offence for ministerial dishonest conduct except the additional consequence will be immediate suspension from office if charged and disqualification from holding office again for 7 years if convicted.

Committee Report

The Committee referred to matters requiring “urgent and careful consideration” and in particular, suggested increasing the threshold for third party registration to address concerns of small, not-for-profit third party organisations regarding the regulatory burden of the political donation and electoral expenditure cap schemes. However, the official recommendation of the Committee is that the Bill should be passed.

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Electoral and Other Legislation (Accountability, Integrity and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2019 (Qld) and supporting information available from TimeBase's LawOne Service

EGC Report No. 37 56th Parliament - Electoral and Other Legislation (Accountability, Integrity and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2019 (Economics and Governance Committee, 07/02/2020)

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