The Hon Ben Morton MP
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Minister for the Public Service
Special Minister of State
Date: Thursday, 2 December 2021
Activists seeking to influence election outcomes will no longer be able to shroud their electoral expenditure in secrecy, and will face tough rules that ban foreign donations from influencing Australian elections.
The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Political Campaigners) Bill 2021 passed the Parliament today. It will provide the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) the legislative tools they need to require further disclosure and transparency from entities seeking to influence elections.
For too long independents and political activist groups have been able to hide dark money without being held to the same standard as political parties. The Morrison Government refuses to stand for it.
Activist groups have been funnelling money into campaigns to influence elections. It is time the Australian people finally know what they’ve been up to.
Entities will now be required to register with the AEC as ‘significant third parties’ if they spend:
- Over $250,000 in electoral expenditure in a financial year,
- Over $14,500 in electoral expenditure in a financial year, where that expenditure is more than a third of that entity’s revenue, or
- Operate for the dominant purpose of fundraising over $14,500, with the intention of the funds being spent to incur electoral expenditure, or donating the raised funds to another person or entity so they can incur electoral expenditure.
In recent years, new entities have been established with the sole or dominant purpose of acting as political fundraising vehicles. Many of these funding vehicles hide in the dark – they were established with the explicit goal of avoiding electoral funding disclosure.
Organisations like Climate 200 Pty Ltd, which are structured as a fundraising operation, could previously avoid disclosure of the same standard as political parties – not anymore. They will now have to open their books, just like other significant political participants.These new laws will shine a light on these groups that had been hiding in the dark.
Organised groups of independents and their support organisations, such as the ‘Voices of’ groups must meet an appropriate level of transparency. Entities established to fundraise or incur electoral expenditure will be required to register as a significant third party. Entities established for the electoral benefit of a declared candidate will now also meet the criteria to be registered as an associated entity, which brings the same transparency obligations as a significant third party.
This isn’t about stopping charities from being able to advocate. This is about transparency for all organisations trying to influence votes in an election.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a political party, a political fundraising vehicle, or an organisation that seeks to influence voters. If you’re set up to fundraise or incur expenditure in relation to an election, you need to be transparent, and you shouldn’t accept foreign money to influence voters.
Organisations who are taking money from foreign donors to try and influence our elections don’t have Australia’s interests at heart. Before the Bill passed, organisations like the Bob Brown Foundation which declared $375,750 in electoral expenditure (FY2018-19), didn’t even have to check if a $10,000 political donation was from a foreign source. Donors could funnel money to the Foundation, who could then turn around and use that money to influence voters in favour of the Greens.
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) admitted to the AEC they spent $472,121 trying to directly influence the way people vote at the last election. And that’s just the funding we know about. The ACF did not disclose the identity of a single one of their $11,723,772 (FY2018-19) in donations.
The Greens voted against these transparency amendment with Senator Larissa Waters accusing the Government of wanting to “scare off the competition.” The truth is if the Greens have nothing to hide, why did they vote against it?
Organisations like the ACF will now be required to register with the AEC to register as significant third parties within 90 days of meeting the criteria, as will any ‘Voices of’ groups that meet any electoral expenditure or fundraising criteria.
If an entity is required to register as a significant third parties or an associated entity, they will not be able to spend, or fundraise any funds for the purpose of incurring electoral expenditure until they register. Once registered, they will be required to provide a return for the previous financial year within 30 days, opening their books transparently, just like a political party does. This ensures that the source of funds raised for influencing voters at the next election is transparent in line with existing thresholds.
If they don’t comply, they will be subject to significant financial penalties.
If political parties can disclose to these standards, so should other significant political actors – it’s as simple as that.
The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Annual Disclosure Equality) Bill 2021 also passed in Parliament today. It tightens the loopholes that allow candidates, particularly independents, to avoid electoral donation disclosure, and ensures all parliamentarians, submit annual returns when they receive electoral donations personally.
The Government’s reforms also ensure consistent application of the foreign donations framework to all Members and Senators. This means Parliamentarians, particularly independents, will be subject to the same foreign donations regime as when they are candidates for election – the same as political parties.
These reforms strengthen the integrity of Australia’s electoral system.
The Government thanks the Australian Labor Party for their support for the passage of these important reforms.