The Hon Ben Morton MP
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Minister for the Public Service
Special Minister of State
Date: Wednesday, 15 December 2021
Significant reforms to strengthen Australia’s electoral integrity and transparency are now law with the following four Bills receiving Royal Assent this week:
- Electoral Legislation Amendment (Assurance of Senate Counting) Act 2021 (Act No. 135 of 2021),
- Electoral Legislation Amendment (Contingency Measures) Act 2021 (Act No. 136 of 2021),
- Electoral Legislation Amendment (Political Campaigners) Act 2021 (Act No. 137 of 2021), and
- Electoral Legislation Amendment (Annual Disclosure Equality) Act 2021 (Act No. 134 of 2021).
The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Assurance of Senate Counting) Act will provide confidence in the security, accuracy and transparency of the computerised scrutiny of Senate votes by requiring security risk assessments of the computerised systems used for the scrutiny of votes, and independent accuracy assessments of the counting software for future electoral events.
The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Contingency Measures) Act future-proofs the Commonwealth Electoral Act by enabling the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to conduct elections in situations where a Commonwealth emergency declaration is in place, allowing for measured, sensible modifications, such as the flexibility to grant an additional week of pre-poll in an area specifically affected by an emergency, or expand the reasons a voter can apply for a postal vote in that area.
The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Political Campaigners) Act provides the AEC the legislative tools they need to require further disclosure and transparency from entities seeking to influence elections.
Entities and individuals that meet the legislated criteria of a significant third party, or associated entity will be required to register on the AEC’s Transparency Register within 90 days.
The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Annual Disclosure Equality) Act 2021 tightens the loopholes that allowed candidates, particularly independents, to avoid disclosure of donations that fund their election campaigns, and ensures all parliamentarians submit annual returns when they directly receive such donations.
Under these changes, Members of the House of Representatives and Senators who receive donations directly for a ‘federal purpose’ (that is, for the purpose of incurring electoral expenditure or creating/communicating electoral matter), are now required to complete an annual return for donations received during the relevant financial year.
These reforms now ensure independents disclose their donations transparently, and annually in the same way political parties do each and every year, rather than avoid annual disclosure.
Current parliamentarians have until 12 January 2021 to submit annual returns for any donations received directly for a federal purpose in FY2020-21, for publication on the AEC’s Transparency Register by 1 March 2022.
From 1 July 2021, any donors who have made gifts for a federal purpose that total more than the disclosure threshold directly to members of the House of Representatives and Senators will also need to complete an annual return.
The passage of these reforms also reduces potential foreign influence on Australian political actors by restricting the ability of foreign money to finance domestic election campaigns.
The foreign donation ban, that has applied to political parties since 2018, now applies to all parliamentarians for the full duration of their term in office.
The reforms also remove the financial incentive for candidates to delay announcing they’re running for Parliament - in order to avoid the AEC’s disclosure obligations - by expanding the disclosure period to commence six months prior to announcement of candidacy, instead of beginning on the date of announcement.
The foreign donations ban will also apply for this period, and require candidates to divest themselves of any foreign donations received to fund their election in the six months prior to making their candidacy public, within six weeks of their announcement. Such donations must either be returned to the donor, or alternatively transferred to the Commonwealth.
Any currently announced independent or party endorsed candidate who has already received gifts from foreign donors for their election campaign in the six months prior to their announcement of candidacy must also return those donations by 24 January 2022.
Further guidance is available at www.aec.gov.au.