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Election Finance Law: Public Funding, Donations and Expenditure

Election Finance Law: Public Funding, Donations and Expenditure

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 15/2001 by Rachel Callinan

This paper examines three areas of election finance law. First, the public funding of election campaigns. Second, the obligation on political parties, candidates and others to disclose the source of donations and third, the regulation of election expenditure: expenditure limits and disclosure of expenditure. The eight Australian jurisdictions represent the diversity in approach to election finance taken by Australian Governments. It ranges from virtual deregulation in SA and the NT to comprehensive schemes in several jurisdictions including the Commonwealth and NSW. A comparative table of Australian jurisdictions is contained in Appendix 1.

Part 1. Election finance law: public funding, donations and expenditure
In Part One, an overview of the three aspects of election finance is undertaken. A review of some of the current issues and reform proposals in each area is also included.

Part 2. New South Wales funding and disclosure scheme
In this Part, NSW election finance law is examined in detail: the public funding scheme (2.2), and the disclosure scheme that includes disclosure of both donations (2.3) and election expenditure (2.4). The Part commences with an examination of the development of the NSW funding and disclosure scheme (2.1).

Part 3. Federal funding and disclosure scheme
In Part Three, Federal election finance law is examined in similar detail to the NSW law. The public funding scheme (3.1), and the disclosure scheme that incorporates disclosure of donations (3.2) election expenditure (3.3) are examined, as well as the requirement for political parties and associated entities to file annual returns (3.4).

Part 4. Other Australian Jurisdictions
In Part Four, an overview of election finance law in the remaining Australian jurisdictions is undertaken. The schemes in Queensland (4.1) and the ACT (4.6) closely mirror the Federal scheme, incorporating public funding and disclosure of donations and expenditure. Western Australian (4.5) election finance law includes disclosure of donations and election expenditure. In Tasmania (4.3) and Victoria (4.4) only election expenditure is regulated. In SA (4.2) and the NT (4.7) the election finance issues examined in this paper are unregulated, although the South Australian Parliament is currently considering the introduction of a disclosure scheme.

Part 5. Overseas Comparisons
Election finance law in three countries is examined by way of comparison in Part 5. Those countries are New Zealand (5.1), the United Kingdom (5.2), and the United States of America (5.3). While some of the aspects of election finance law are similar to schemes found in Australia, there are also many differences.

The concluding remarks note the diversity in election finance law in Australia and overseas. Also noted is the constant need for reform of disclosure legislation to keep pace with the discovery and abuse of loopholes.