‘Real time’ donation disclosure and spending limits in Labor electoral reforms

Political donations would need to be disclosed in “real time” during elections under reform legislation that also would restrict spending on individual seat campaigns to an amount that will be less than $1 million per candidate.

The package, which Special Minister of State Don Farrell aims to introduce in the next parliamentary sitting fortnight beginning August 12, also includes a truth-in-advertising provision, and is expected to boost public funding for elections. Total election funding paid by the Australian Electoral Commission for the 2022 election was nearly $76 million.

All donations of $1000 and above would have to be disclosed, under the proposed measures. At present the disclosure threshold is more than $16,900. There would also be caps on donations.

Under the real-time disclosure provision, donations outside election periods would have to be made public within weeks. During an election campaign, they would need to be disclosed weekly, then daily as polling day approached.

Some details of the package are still being finalised. One major issue is the need to minimise the risk of a successful High Court challenge on the grounds of limiting the implied freedom of political communication.

The plan includes caps on parties’ campaign spending at a national and a state level (the latter covers campaigns for the Senate) as well as on spending at the seat level.

Parties, candidates and others involved in elections would be required to have dedicated Commonwealth campaign accounts for all donations and spending, which would be subject to audit by the Australian Electoral Commission.

Parties would receive some funding for their administration.

Farrell says his package will “address the growing threat of big money in politics”.

During Farrell’s extensive negotiations there has been blowback from some crossbenchers. Some “teal” MPs ran highly expensive campaigns which saw them elected in 2022.

Independent member for the Victorian seat of Goldstein, Zoe Daniel, one of the teals, said she supported a lower disclosure threshold for donations and real-time disclosure. “Above everything else, the priorities are transparency and accountability,” she said.

But she warned, “I remain suspicious that the major parties will dress up their proposals as electoral reform when their real goal is self interest. We must make sure they don’t collude to lock out newcomers and tilt the playing field in their own favour, in contrast to the demonstrated wishes of voters at large.”

The Coalition parties have been in negotiation with Farrell over the measures, but where they will land is unknown.

The package will have provisions covering “associated entities”, which are funding-raising arms for parties, and “significant third parties”, which spend on and raise money for elections. They include unions, advocacy groups such as Advance and organisations such as Climate 200. Details of the provisions covering them are not known.

Earlier consideration of increasing the number of senators from the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory (at present two each) has been abandoned.

This article is republished from The Conversation. It was written by: Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.