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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 595


Senator BLACK —I direct my question to the Special Minister of State. In view of Press reports of massive financial gifts being given to candidates currently attempting to enter the Commonwealth Parliament, will the Minister give consideration to amending the Electoral Act to make the penalties for non-declaration of gifts proportionate to or equal to the value of the gifts?


Senator TATE —As to the question of penalties under the Electoral Act, I think it would be fair to say that, before I suggest any review of the impact of those penalties on improving the honesty within the electoral process, there should be some collaboration with the Attorney-General to ensure that the penalties would be commensurate with those in other Commonwealth legislation. In answer to a question by Senator Black last week I indicated that it would be useful for those who are considering becoming candidates in an election to the Commonwealth Parliament to be reminded that a candidate, for the purposes of the Electoral Act, is defined in relation to an election as including a person who has announced his intention to be a candidate in that election.

Such a person ought to bear in mind that, under section 304 of the Act, within 15 weeks after the polling day that person is required to submit a return of gifts received during the period that commenced when that person's candidacy got under way, which, as I said, could be the date on which that person indicated an intention to enter the Parliament. Such a person, in putting in a return within 15 weeks after the poll, needs to indicate the nature and value of gifts received during that election campaign, the period that is covered under the Act. Indeed, it is unlawful for a person during that period to receive a gift if it is not known who is making that contribution. In other words, an anonymous gift cannot be received without an offence being created where the gift is of a value of $200 or more. What occurs under the terms of the Act is that, where a candidate receives an anonymous gift of $200 or more, a forfeiture of an equivalent amount is made to the Commonwealth Treasury. That is something that needs to be borne in mind by those who wish to proffer themselves as candidates to the Australian people. Whether the penalties are adequate in that respect is something to which I will give consideration. The penalties in regard to forfeiture I think are quite severe; whether they are sufficiently severe right across the board is something that requires further discussion with the Attorney-General.