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Thursday, 25 November 2021
Page: -1


Mr TIM WILSON (GoldsteinAssistant Minister to the Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction) (10:29): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Today I introduce the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Annual Disclosure Equality) Bill 2021.

The bill amends the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act) and builds upon the significant reforms to the funding and disclosure regime to improve the consistency of the regulatory treatment of all political actors.

Reform is necessary to support the integrity of Australia's electoral system, by ensuring that Australia's world-class electoral funding and disclosure regime is consistent, and continues to provide transparency for Australian voters.

Annual donation disclosure

This bill will provide consistency in the regulatory treatment for political donations received by parliamentarians. It is important that all parliamentarians, once elected, are subject to the same level of public accountability through disclosure of political donations to ensure ongoing transparency between election cycles.

The bill will require parliamentarians who raise political donations directly to lodge an annual return to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) relating to gifts they received during the financial year. While political parties submit annual returns each and every year, in the absence of such structures elected Independents have no annual disclosure obligations to the AEC at all. This reform removes the double standard currently in place.

The returns will apply to gifts given to members of the House of Representatives and senators for a federal purpose—that is, for the purpose of incurring electoral expenditure, or creating or communicating electoral matter. The bill will not require a parliamentarian to submit an annual return if they have not received such gifts during the relevant financial year, or if a gift has previously been reported in a candidate or Senate group return, or in a registered political party annual return.

Additionally, the disclosure obligations for donors will also be amended to require gifts for a federal purpose to a parliamentarian that are, in total, equal to or above the disclosure threshold, to be reported in the donor's annual return.

Foreign donations

This bill will also ensure the consistent application of the foreign donations framework to members of the House of Representatives and senators.

Under the measures in this bill, parliamentarians will be prohibited from receiving a gift for an amount equal to or greater than $1,000 from a foreign donor, or receiving a gift of more than $100 from a foreign donor for the purposes of electoral expenditure or creating or communicating electoral matter.

This means that parliamentarians will be subject to the same foreign donations regime as when they are candidates for election, which is the same as other political actors such as political parties, Senate groups and political campaigners.

This amendment is necessary to support the integrity of Australia's electoral system by ensuring that foreign money is kept out of Australian elections.

Extending the disclosure period for candidate and Senate group election returns

The Electoral Act has long recognised that a range of political actors participate in Australian elections. This bill makes several changes to the regulation of political actors, which are necessary to keep pace with modern campaigning practices and to ensure foreign donations are appropriately restricted.

The relevant disclosure obligations applicable to candidates and members of Senate groups will be extended to the period which is six months prior to the person or group announcing their candidacy or nomination in an election. This amendment increases transparency of the funding of election campaigns, removing the incentive for candidates to deliberately delay their announcement of candidacy in order to avoid financial disclosure obligations.

The extension of the disclosure period for candidates and Senate groups will also apply to the foreign donations framework. Under these provisions, a candidate or member of a Senate group must take 'acceptable action' in relation to foreign donations within six weeks of the date of the gift, or the announcement of candidacy or nomination.

'Acceptable action' is a defined term under the Electoral Act and means that the candidate or Senate group that has received a gift from a foreign donor must return, repay or divest themselves of the value of that gift.

Conclusion

This bill demonstrates the government's commitment to improving the transparency and accountability of those involved in political finance and election campaigns.

These amendments strengthen the safeguards against foreign influence in the Australian political system and help to ensure that political campaigning that targets Australians cannot be paid for by foreign donors.

Debate adjourned.