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Australia

Electoral System and Political Parties (AU0011)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Australia National Action Plan 2016-2018

Action Plan Cycle: 2016

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: Department of Finance and Australian Electoral Commission

Support Institution(s): Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and the Parliament of Australia Committee Secretariat contact; The Parliamentary Committee is anticipated to engage with political parties, non-government organisations and the public

Policy Areas

Public Participation, Science & Technology

IRM Review

IRM Report: Australia Mid-Term Report 2016-2018

Starred: No

Early Results: Pending IRM Review

Design i

Verifiable: No

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information Civic Participation , Technology

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

Objective and description: To enhance integrity and confidence in Australia’s electoral system. We will do this by working with the Parliament and the public to investigate the conduct of the 2016 election, use of technology in elections and the framework of donations to political parties and other political entities. Status Quo: The Government has asked Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JCSEM) to investigate a range of matters relating to the conduct of the 2016 federal election, with particular attention to: the potential application of new technology to casting, scrutinising and counting votes, and whether current authorisations requirements could be applied to all forms of communication; and donations to political parties and other political entities, including the extent of donations being received from foreign sources and the options available to Parliament to regulate these types of donations. JSCEM will also be asked to look at the current donations disclosure regime. A range of matters and areas for potential improvement were raised by civil society regarding this commitment during the public consultation period, particularly in regards to political donations. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has transmitted these civil society comments to the JSCEM for consideration as part of its inquiry. Ambition: To ensure that public confidence in Australia’s electoral system continues to be strong. Relevance: This commitment will advance the OGP values of accountability, transparency and access to information by: reducing the risk of undemocratic behaviour and conduct, which leads to the perception or reality of corrupt behaviour by politicians and political parties; and increasing public confidence in Australian democracy. COMMITMENT DETAILS: OGP Grand Challenge: Increasing Public Integrity; Timeframes September 2016 – 2017 Lead agency; Department of Finance and Australian Electoral Commission; Other actors involved; Government / Parliament; Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and the Parliament of Australia Committee Secretariat contact: em@aph.gov.au; Non-government; The Parliamentary Committee is anticipated to engage with political parties, non-government organisations and the public

IRM Midterm Status Summary

11. Confidence in the electoral system and political parties

Commitment Text:

To enhance integrity and confidence in Australia’s electoral system.

We will do this by working with the Parliament and the public to investigate the conduct of the 2016 election, use of technology in elections and the framework of donations to political parties and other political entities.

[…]

Milestones:

  1. JSCEM inquiry and report.
  2. Government considers recommendations.
  3. Parliament and other relevant stakeholders address Government decisions.

Responsible institution: Department of Finance

Supporting institution(s): Australian Electoral Commission

Start date: September 2016 End date: 2017

Editorial Note: This is a partial version of the commitment text. For the full commitment text, see the Australia National Action Plan available at https://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/Australia_NAP_201...

Context and Objectives

This commitment seeks to increase the integrity and confidence in Australia’s electoral system by inquiring into various issues that arose in the context of the 2016 federal election.

On 21 September 2016, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM), a parliamentary committee consisting of members from both houses of parliament, commenced an inquiry into ‘all aspects of the 2016 Federal Election and related matters’.[1] The Terms of Reference for the inquiry reflect a range of broad issues that arose in the lead-up to the 2016 election, including:

  • how requirements relating to authorisation of electoral material applied to all forms of communication with voters;
  • the extent of donations and contributions from foreign sources and how these might be regulated; and
  • the applicability of ‘truth in advertising’ requirements to communications to voters including third party carriage services, such as internet providers and social media platforms.

The inquiry into these matters is likely to identify further issues that may need to be addressed. As the commitment as written merely provides for an inquiry and report, it is of low specificity. The significance of many of the issues and the range of potential recommendations that may emerge suggests that the inquiry may have a moderate potential impact. However, the low specificity limits the commitment’s potential impact by requiring only that the inquiry’s recommendations be considered rather than implemented. Therefore, the commitment is coded as having minor potential impact. Many of the issues under consideration have also been identified in past inquiries and may raise complex or politically sensitive matters which may limit the impact of any reform possible within the term of this national action plan.

One of the issues that arose from the 2016 election was whether requirements relating to the authorisation of electoral material need to be updated to reflect the use of new and emerging forms of media.[2] An inquiry into authorisation of electoral materials could increase the transparency of the communication around electoral matters, ensure consistency and predictability in the treatment of new forms of media and accountability for the information being presented. It therefore can have an important effect on voters’ trust in the integrity of the electoral campaign process.

There have been a number of proposals for reform of the disclosure system for political donations to address some of its weaknesses.[3] Notably, the disclosure requirements do not make any distinction over whether the donor is Australian or from overseas. Several examples of foreign donors received media attention in 2016 leading to concerns over whether foreign donations should be regulated, and if so, how.[4] Some charities and non-profit organisations have raised concerns over whether the administrative burden of having to disclose all foreign donations might discourage political advocacy activities.[5]

An inquiry into political donations is likely to consider these and other aspects of the present disclosure requirements. Any reforms could potentially have a significant effect on the availability of information on political donations, enhancing understanding of the use of donations as a form of civic participation and accountability for the influence such donations might have on government decision making. Enhanced disclosure requirements may also encourage the development of innovative technological approaches to the use of donation information.


Completion
Milestone 11.1 has seen substantial progress during the implementation period under review in this report. The JSCEM had released three interim reports prior to 1 July 2017 – on the authorisation of voter communication,[6] foreign donations[7] and modernisation of the Australian Electoral Commission.[8] The Committee announced a general review into political donations on 22 August 2017.[9]

As of the second interim report, the Committee had accepted more than 140 submissions and conducted 12 public hearings in all capital cities except Darwin, and the regional location of Townsville in north Queensland.[10] The Committee had received submissions and evidence in public hearings from individuals including academics, charities, not-for-profit organisations and other civil society organisations, business representatives, unions and political parties.[11]

In its first interim report, the Committee recommended taking a principled approach to authorisation of voter communication requirements to cover all forms of emerging voter communication, and that further inquiries be made into the issues of impersonating a Commonwealth officer or entity. [12]

The Second Interim Report recommended a prohibition on donations from foreign citizens and entities. It also recommended that there be a further inquiry into how to prevent foreign funds being channeled through organisations engaged in political activities but who are not currently subject to regulation under the Electoral Act.

Milestone 11.2, which is dependent on the inquiry process saw limited completion. Government considered the recommendations made in the first report (see milestone 1.3 completion below). At the same time, the Government committed to introducing legislation before the end of 2017 to address the Committee’s second report on donations.

Milestones 11.3 saw limited completion. In response to the Committee’s recommendations, the Electoral and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 was introduced to the Parliament on 30 March 2017 and assented to on 14 September 2017, after the period of implementation under consideration. The Act extends authorisation requirements in the Electoral Act and Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 to all forms of paid electoral advertising, no matter the source or channel of communication. It also amends authorisation to the person who has approved the content of the communication and extends the information to be provided.[13]

The Parliamentary Library has raised some concerns about how practical it will be to enforce the new authorisation requirements and the deterrent effect of the civil penalties now involved for breach of the requirements.[14] The Senate did not agree to proposed amendments relating to impersonating a Commonwealth body originally included in the Bill.

Legislation addressing the second interim report on foreign donations was introduced into Parliament on 7 December 2017.[15] This Bill and concerns raised about its potential impact on public participation will be discussed in the end-of-term report.

As the substantive effect of the Electoral and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2017 was not due to commence until 14 March 2018 there have not been any results as yet of the implementation of this commitment.

Next Steps

While the JSCEM inquiry process provides an open opportunity for consideration of the issues that might have arisen in past elections, further community collaboration in implementing the recommendations of the Committee would enhance community awareness of the issues and legitimacy of any proposals that result. The relationship between political donations and broader questions of political influence was also raised by several civil society organisations as warranting consideration.[16]

Therefore, next steps to be considered could include:

  • Developing a more specific consultation process to respond to proposals arising from the final report of the JSCEM inquiry;
  • Establishing a collaborative process to examine the role of disclosure of political donations in enhancing transparency of lobbying and other forms of political influence.

[1] JSCEM, Inquiry into and report on all aspects of the conduct of the 2016 Federal Election and matters related thereto, inquiry home page, https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Electoral_Matters/2016Election)

[2] Parliamentary Library, ‘Bills Digest no. 101, 2016-17, Electoral and other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017, 26 May 2017, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/legislation/billsdgs/5298470/upload_binary/5298470.pdf;fileType=application/pdf; Australian Government, Electoral Reform Green Paper: Strengthening Australia’s democracy, September 2009 (‘Electoral Reform Green paper’).

[3] JSCEM, Report on the funding of political parties and election campaigns, November 2011, https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=em/political%20funding/report.htm; See also Parliamentary Library, Election funding and disclosure in Australia: a quick guide to recent reforms and current issues, Research Paper, 10 July 2017, https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1718/Quick_Guides/ElectionFunding.

[4] Joo-Cheong Tham, ‘Better regulation of all political finance would help control foreign donations’, The Conversation, 1 September 2016, https://theconversation.com/better-regulation-of-all-political-finance-would-help-control-foreign-donations-64597.

[5] Interview with Greg Thompson, Board Member Transparency International Australia, Phone meeting, 5 September 2017. See also Michael Koziol, ‘Political donations: Charities fear ‘unintended consequences’ of new rules’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 3 September 2017, http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/political-donations-charities-fear-unintended-consequences-of-new-rules-20170825-gy4kzs.html.

[6] JSCEM, The 2016 Federal Election: Interim Report on the authorisation of voter communication, December 2016, https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Electoral_Matters/2016Election/Report

[7] JSCEM, Second interim report on the inquiry into the conduct of the 2016 federal election: Foreign Donations, March 2017, https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Electoral_Matters/2016Election/Report_1

[8] JSCEM, Third interim report on the inquiry into the conduct of the 2016 federal election: AEC modernisation, June 2017, https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Electoral_Matters/2016Election/Third_Interim_Report

[10] JSCEM, Second Interim Report, at p 5.

[12] JSCEM, First Interim Report at p vi.

[13] Electoral and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017, Revised Explanatory Memorandum, https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_Legislation/Bills_Search_Results/Result?bId=r5858.

[14] Parliamentary Library, ‘Bills Digest no. 101, 2016-17, Electoral and other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017, 26 May 2017 at pp 12-13.

[15] Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query%3DId%3A%22legislation%2Fbillhome%2Fs1117%22;rec=0.

[16] Interview with Greg Thompson, Board Member, Transparency International Australia, Phone meeting, 5 September 2017, and Ken Coghill, Monash University and Accountability Round Table, Canberra, ACT, 28 July 2017.


Australia's Commitments

  1. Strengthen Anti-Corruption Framework

    AU0016, 2018, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  2. Political Donation Transparency

    AU0017, 2018, Legislation & Regulation

  3. Data Sharing

    AU0018, 2018, E-Government

  4. Improve Public Service Practice

    AU0019, 2018, Capacity Building

  5. Access to Information

    AU0020, 2018, OGP

  6. Enhance Public Engagement Skills in the Public Service

    AU0021, 2018, Capacity Building

  7. Independent Review of the Australian Public Service

    AU0022, 2018, Capacity Building

  8. Expand Open Contracting

    AU0023, 2018, E-Government

  9. Whiste-Blower Protections

    AU0001, 2016, Legislation & Regulation

  10. Beneficial Ownership Transparency

    AU0002, 2016, Beneficial Ownership

  11. Extractive Industries Transparency

    AU0003, 2016, Beneficial Ownership

  12. Combating Corporate Crime

    AU0004, 2016, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  13. Data Innovation

    AU0005, 2016, E-Government

  14. Public Trust in Data Sharing

    AU0006, 2016, Capacity Building

  15. Digitization of Government Services

    AU0007, 2016, Capacity Building

  16. Information Management and Access Laws

    AU0008, 2016, Capacity Building

  17. Freedom of Information

    AU0009, 2016, Capacity Building

  18. Access to Government Data

    AU0010, 2016, Capacity Building

  19. Electoral System and Political Parties

    AU0011, 2016, Public Participation

  20. National Integrity Framework

    AU0012, 2016, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  21. Open Contracting

    AU0013, 2016, Capacity Building

  22. OGP NAP

    AU0014, 2016, OGP

  23. Public Participation

    AU0015, 2016, Capacity Building