Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2012 Week 2 Hansard (23 February) . . Page.. 733..
The standing committee has made 21 recommendations proposing substantial changes to the ACT's electoral campaign funding and disclosure laws. The core recommendations in the committee's report focused on imposing caps on electoral donations and expenditure as well as increasing the level of funding provided to parties, MLAs and candidates.
The bill introduces two caps on electoral spending: a cap on electoral expenditure and a cap on giving and receiving electoral donations, or "gifts"as they are referred to in the bill. The bill also introduces additional reporting requirements around electoral expenditure to ensure that the caps on expenditure and gifts are monitored in a transparent and robust manner.
These reforms are aimed at improving the ACT's laws around campaign finance and enhancing citizens' capacity to engage in the democratic process without undue or inappropriate influence from political parties or their affiliated entities.
I will deal with the cap on electoral expenditure first. The bill introduces a cap of $60,000 on electoral expenditure, per candidate, by party groupings. This cap comes in direct response to recommendation 2 of the standing committee's report. As the standing committee has noted, the introduction of a cap on electoral expenditure would align the ACT with regulatory frameworks in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and the Republic of Ireland.
The government believes that this cap is a proportionate and justified mechanism to prevent electoral expenditure from having an undue influence on ACT Legislative Assembly elections. For parties there is a two-stage test for determining whether or not the offence of exceeding the expenditure cap is committed.
Firstly, the party grouping must incur electoral expenditure in relation to an election in the capped expenditure period for an election. Second, the total expenditure must be more than the expenditure cap for the election multiplied by the lesser of the sum of the maximum number of members for the electorate and the number of candidates nominated by the party in the electorate.
For example, if the electorate is a five-member electorate, the total expenditure incurred by a party that would constitute an offence will be $60,000 multiplied by the lesser of either five or the number of candidates that the party has nominated for that electorate. In a seven-member electorate, the expenditure threshold required would be $60,000 multiplied by the lesser of either seven or the number of candidates that the party has nominated for that electorate.
The bill also provides that non-party MLAs, and the financial representatives of party groupings, non-party candidate groupings and third-party campaigners commit an offence if non-party MLAs, non-party candidate groupings or third-party campaigners exceed the electoral expenditure cap for that election.
The amount that can be spent on election campaigns can have an obvious and tangible effect on voter preferences and, consequently, the outcomes of elections. The