Real-time disclosure log and spending limits part of proposals to improve Australian elections

Misinformation in election ads could be cracked down with new powers under a proposal put forward by a Parliamentary Committee this week.

A cross-party parliamentary committee has recommended changes to political donation rules, election spending limits, and rules for election ads.

This included a push to limit misinformation which could sway voter opinion.

The recommendations were outlined in a draft report this week. However, committee members from different parties disagreed on key recommendations.

Don Farrell, the Minister in charge of election laws, says he supports changes to donations, spending and advertising and plans to push ahead with them.

Quick background

A committee of politicians from across the political spectrum is tasked with reviewing election rules after each election.

This time, the committee has 14 members – seven from Labor, five from the Coalition, one from the Greens and one Independent.

The committee makes recommendations, but individual members can disagree and offer their own recommendations. Draft recommendations were made public this week.

Political donations

The committee recommended tighter disclosure rules for political donations.

Individuals, organisations, and businesses can donate to political parties or individual candidates. Donations above $15,200 have to be disclosed under current rules.

The rules do not prevent a donor from splitting up a larger donation into small chunks to avoid disclosure. As a result of these rules, about a third of political donations are anonymous.

The committee recommended lowering the threshold for disclosure to $1,000. This would align with donation rules in several Australian states.

It also recommended disclosing donations in ‘real time’ – for example, with published updates every week, or every day during an election campaign.

Financial limits

The committee also recommended spending limits for donors and candidates.

The report did not recommend specific limits. However, it noted incumbent (already-elected) candidates have natural advantages due to their recognition and suggested limits should recognise this (e.g. by allowing higher limits for independent challengers).

Misinformation in political ads

The Australian Electoral Commission was recommended to be given the power to enforce truth standards in political advertisements.

It also suggested that federal laws be based on similar laws in South Australia. They would allow fines to be issued and misinformation to also be removed.

Coalition response

The Coalition members on the committee disagreed with several of the recommendations. They argued a $1,000 donation disclosure threshold would harm the privacy of individuals and that real-time disclosure would be too difficult.

Any spending limits should recognise the role of unions in funding the Labor Party and advocacy organisations in supporting progressive candidates, the Opposition said.

They also opposed laws to regulate truth in advertising, arguing this would be “inherently subjective” and could politicise the Electoral Commission.

Crossbench response

Independents and The Greens involved in the report largely backed the findings but warned against penalising smaller parties and candidates.

Independent MP Kate Chaney warned that badly-designed spending caps could advantage major parties and that caps should be subject to change.

Greens Senator Larissa Waters also argued major parties had a history of creating rules to suit them. She asked the Government not to pick the proposals that suit them.

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