The public office, public, trust principle

Parties are like football clubs – no matter how much money they get, they will spend it and then want more.  

Former Victorian Premier, John Cain, Oct 2006

Australia’s federal electoral system has few constraints on donations and a weak disclosure regime in which thresholds were raised in 2006 from $1,500 to $10,000 and indexed by 2016 to $13,000. There are numerous loopholes and no caps on campaign expenditure. State electoral financing rules vary enormously.


Competition between the major parties is driving up spending on election campaigns and substantial donations are made for this purpose (particularly to the major party expected to win the election) by business and organisations with vested interests in the decisions of and contracts awarded by parliaments and governments.

2013 Federal electionLaborCoalition
Public funding$21m$27m

Public funding totalled $58m (plus the unknown cost to revenue forgone for tax deductions on donations up to $1,500 to parties and $1,500 to candidates).

Complete records of expenditure are not available but based on these figures, would be in the order of $450m. With 15.468m eligible voters, this is a spend of at least $29/voter. Canada, NZ and the UK have caps on election spending and this results in spends for each eligible voter of:

  • $5 in the 2015 Canadian election
  • $2.83 in the 2014 NZ election
  • 85 pence in the 2015 UK election


A recent Australian survey shows 88% support for limits in election spending and 80% for lowering disclosure thresholds.

Federal and state disclosure thresholds and reporting requirement comparisons:

Federal   $13,500  annual

NSW       $1,000  annual

Vic            not required

Qld           $1,000  twice a year

WA           $2,300  annual

Tas            not required

NT             $1,500  annual

Individual donation limits and bans:

NSW:       $5,800/party  $2,500/candidate  tobacco, liquor and gambling donors banned

Federal and other states and territories:   no limits on donations or bans

NSW introduced caps on expenditure in 2011. The ACT does not cap donations but from 2015 restricts expenditure to $40k per candidate and $1m for parties with 5 candidates in each of 5 electorates. It increased public funding to $8/vote.

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