The latest changes to the Electoral Act have passed through the Northern Territory Parliament and will come into force from 1 January 2020.
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Third party campaigners and associated entities
The amendments to political disclosure extend the scheme to cover third party campaigners. The Act imposes new requirements for disclosures by third party campaigners and caps electoral expenditure for associated entities.
Third party campaigners and associated entities will be required to register with the Northern Territory Electoral Commission (NTEC). The register will be available on the NTEC website next year.
Caps on electoral expenditure
The reforms introduce an indexed $40,000 cap on electoral expenditure per seat, with a pooled cap for political parties (shared with associated entities). This means the maximum cap for political parties with candidates in all 25 seats will be $1 million. A cap on electoral expenditure works towards the objective of levelling the playing field across all candidates.
The cap on electoral expenditure does not include travel and accommodation so as not to constrain the travel of candidates contesting rural and remote electorates.
At general elections, the cap will apply in election years from 1 January to 30 days after Election Day (September 21). An expenditure report is required from independent candidates and registered parties (which covers the party, endorsed candidates and associated entities). Third party campaigners are not subject to an expenditure cap, but are required to report on their political expenditure.
The amendments also focus on increasing the transparency of political donations, particularly in election years, to maximise the availability of up-to-date donation information that can be accessed by the public before and during the voting period.
Under the amendments, candidates, parties, associated entities and third party campaigners will be required to submit the following returns that will be made public:
- two quarterly reports during the period 1 January to 30 June
- a report prior to the early voting period from 1 July to the day the writ is issued (30 July for 2020 election)
- a report prior to election day from the day after the writ is issued to 17 days after that
- a post-election report from 18 days after the writ is issued to 30 days after election day.
Strengthened routine disclosure requirements
Candidates and donors to candidates will have a new requirement to provide annual returns disclosing gifts received or provided over the financial year.
The timeframes for registered parties and associated entities to submit annual returns has been shortened from 16 weeks (or 112 days) to 60 days to ensure that voters have access to more recent information.
Transitional arrangements for 2020 election
All new provisions in the Act will commence 1 January 2020. Existing obligations in the Electoral Act 2004 relating to the disclosure of gifts under sections 191 (candidates), 192 (persons incurring political expenditure) and 193 (donations to candidates) will end on 31 December 2019.
The Act also includes non-financial reforms which aim to streamline and contemporise voting and electoral processes. Key reforms include extending the election timetable by four days; provisional on-the-day voting; aligning voting provisions for early, mobile and Election Day voting; and clarifying campaign material requirements. Further details on these changes will be included in future editions of the newsletter.