Federal legislation - history

Little progress has been made over the years in federal politics to  reduce the influence of donations over the political process, compared with the states.  Federal legislation imposes no limits on expenditure or on who can donate to parties.

Under the Howard government, electoral funding laws went backwards, with millions in donations hidden thanks to an increase in the disclosure threshold.

While the Greens have argued strongly for limits on campaign spending and bans on corporate donations, all attempts for progress on those issues have been resisted.

Public funding of political parties and requirements to disclose donations was first imposed as part of the Hawke government’s 1983 electoral reforms. Donations over $1500 were required to be disclosed and for the first time public funding was provided at a rate of 30c per vote in the Senate and $60c per vote in the House of Representatives. Funding was only provided as reimbursement for documented expenditure.

Changes in 1995 removed the requirement that receipts are provided for funding, easing the administrative burden on political parties and making it possible for parties to receive more public funding than they spent on the election.

The Howard government pursued an agenda of weakening those electoral laws that required disclosure of donations. After unsuccessfully pushing legislation after 2001, the Coalition gained control of the Senate at the 2004 election.

In 2006 the Senate passed changes that increased the disclosure threshold from $1500 to $10,000, with the new threshold indexed to inflation.

Since the election of the Rudd/Gillard Labor government in 2007, the government has supported lowering the threshold (now at $11,900) to $1000. This legislation was blocked in the Senate in 2009, but was reintroduced following the 2010 election. The Greens support this legislation.

Also following the 2007 election, the Labor government drew up a Green Paper on Donations, Funding and Expenditure. This paper raised issues such as capping expenditure and restricting donations, but these issues have not been pursued by the current government.


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