The Tasmanian Government has today released the Final Report of the Electoral Act Review, paving the way for new legislation to be drafted to deliver a political donation disclosure scheme in Tasmania. This will deliver a fairer, more transparent and modern electoral system for our State.
“When I outlined my Government’s priorities for 2021, releasing this Report along with our response was front and centre, and today we are delivering on our commitment to create a fairer, more transparent and modern electoral system for our State.
“I want to make the very strong point that whilst there will always be those who will claim that the system is not fair or that it is open to manipulation we are not acting because an ICAC or other similar body like our Integrity Commission has recommended we do so.
“The reforms we are announcing today are because increasing transparency and fairness is the right thing to do to ensure that the public continue to have faith in the outcomes of elections into the future,” Premier Peter Gutwein said.
The Electoral Act Review has been delivered at a time when changes to electoral laws are occurring across Australia and a number of decisions have been handed down by the High Court in relation to electoral law which reveal the complexity of regulating the electoral process.
The Final Report makes 11 high-level recommendations for proposed reform to modernise our current system and create a political donations disclosure regime specifically for Tasmania.
The Review involved two rounds of public consultation and has already led to amendments to the Electoral Act 2004 which commenced in 2019.
The recommendations in the Final Report broadly fall into four areas, namely:
• recommendations of a technical nature that will ensure our electoral system is effective and contemporary;
• recommendations relating to a new disclosure regime for candidates and political parties;
• recommendations relating to the regulation of third party campaigners, donors and associated entities; and
• a recommendation in relation to the public funding of election campaigns.
“The Tasmanian Government is committed to ensuring Tasmanians have confidence in our electoral system and a key premise of this is ensuring our electoral system is fair, transparent, effective and contemporary,” Attorney-General Elise Archer said.
“That’s why the Tasmanian Government supports, in principle, all of the recommendations of the Final Report and has commenced the preparation of urgent draft legislation to deal comprehensively with the critical areas of the Final Report,” the Attorney-General added.
Some of these components will be subject to further modelling to determine the best approach for Tasmania. This will be informed by advice received from an Inter-Departmental Committee that has been established to consider these matters.
Subject to public consultation and further advice, the legislation will broadly deal with:
• introducing a new State-based threshold for disclosure of political donations. We expect this threshold to be in line with other Australian jurisdictions of between $1,000 – $5,000 accumulative over 12 months and apply to non-monetary gifts;
• introducing new timeframes for the disclosure of political donations. Donations are to be declared at least 6 monthly and then more regularly in election campaigns;
• introducing public funding, at an appropriate level, for both administrative and ‘cost per vote’ support;
• look at excluding smaller contributions in the order of $200 or less;
• a ban on foreign donations, and anonymous donations over a prescribed amount; and
• dealing with other administrative matters, including the functions and powers of the Tasmanian Electoral Commission.
It is our intention for this legislation to be released for public consultation after Easter 2021, and introduced into State Parliament before the winter break.
Subject to the legislation passing both houses, the new arrangements will be implemented as soon as practical and prior to the next State election.
“I’ve spoken this morning with the Electoral Commissioner and assured him that all necessary resources will be made available to enable this to occur. We understand this will be a major change for the Tasmanian Electoral Commission (TEC) and we will consult closely with the TEC on how best to transition to the new arrangements,” the Premier Peter Gutwein said.
At this stage, this scheme will only apply to the House of Assembly, given the different requirements and it is important we do not disrupt the preparations for the upcoming Legislative Council elections.
As per the Final Report’s recommendations, we agree that caps can be dealt with at a later stage. As the Report states, there is currently insufficient evidence to determine whether caps are genuinely needed or if problems exist that would be resolved by the introduction of caps.
This reform will be a sensible and balanced approach to ensure accountability and transparency in our State elections. Key elements of this scheme will be applied to third parties and political parties equally, to ensure a level playing field.
It is important that Tasmanians have confidence in our electoral system and we must ensure it applies to everyone who participates in the political process. It’s critical we get these settings right.
Elise Archer, Attorney-General