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MEDIA RELEASE

Bills introduced to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

The Hon Ben Morton MP
Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Assistant Minister to the Minister for the Public Service
Assistant Minister for Electoral Matters

Date: Thursday, 12 August 2021

The Morrison Government today introduced legislation to further strengthen the integrity of our electoral system, modernise electoral processes, improve services to Australian voters and maintain voter confidence in elections.

Assistant Minister for Electoral Matters, the Hon Ben Morton MP, introduced four bills to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 in response to recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) and submissions by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). 

The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Counting, Scrutiny and Operational Efficiencies) Bill 2021 makes a number of changes to electoral processes that are necessary to keep pace with modern technology and contribute to the AEC’s operational efficiency.

Measures include making it easier for overseas voters to comply with witnessing requirements, introducing a fixed pre-poll period of up to 12 days prior to an election and increasing the number of scrutineers permitted to observe the computerised scrutiny of Senate elections.

The Bill also supports timely election results by allowing the AEC to open and sort, but not count, pre-poll ballots for the House of Representatives from 4pm on election day. This will also enable the AEC to extract declaration votes from their envelopes and place them in a ballot-box by themselves in the five days prior to polling day. Scrutineers can witness all aspects of these processes.

“These measures build on the Government’s investment in assisting the AEC to stay at the forefront of electoral technology, while also helping to make the voting process more efficient for Australians,” said Assistant Minister Morton.

The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Offences and Preventing Multiple Voting) Bill 2021 strengthens the integrity of our electoral system by helping guard against rare instances of multiple voting.

The amendment clarifies circumstances that may constitute an offence of interference with political liberty under the Electoral Act, noting violence, obscene or discriminatory abuse, property damage, and harassment or stalking with relevance to an election are examples of what can be considered as interference with political liberty.

Penalties associated with this offence will be increased in line with similar offences in the Criminal Code Act 1995.

The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Party Registration Integrity) Bill 2021 ensures that registered political parties are built on a genuine foundation of community support by increasing the minimum membership requirements for non-parliamentary parties from 500 members to 1,500 members.

Amendments also seek to minimise the risk that a voter may be confused, or potentially misled, in the exercise of their choice at an election due to a political parties being registered with very similar names. It requires the Electoral Commissioner to refuse an application to register a political party if the applicant party’s name replicates a word in the name of an existing registered party. Common sense exceptions will apply. 

“These provisions will enhance the integrity of the electoral process by reducing the likelihood of voters inadvertently associating or confusing political parties with similar sounding names,” said Assistant Minister Morton. 

The Electoral Commissioner may also refuse to register the logo of a political party on the grounds that it contains a word or abbreviation of an existing political party.

The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Political Campaigners) Bill 2021 enhances public confidence in Australia’s political processes by aligning transparency of political actors who seek to influence the outcome of an election to more closely resemble the disclosures of political parties, candidates, or members of the Australian Parliament. 

The amendment reduces the amount of ‘electoral expenditure’ an individual or organisation can spend before they are required to register as a political campaigner from the current $500,000 to $100,000 during the financial year, or for any of the previous three financial years.

A person or entity will also be required to register as a political campaigner where the amount of the ‘electoral expenditure’ they have spent during the financial year is at least equal to the disclosure threshold of currently $14,500, and at least one-third of their revenue for the previous financial year.

“These amendments do not represent a significant change for people or entities who meet the updated thresholds. Those affected by this amendment are either already required to submit a return as a third party campaigner, or would be required to do so if they incurred such expenditure at a future electoral event,” said Assistant Minister Morton.

“This Bill will assist electors to make an informed choice during the electoral process, by making equal the requirements on political actors seeking to influence election outcomes.”

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Media Contact(s)

Assistant Minister’s Office: (02) 6277 2035