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ACT poll funding breaches incur fines

Date

Lisa Cox and Noel Towell

Electoral Commissioner Phillip Green.

Electoral Commissioner Phillip Green. Photo: Graham Tidy

Two industry lobby groups face fines from electoral authorities after breaking political funding laws in last year's territory election.

The Law Society of the ACT, battling against changes to the territory's third party insurance scheme, and the Australian Home Heating Association, fighting restrictions on wood fire heaters, both breached the $60,000 spending cap, by $600 and $700.

ACT electoral commissioner Phillip Green told a Legislative Assembly committee on Wednesday that each group could be fined for twice the amount of the breach.

The Assembly passed amendments to the electoral act before last October's election that put caps on donations and spending during the election period.

Mr Green told the standing committee on justice and community safety that the commission was not aware of any spending breaches by registered political parties.

But there were indications that two third-party campaigners "may have breached the expenditure cap during the election period".

Disclosure statements on the Elections ACT website show that the Law Society exceeded the $60,000 cap by $604 and the Home Heating Association by $776.

"Under the law, they're liable to a debt to the territory for twice the amount of the breach," Mr Green said. "We're taking legal advice at the moment as to the best way of recovering that debt.

"It's not a criminal matter, it's a debt to the territory. That's something we're still working through.

"There are two third-party campaigners we're probably going to have to be recovering debts from."

Mr Green said parties had also had difficulty complying with new disclosure rules requiring them to notify the electoral commission of donations and gifts within seven days of receiving them.

"It's probably no secret that various parties and others had difficulty complying with the seven-day requirement to disclose gifts received," he said. "That's something we'll work through with the parties to increase compliance.

"As far as I'm aware all of the donations received before the election were disclosed and posted before polling day.

"That policy objective, of getting that information out to voters before polling, was achieved.

"We didn't consider that there were any deliberate evasions of the law in respect to those returns."

The amendments also imposed limits on personal gifts for use in election campaigns of $10,000 per donor per financial year and brought forward deadlines for submissions of annual and election disclosure returns.

Mr Green said the additional workload for the commission as a result of the changes had been ''substantial''.

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