CLP breached Electoral Act by failing to disclose all donations, major Labor aligned union silent: Report

by | Mar 11, 2021 | News, NT Politics | 1 comment

The Country Liberal Party breached the Electoral Act by not fully reporting its political donations during last year’s election campaign and one of its candidates has not responded to questions about their personal campaign finances, a new report released by the NT Electoral Commission has found.

The BDO audit into the financial disclosure compliance of parties and candidates also found “perceived deliberate” non-compliance of campaign financial disclosure laws in certain instances, including by one unnamed independent candidate who did not provide proper documentation of a “loan” they received during the election period because they wanted to protect “the anonymity of the lender”.

Another serious issue raised in the report included the CFMEU refusing to show their books as a “third-party campaigner”, which auditors said made it impossible to determine if the union had “complied with all its obligations under the Electoral Act”.

The report found the CLP had excluded receipts under $1500 in contravention of the Electoral Act which requires that the total of all receipts be reported.

There was a variance of $88,346 between the electoral returns published on the NTEC website and the receipts reported in the party’s accounting system. The authors determined the receipts reported to the NTEC were “significantly understated”.

“Up to the time of finalising this report, the accountant was unable to produce a comprehensive report which could substantiate the party’s position regarding the reported figures which would comply with the Electoral Act,” BDO auditors wrote.

Of four independent candidates selected for auditing of campaign disclosure, the report found Beverly Ratahi had generally complied with the law, except for paying for “the majority of her purchases” during the campaign with her private credit card and not through her separate election bank account, which was a breach of the Act.

The report did not name the independent candidate who failed to report a loan.

Unclear if CFMEU complied with its obligations under the Electoral Act: Report

The BDO auditors reported that the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) ignored their obligation to provide documentation after being asked for information as a “third-party campaigner”.

The report said contact was made but the union did not provide the requested evidence of their involvement that included a declared $13,200 donation to Labor.

“As a result, we are unable to determine the accuracy and completeness of the figures disclosed in the disclosure return lodged with the NTEC and whether the [CFMMEU] has complied with all its obligations under the Electoral Act.

The report also found that an unnamed union “intentionally blocked out” expenditure unrelated to election expenditure, which the authors found made it difficult to “ascertain if there were any other expense that might be applicable for electoral purposes which would have been omitted from the return lodged with the NTEC”.

Territory Alliance and the NT ALP were found to be in compliance with their respective election returns.

The Greens were found to have been in general compliance except that their candidates were found to have deposited non-election money into the party’s election bank account. It was recommended to all parties that only election money should be put in the respective parties’ election bank accounts.

It was noted that only Labor had an active volunteer register, which all parties were required to have set up to determine if the volunteer activity could be deemed as donations to the party and require reporting.

The report also raised the issue of incumbent candidates using “electorate office resources” for campaigning purposes. It recommended more education to MLAs around what is appropriate after the report found one sitting MLA said there were no guidelines to follow while another said there were rules in place stipulating how electorate office resources could be used.

Parties and candidates should be ‘pursued’ for non-compliance: BDO

The report recommended the NTEC “pursue the political parties and candidates in relation to the perceived deliberate non-compliance instances”.

It also suggested re-examining the lack of a spending cap on third-party campaigners, citing the ability for a third party to spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of a preferred candidate.

NT Electoral Commissioner Iain Loganathan said failing to comply with disclosure laws was serious and said “further action” may be taken.

“We will be contacting those people and organisations and asking them to explain why they have not complied,” he said.

“Once we have considered those responses we will decide what further action is appropriate.

“This is the first election since extensive reforms in financial disclosure laws were introduced and the commission has focused on educating political participants about their reporting obligations.”

The NT Independent understands the CLP provided a updated financial disclosures to the NTEC earlier today, as well as the requested campaign finances of the candidate.

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