A total of 108 candidates have been officially warned by the Local Government Inspectorate after failing to submit a campaign donation return after they contested the 2020 council elections.
Despite this, the rate of non-compliance at the 2020 halved compared to the 2016 council elections, when 290 candidates failed to comply.
A campaign donation return is a record of any gifts, donations or in-kind support worth $500 or more received by election candidates for use in their campaigns. Candidates must submit a return to the chief executive officer of the council where they are standing for election within 40 days after election day. Candidates must also submit a return even if they do not receive any donations or support. A summary of these declarations must then be published on the council’s website.
The Inspectorate investigation found that, of a total of 2,192 candidates, 144 failed to submit a campaign donation return within the required 40 days. However, 34 candidates subsequently submitted a late return.
The remaining 108 candidates who failed to comply were issued with an official warning.
Prior to the 2020 general elections and 2021 South Gippsland election, the Inspectorate worked with the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) to inform candidates of the need to submit campaign donation returns. They were also reminded of their obligations immediately after voting closed.
While a prima facie breach of the electoral provisions of the Act was substantiated for 108 individuals, we opted not to pursue prosecution. However, the warning will be taken into account if the candidates fail to submit a return in future council elections.
Chief Municipal Inspector Michael Stefanovic said:
“It is vital to our democracy that electoral candidates in council elections declare any donations, gifts or support they receive.
“It is pleasing to see an improvement in the number of candidates declaring their campaign donations in 2020 compared to 2016 and we will work hard to ensure more candidates submit campaign donation returns on time in 2024.
“The purpose of the campaign donation declaration is to ensure ongoing integrity and transparency in the sector. The community has a right to know who is supporting their local candidate and should be able to easily access this information on their council’s website.
“The disclosure of campaign donations by all candidates is fundamental to the electoral process – and maintains the integrity of future decision making and governance by Victorian councils.”
In 39 council areas, all candidates were fully compliant. A number of councils had high numbers of candidates running for election who all correctly submitted their campaign donation returns in 2020. The top five councils were:
- City of Kingston – 73 candidates
- Bayside City Council – 66 candidates
- Mornington Peninsula Shire Council – 43 candidates
- Manningham City Council – 41 candidates
- Cardinia Shire Council - 41 candidates
Meanwhile, there were concerning rates of non-compliance from candidates in five council areas:
- Maribyrnong City Council – 7 out of 41 candidates
- Hume City Council – 10 out of 60 candidates
- Hindmarsh Shire Council – 3 out of 10 candidates
- Moyne Shire Council – 2 out of 17 candidates
- Wyndham City Council – 7 out of 86 candidates
In Wyndham, the number of candidates who failed to submit a campaign donation return fell in 2020 compared to 2016, where an unprecedented 46 per cent or 44 out of 95 candidates did not comply.
The Inspectorate will continue to work with the VEC prior to the 2024 elections to inform candidates about the need to submit campaign donation returns and remind them of their obligations.
The Local Government Inspectorate is an independent agency that ensures Victorian councils follow the Local Government Act 2020.
As part of our role, we:
- accept and investigate complaints about council operations, including councillors and council staff
- monitor governance and compliance with the Act
- provide guidance and education for councils
- encourage transparency and accountability across the sector.
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Reviewed 21 April 2022