Under the Electoral Act 1992 (Qld) (Act) it is now unlawful for a “prohibited donor” to make a donation for political purposes and also for a person to accept such a donation.

Effectively political donations from property developers and industry bodies, which have property developers as the majority of their members, are banned.

A recent Queensland Supreme Court case The Australian Institute for Progress[1]clarifies some aspects of the legislation.

The Australian Institute for Progress Ltd (AIP) is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee based in Queensland. The AIP undertakes research and advocacy on both federal and state issues.

The AIP’s funding sources include some property developers who are “prohibited donors” for the purposes of the Act. The AIP wished to advocate and involve itself in the 2020 Queensland State election.

Upon enquiry to the Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ), the ECQ ruled that the AIP was considered a third party for the purposes of the Act as the gift was made to “incur political expenditure”.

The Court agreed as the purpose of the prohibition on political donations by prohibited donors could be easily undermined if a prohibited donor, instead of making a gift to a political party, donated it to another entity which was expected to (or even had promised to) spend the prohibited donor’s gift on a campaign which urged a vote for the political party or urged electors not to vote for the political party’s opponents.

However, the Court noted that the provisions did not create a general ban on the making of gifts by prohibited donors to an entity such as the AIP to enable the AIP to conduct its various activities or to participate in the political process. The prohibition was on gifts that are made “to enable” the entity to incur expenditure for the purposes of a “campaign for an election”.

The Queensland Electoral Commission maintains a register of non-prohibited donors https://www.ecq.qld.gov.au/donations-and-gift-disclosure/prohibited-donors-scheme which is useful when deciding whether to receive a political donation.

[1] The Australian Institute for Progress Ltd v The Electoral Commission of Queensland & Ors [2020] QSC 54