Under the Electoral Act 1993 political parties are able to register with the Electoral Commission to contest parliamentary elections. Registration is not compulsory for political parties. Parties can promote the election of their electorate candidates at parliamentary elections without being registered.
This guidance is intended to assist parties seeking to become a registered party to contest general elections and outlines the requirements for the registration, variation and cancellation of registration of parties and logos, and the ongoing compliance obligations of registered parties.
If you are wanting to register a new or existing political party you should have completed the following steps before making an application to the Commission:
- Read the Party Registration Handbook.
- Decide on the name and aims of the party.
- Determine the party rules (including membership and candidate selection rules) and the governance structure of the party and appoint office holders (you may wish to seek independent legal advice on these matters).
- Invite people to join the party. Have a system to record and check membership evidence so that you know when the party has more than 500 current financial members who are eligible to enrol.
- Appoint an auditor.
- Finalise the party logo if also applying to register a logo.
If you are thinking of registering a political party be aware that, in addition to the $500 registration fee payable to the Commission, there are ongoing compliance costs as well as campaign costs associated with contesting elections for registered political parties.
There is no public funding of political parties, with the exception of the broadcasting allocation for radio, television and online advertising in the month before an election.
A summary table of the differences between a registered and unregistered party can be found in Appendix A.
At a general election, only registered political parties are able to:
- submit a party list to contest the party vote, and
- be considered for an allocation of election broadcasting money.
A registered party is entitled to a share of MPs that is about the same as its share of the party vote if the party wins at least 5% of the nationwide party vote or at least one electorate seat at an election.
Registered parties have a party election expense limit on top of the expense limit available to every electorate candidate.
For the purposes of the election advertising rules, a ‘party’ is a party registered by the Commission under Part 4 of the Electoral Act and includes any party that has been registered at any time during the regulated period for a general election.
A registered party that does not contest the party vote at a general election is still required to comply with the election advertising rules, including the requirement to file an audited party expenses return after an election even if it is a nil return. Parties that receive an allocation of election broadcasting money must also file a return of allocation expenses after the election.
Registered parties also have ongoing statutory obligations, such as filing an audited annual return of donations and loans and maintaining records to ensure party membership details are accurately recorded and maintained.
Only registered parties are able to register a party logo, which appears on the ballot paper against the party name and any candidates who stand on behalf of the party.
Umbrella and component parties
Most registered parties operate independently and contest the party vote and/or electorate seats. However, the Electoral Act allows registered parties to jointly contest general elections by allowing one or more parties to be a component party of another registered party. For more information see Appendix E.
Unregistered political parties
Unregistered parties can contest a general election, or by-election, by standing electorate candidates. They cannot contest the party vote.
A candidate standing on behalf of an unregistered party may have the name of the party listed on the ballot paper with their name, but not a party logo. For the name of an unregistered party to appear on the ballot paper, the Commission must be satisfied:
- the party exists
- the candidate is eligible to stand on behalf of the party, and
- the name of the party is not indecent, offensive, excessively long or likely to cause confusion.
Unregistered parties are not subject to the ongoing statutory requirements that registered parties must satisfy.