2020 Local Government Elections

Information for candidates

On 16 October 2019, the Queensland Parliament passed the Local Government Electoral (Implementing Stage 2 of Belcarra) and Other Legislation Amendment Act.

The new laws make changes to local government elections which affect a range of participants particularly candidates, registered political parties, third-party campaigners and political donors.

Some of the changes are outlined below along with other important points to remember when participating in an election. It is the responsibility of all electoral participants to be aware of their legal obligations and comply with them.

Please note, the laws apply to announced candidates, whether they officially nominate for election or not, and whether they are successfully elected or not.

While some parts of the new legislation do not commence until 2020, anyone who intends to contest an election can be prepared by completing the following tasks:

Candidate nominations for the 2020 local government elections must be officially lodged with the ECQ after the Notice of Election is published early next year.

For information about candidate eligibility and the nomination process see 'How to stand for election'.

More information about how to nominate for the 2020 local government elections will be published on the ECQ website in late 2019.

While the official nomination period for the local government elections does not commence until early 2020, anyone planning to contest the 2020 local government elections (including sitting councillors) should notify the ECQ that they intend to nominate for the election.

Prospective candidates should provide the following information to the ECQ in writing:

  • title i.e. Dr, Mr, Ms (per the electoral roll)
  • family, given and middle names (per the electoral roll)
  • gender
  • date of birth
  • phone number
  • postal address
  • email address (which the ECQ can use to contact you before, during, and after the election)
  • whether you are a silent elector
  • election being contested (i.e. council, ward/division, mayoralty)
  • the exact date you announced your intention to stand as a candidate, and
  • whether you are an incumbent councillor or mayor OR have contested a local government election since 28 March 2015.

This will allow the ECQ to provide candidates with information about their obligations, and updates as the new laws take effect.

An account will also be established in the ECQ’s Electronic Disclosure System (EDS), so that candidates can start disclosing donations and campaign expenditure relevant to their disclosure period.

Note:  For candidates who have contested a local government election within the past five years, the disclosure period starts 30 days after their last election or by-election. For first-time candidates, the disclosure period starts on the day they first publicly announce their intention to be a candidate. The disclosure period for all candidates ends 30 days after the election.

In order to nominate, all candidates (including sitting councillors) must complete new mandatory training being conducted by the Department of Local Government, Racing and Multicultural Affairs (DLGRMA).

Candidates must declare they have successfully completed the course when lodging their official nomination forms. Proof of completion may be required.

The training can be accessed via the 'So you want to be a councillor' page.

Anyone who intends to contest a local government election must open a dedicated campaign bank account for all donations and expenditure transactions.

The account details must be provided as part of the nomination process but are not made public.

Candidates who do not accept donations must still have a dedicated campaign account.

Only one dedicated campaign account is required for a registered group of candidates.

The details of a group’s bank account must be provided by each member when nominating for the election.

During the election disclosure period, candidates must:


  1. deposit all gifts and loans received directly into the dedicated campaign bank account

  2. pay all campaign-related expenses directly from the dedicated account by:

    • an electronic funds transfer (EFT)
    • a debit card, or
    • a cash withdrawal, provided the withdrawal is the lowest possible amount required for the transaction.

The new laws strictly prohibit the use of credit cards to pay for campaign expenses and the use of campaign funds to pay for a charge incurred on a credit card. Other bank accounts must not be used to filter or screen donations.

Failure to comply with banking requirements carries a maximum penalty of 100 penalty units (valued at $13,345 as at 1 July 2019).

For more information, see Campaign bank accounts and use of credit cards fact sheet below.

Dedicated campaign bank accounts

  • Candidates who plan to contest a local government election must open a dedicated campaign bank account prior to nominating for an election.
  • Account details must be provided to the Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ) during the candidate nomination process. Account details are not made public by the ECQ.
  • All gifts and loans received in support of the campaign must be deposited directly into this account and all expenses relating to the campaign must be paid from this account, under Queensland's electoral legislation.
  • Self-funded candidates are also required to operate a dedicated bank account and use this account for all transactions relating to their campaign.
  • Groups of candidates only require one dedicated bank account for the group. The details for this shared dedicated account must be provided to the ECQ by each candidate in the group during the nomination process, and when registering the group.
  • After the election, candidates and groups of candidates will be required to provide bank statements to the ECQ with their election summary return.
  • There are strict regulations on how campaign funds can be disbursed from a dedicated bank account after an election.
  • Records relating to the dedicated bank account must be kept and made available to the ECQ for at least five years after the election.

Use of credit cards not permitted

  • The account cannot have a credit card facility attached. The use of credit cards is strictly prohibited for election campaign expenses, as is using dedicated bank account funds to pay for a charge incurred using a credit card.

Offences

  • There are financial penalties for not complying with the dedicated account requirements and for using a credit card for campaign expenses. Failure to comply with banking requirements carries a maximum penalty of 100 penalty units (valued at $13,345 as at 1 July 2019).
  • Failing to comply with dedicated bank account requirements is also an integrity offence, meaning local government election candidates may also be disqualified from becoming a councillor.

You can can download this fact sheet - pdf  PDF (0.68 MB)or word DOCX (0.1 MB)

Appropriate management of financial records promotes accountability and increases public confidence in election campaigning. It also helps electoral participants to meet their reporting obligations.

For donations of $500 or more (which includes aggregated or cumulative amounts of $500 or more), relevant details of the gift or loan must be recorded, including: the value, the date the gift or loan was made, the terms under which it was given, and the original source of the gift or loan (if the gift/loan is made by another entity or third party), as well as the donor’s name, address and the primary occupation or business. This information must be recorded and disclosed for all individuals, corporations, associations, trusts and industrial organisations that make donations of totaling $500 or more.

Examples of records which must be retained include:

  • all campaign-related correspondence
  • notes of phone calls, conversations, meetings, or other interactions
  • bank statements
  • invoices
  • receipt books
  • deposit books
  • cheque books, and
  • ledgers.

Complete and accurate records relating to donations and expenditure must be kept for five years after the conclusion of the local government election. A failure to do so carries a maximum penalty of 20 penalty units (valued at $2,669 as at 1 July 2019).  The ECQ may also issue other fines for non-compliance with record keeping requirements.

For more information, see below for the Record keeping requirements fact sheet.

Candidates, groups of candidates, registered political parties, associated entities and third parties are responsible for keeping full and accurate records to meet electoral funding and disclosure requirements.

Good record keeping practices promote accountability and transparency and increase public confidence in election campaigning in local government. Records help to protect candidates, groups, political parties, third parties and political donors should the integrity of financial reporting be subjected to review during or after an election campaign.

What records need to be kept?

For donations of $500 or more (which includes aggregated or cumulative amounts of $500 or more), relevant details of the gift or loan must be recorded, including: the value, the date the gift or loan was made, the terms under which it was given, and the original source of the gift or loan (if the gift/loan is made by another entity or third party), as well as the donor’s name, address and the primary occupation or business. This information must be recorded and disclosed for all individuals, corporations, associations, trusts and industrial organisations that make donations of totaling $500 or more.

Political participants must keep all relevant records required to make proper electoral disclosures.  Bank statements, invoices, receipt books, deposit books, cheque books, ledgers, and notices which relate to information contained in a disclosure return should also be kept. Records may be in paper or electronic form.

How long should records be kept?

All relevant election records for funding and disclosure must be kept and made available to the ECQ for inspection for a period of at least five years after the election.

All electoral participants are subject to the ECQ compliance reviews and may be asked to provide evidence to satisfy the ECQ that disclosure requirements have been properly met.

Tips for good record keeping

Good record-keeping supports full and accurate disclosure. It is strongly recommended you:

  • record receipt of gifts and loans as soon as practical so they are not overlooked or forgotten
  • save any paper records electronically to preserve and ensure they are not destroyed
  • ensure record keeping is systematic and comprehensive for easy and quick retrieval
  • regularly back-up electronic records, and
  • ensure record keeping is up-to-date.

What are the penalties for not keeping adequate records?

Failure to keep relevant election records may incur a maximum penalty of 20 penalty units (valued at $2,669 as at 1 July 2019).

You can can download this fact sheet - pdf PDF (0.68 MB) or word DOCX (0.1 MB)

All sitting councillors and announced candidates will be required to lodge two transitional disclosure returns within 14 days of the commencement of the new laws on 20 January 2020. These relate to both donations received and campaign expenditure incurred.

The returns must be personally lodged by each announced candidate and sitting councillor and cannot be lodged by someone on their behalf. Registered political parties must also lodge a transitional return regarding their electoral expenditure.

The returns should be lodged on the ECQ’s Electronic Disclosure System and must include:

  • all gifts and/or loans received during their disclosure period, and
  • all electoral expenditure incurred between 1 May 2019 and 19 January 2020*.

*Note that donations can be disclosed in the EDS at any time; however, electoral expenditure cannot be disclosed in the EDS until the laws commence on 20 January 2020. All candidates and councillors are encouraged to disclose in the EDS any gifts or loans already received to make it easier to lodge their transitional returns.

What is Electoral Expenditure?

The term ‘electoral expenditure’ has a specific meaning for local government election purposes. Electoral expenditure is any expenditure incurred (including a gift-in-kind given) at any time, which consists of any of the following:

  • broadcasting a political advertisement;
  • publishing (either in print media or on the internet) a political advertisement;
  • displaying a political advertisement at a place of entertainment (e.g. theatre);
  • producing or distributing any of the above;
  • producing or distributing any other material during an election that advocates a vote for or against a candidate, group of candidates (for local government elections), or a registered political party, and is required to include an authorisation at its end;
  • carrying out an opinion poll or other research relating to the election, if the dominant purpose of the poll or research is to, directly or indirectly:

-   promote or oppose the election of a candidate or group of candidates;

-   promote or oppose a registered political party in relation to the election; or

-   otherwise influence voting at the election.

Electoral expenditure is incurred when the goods or services are actually provided. For example, expenditure on political advertising is incurred when the advertisement is broadcast, published or posted online, and expenditure on election material is incurred when the material is distributed.

Each expenditure return requires:

  • the name and address of the person who supplied the goods or services;
  • a description of the goods or service;
  • the amount of the electoral expenditure;
  • when the expenditure was incurred; and
  • the purpose of the expenditure.

It is essential that candidates ensure the expenditure records they keep include these details so that they can report these fully and accurately in their returns. More instructions will be published on this website before the new laws take effect.

All candidates are required to disclose details of their personal/material interests and affiliations on their official nomination form. The following must be declared:

  • any membership of a registered political party or trade or professional organisation held by the candidate within 12 months prior to nomination
  • whether the candidate or a close associate* has a contractual arrangement with the council being contested by the candidate
  • whether the candidate or a close associate* is engaged in a contractual process with the council being contested by the candidate, and
  • whether the candidate or a close associate* has made any applications, or representations about particular applications, to the council being contested by the candidate.

*For the purpose of candidate nominations, a close associate is:

  • a spouse of the candidate, or
  • a partner in a partnership with the candidate, or
  • an entity for which the candidate is an executive officer or board member.

Queensland law bans political donations by property developers and industry bodies which have property developers as the majority of their members.

It is illegal to make or accept these donations or to ask someone to make a donation on behalf of a property developer or their close associate. Serious penalties apply for any breach of these laws.

Candidates, groups of candidates and political parties should be aware of the source of all donations to ensure they do not accept a gift or gift-in-kind from a prohibited donor.

Donors who are uncertain about their status may apply to the ECQ for a determination or seek their own legal advice.

For more information see the Prohibited Donors Scheme or contact pds@ecq.qld.gov.au.

Candidates who believe they may have contravened laws regarding the disclosure of donations and campaign expenditure should write to the ECQ soon as possible, providing all relevant records and information. The ECQ will take into account any voluntary disclosure when conducting its compliance and enforcement activities during and after the election.

Non-compliance with disclosure obligations carries a maximum penalty of 100 penalty units (valued at $13,345 as at 1 July 2019).  Failing to comply with these obligations is also an integrity offence, which may lead to disqualification from office.

Additional information for groups of candidates

When the new laws take effect in early 2020, it will be unlawful for groups of candidates to conduct group campaigning activities until they register with the ECQ.

Group campaigning activities may include: using a common platform to promote the election of the candidates (e.g. promoting the same political policies), using the same advertisements (e.g. pamphlets, billboards), using the same campaign slogans, brands or images, using the same how-to-vote cards, participating in the same fundraising activities or events, or sharing gifts or loans or the same resources for election campaigns (other than volunteers).

Any candidate who intends to contest the 2020 local government elections as a member of a group should notify the ECQ via email at fad@ecq.qld.gov.au.  They must provide the name of the group and a list of the candidates who intend to be members.

While formal registration of groups is not mandatory until the new laws commence in early 2020, it is advisable to notify the ECQ as soon as possible if you are planning to conduct group campaigning activities. The ECQ will then work with group members to help them meet their legal obligations.

More information on applications for registration will be available on this website before the new laws take effect.

Please note, candidates endorsed by a registered political party are not considered a group of candidates and may engage in group campaigning activities without registering with the ECQ.

Conducting group campaigning activities before registering the group with the ECQ could result in financial penalties of up to 100 penalty units (valued at $13,345 as at 1 July 2019).

For more information on groups of candidates in local government elections, see the Reforms group fact sheet.

Information for political donors

When new disclosure laws come into effect in early 2020, any person or entity that makes a donation or spends funds on a local government candidate or campaign will be required to disclose details of the transaction using the ECQ’s Electronic Disclosure System (EDS).

It is the responsibility of all political donors to be aware of their obligations and ensure they fully comply with electoral laws.

More information and guidance for candidates and donors will be published on the ECQ website before the new laws take effect.