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Office Expenses - Restrictions

Overarching Obligations

The Parliamentary Business Resources Act 2017 imposes overarching obligations.
The dominant purpose and value for money tests and specified conditions must be met. See s25, 26, 27, 28.

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In addition to the Overarching Obligations under the Parliamentary Business Resources Act 2017, specific restrictions under s66(3)-(5) Parliamentary Business Resources Regulations 2017 apply to the use of office expenses.

Office expenses must not be used to:

  • produce, communicate or distribute material that solicits: a vote for a person other than yourself; subscriptions or other financial or non-financial support (other than volunteering) for you, a political party or a candidate; or applications for or renewals of membership in a political party
  • produce, communicate or distribute material that provides instructions on how to complete a ballot paper, or includes an advertisement pursuing a commercial purpose for yourself or another person
  • purchase postage stamps or stamped envelopes, other than those provided by your House Department.

Prior to producing printed or electronic material, you may submit proposed material to Ministerial and Parliamentary Services for a pre-production assessment – see Printing and Communications – Printing and Production Assessment and Payment.

Overarching Obligations and Dominant Purpose of Parliamentary Business

All expenditure from your annual budget for office expenses must be used for the dominant purpose of your parliamentary business. It must not be for the dominant purpose of providing personal benefit to, or pursuing the commercial purposes of, you or another person. Commercial purpose is defined as a ‘purpose relating to the derivation of financial gain or reward’ (see s5 PBR Act).

You should consider whether an expense could be perceived to have a personal or commercial benefit to you or another person, and whether you are prepared to publicly justify the expense as being for the dominant purpose of parliamentary business.

Commercial Purposes

Your annual budget for office expenses must not be used to produce, communicate or distribute any material that includes an advertisement that pursues the commercial purposes of you or another person. However, parliamentary business supported by office expenses may involve incidental reference to a for-profit business and not contravene either the general dominant purpose requirement or this specific restriction concerning ‘commercial purposes.’

Specific Restrictions on Use

Broadcasting on Television or Radio

66(2) of the Parliamentary Business Resources Regulations 2017

Office expenses must not be used to pay for the production or placement of content for broadcasting on television or radio.

However, for example, content could be disseminated online including via your or other websites, podcasts or streaming services, including online commercial television streaming services (subject to satisfying all obligations including the dominant purpose and value for money tests).

Postage Stamps or Stamped Envelopes

s66(5) of the Parliamentary Business Resources Regulations 2017

Office expenses must not be used to purchase postage stamps or stamped envelopes. You are provided with a postage meter for your electorate office. You may be provided with an allocation of stamps at Parliament House by your House Department.

Material that Solicits a Vote for Another Person

66(3)(a)(i) of the Parliamentary Business Resources Regulations 2017

Office expenses must not be used to produce, communicate or distribute material that solicits a vote for a person (which includes a political party) other than yourself. “Soliciting” encompasses direct activities that seek to influence or elicit a particular outcome. You may use your work expenses in support of your own re-election, but not to seek the election or re-election of any other person or a political party. This includes printed and electronic material, and material produced either in-house or by a commercial service provider.

In general, material produced, communicated or distributed using the annual budget for office expenses should not mention voting, unless the material expressly requests the recipient to vote for the member who will be claiming expenses related to the material, or is about participating in an election without soliciting a vote for any person or party.

Examples of types of printing and communications and phrases or activities that can, and cannot, be included in material produced, communicated or distributed using the annual budget for office expenses are outlined below.

Scenario Permitted, subject to obligations Excluded
‘Vote for Sarah’ (where Sarah is the member making the claim).  
‘Vote for Joe’ (where Sarah is the member making the claim).  
‘Vote for X party’.  
‘Vote for your local X party candidate’.  
‘Just another reason to vote X party at the next election’.  
‘The best way to make sure that doesn't happen is to vote X party’.  
‘Joe, a hard working State MP’ (where Sarah is the member making the claim).  
‘X Party working for you’.  
‘Get out and vote at the federal election’.  
Material seeks the views of the voting preferences of the electorate, eg. as part of a questionnaire or survey.  

Material that Solicits Subscriptions or Other Financial or Non-financial Support (Other than Volunteering) for a member, political party or candidate

66(3)(a)(ii) of the Parliamentary Business Resources Regulations 2017

Office expenses must not be used to produce, communicate or distribute material that solicits subscriptions or other financial or non-financial support (other than volunteering) for a member, political party or candidate. This includes provision of support in kind, such as donation of goods and services.

Subject to your obligations under the PBR Act, broad statements seeking support for yourself, a political party or a candidate are permitted. Express statements requesting for types of precluded support, such as donations of money or items, are not permitted.

This preclusion applies to all office expenses, including printed and electronic material, and material produced either by a commercial service provider or in-house.

Examples of types of printing and communications and phrases or activities that can, and cannot, be included in material produced, communicated or distributed using the annual budget for office expenses are outlined below:

Scenario Permitted, subject to obligations Excluded

Newsletter/website refers viewers to another website, and that other website includes a link(s) to a webpage(s) dedicated to seeking donations to a member, political party or candidate, e.g. ‘find out more about the election/X Party at the X party website [www… - which has a ‘donate here’ link amongst other information and links]’.

Note: Any links from claimed material that refers viewers directly to a webpage dedicated to seeking donations to a member, political party or candidate is not permitted.

 
‘If you would like to support my campaign, contact my office’.  
‘I ask for your support at this election’.

 
‘I now seek your support to continue to represent you in this capacity’.  
‘[X party] and I ask for your support at this election’.  
‘Get out and support the [X party] at this election’  
‘I ask that you support [candidate] at this election’.  
‘Contact [candidate] for ways in which you can support them at this election’  
‘Contact [X party] for ways in which you can support it at this election’  
An invitation to a function you are hosting where cost recovery occurs - e.g. a town hall community meeting where tea and cakes are provided for a ‘gold coin’ donation, or a breakfast with a small cover charge to cover costs (and no profit).  
‘Please donate [money, corflutes, signage, printing, etc.] to [my re-election campaign] / [to the [X party]] / [to [candidate’s] election campaign]’.  
Website has a ‘donate here’ link.  
‘Donate to the X party’.  
‘Follow this link to donate to the X party’.  

Material that Solicits Applications for or Renewals of Membership in a Political Party

66(3)(a)(iii) of the Parliamentary Business Resources Regulations 2017

Office expenses must not be used to produce, communicate or distribute material that solicits applications for or renewals of membership in a political party. This includes printed and electronic material, and material produced either by a commercial service provider or in-house.

Examples of types of printing and communications and phrases or activities that can, and cannot, be included in material produced, communicated or distributed using the annual budget for office expenses are outlined below:

Scenario Permitted, subject to obligations Excluded
‘To join or renew your membership in the X Party, see our website www…’.  

Newsletter/website refers viewers to another website, and that other website includes a link(s) to a webpage(s) dedicated to seeking party memberships, e.g. ‘find out more about the election/X Party at the X party website [www… - which has a ‘apply here’ link amongst other information and links]’.

Note: Any links from claimed material that refers viewers directly  to a webpage dedicated to seeking party memberships is not permitted.

 
‘Join the X Party’.  

Material that Provides Instructions on How to Complete a Ballot Paper

66(3)(b) of the Parliamentary Business Resources Regulations 2017

Office expenses must not be used to produce, communicate or distribute material that provides instructions on how to complete a ballot paper.

Examples of phrases that can and cannot, be included in material produced under the annual budget for office expenses are outlined below.

Scenario Permitted, subject to obligations Excluded
‘Vote for Sarah’ (where Sarah is the member making the claim).  
Letter to constituents says ‘If you would like to support my re-election, place a 1 in the box beside my name on the green ballot paper and number every other square in the order of your preference’.  
‘Vote 1 for the X Party’.  
‘Vote 1 Sarah’.  
‘How to vote for Sarah - Vote 1 Sarah then number every box in order of your preference’.  

Material that Includes an Advertisement that Pursues the Commercial Purposes of the Member or Another Person

66(4) of the Parliamentary Business Resources Regulations 2017

Office expenses must not be used to produce, communicate or distribute any material that includes an advertisement that pursues the commercial purposes of the member or another person.

The intention is that no commercial benefit flows from the inclusion of material in, for example, a newsletter. This goes further than the dominant purpose test (because the newsletter could still be for the dominant purpose of your electorate duties, even if a commercial advertisement was placed in the newsletter).

To be eligible to claim office expenses for material produced either by a commercial service provider or in-house, that material must not include an advertisement that pursues the provision of a financial gain or reward for you or another person. This applies even if a payment was not received, nor any request made, to place the advertisement in the material. Consider, for example, if an article might be seen to promote a particular local business, especially if there are similar businesses in the area.

However, parliamentary business supported by office expenses may involve incidental reference to a for-profit business and not contravene either the general dominant purpose requirement or this specific restriction concerning ‘commercial purposes.’

Examples of material considered to include or not include a prohibited advertisement for the purpose of claiming expenses under the annual budget for office expenses are outlined below.

Scenario Permitted, subject to obligations Excluded
Newsletter/video/website includes an advertisement for ‘Joe Bloggs, Butcher, address and/or phone’.  
Newsletter/video includes an article/footage about a local event or issue, with text/speech referring to local businessman Joe Bloggs as a person that operates a local butchery’.  
Newsletter/video includes an article/footage about a local event or issue, with text/speech referring to local businessman Joe Bloggs and the name of his business, Joe Bloggs’ Butchery.

Whether a reference to for-profit businesses contravenes section 66(4) will depend on relevant factors, such as the purpose and context of the material.

Members should be careful not to promote/advertise (or be seen to promote/advertise) for-profit businesses in any way. Any references to for-profit business should be incidental only.

Members should act in a way that gives best effect to intention of the restriction – that there is no commercial benefit that flows to for-profit businesses from printed or electronic material claimed under the PBR Act.

Newsletter promotes a charity activity or event, sponsored by Big Bank, (e.g. the inclusion of a fun run logo that includes the logo/branding of the Big Bank and/or photos of the event that include logos/branding of the Big Bank that are incidental in nature).  
Newsletter promotes a charity activity or event, sponsored by Big Bank, and on several pages of the newsletter has references to ‘the Big Bank and its logo’.  
Magnetised calendar contains Member’s office address, emergency numbers etc.  
Magnetised calendar contains Member’s office address, emergency numbers etc plus ‘Joe Bloggs Butcher, address and/or phone number’.  

Last updated: 09 December 2019