You may use your annual budget for office expenses (office expenses budget) for a range of printing, production, distribution and communications activities. Your PBR obligations, including the dominant purpose and value for money tests, apply to expenses claimed for these activities. In addition, a number of specific conditions apply to expenses claimed from your office budget.
All expenditure against your office budget is included in your expenditure reports published by the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority (IPEA).
The following printing, production, distribution and communications expenses may be claimed against your office budget:
Printing and production of materials
- printing (must be on paper no heavier than 700 grams per square metre, or flat magnetised material), including postal vote applications
- distributing postal vote applications, including reply paid envelopes (see ‘postal vote applications’ section below)
- creating matter for inclusion in printed material, electronic material or audio posters, including translation services, design, artwork, photography, video, and sound production and recordings
- content development, editing and proof reading services (where it relates to the creation of material for inclusion in printed or electronic material)
- producing and maintaining audio posters
Websites and social media
- establishing, maintaining and monitoring websites including design services, website construction, hosting, domain renewals and website upgrades
- creating and distributing social media content
- advertising on social media platforms
- social media monitoring and maintenance services for your website where the website allows comments to be posted, or includes a social media or RSS feed
- email distribution services
- short messaging service (SMS) broadcasting and survey services including bulk SMS communication to individuals
- placement of content in printed and electronic publications produced and distributed by third parties including local and national newspapers
- postal services from Australia Post (including credits to postage meters) and other mail distribution services (including letter box drops in the electorate)
- Note: postage stamps or stamped envelopes, other than those provided by your parliamentary department, are not claimable (see ‘Restrictions’ section below)
- conducting virtual town hall meetings including commercial services that allow you to engage with your constituents via telephone in a town hall style discussion
- datasets that would assist you to contact constituents (phone numbers, email addresses etc.) or to tailor communication appropriately to those constituents (demographic information, etc.), and data validation services (services that assist you to build your constituent database and/or maintain the accuracy and currency of its data) for the purposes of communicating with your constituents
- Note: constituent is defined under the Parliamentary Business Resources Act 2017 (PBR Act) to mean a person enrolled to vote or resident in your state or territory (if you are a senator), or your electorate (if you are a member of the House of Representatives).
- The scope of data included in a product should be appropriate to your constituents and the nature of your communication (for example nation-wide data products are unlikely to represent value for money)
- online survey tools (e.g. to gauge the views and opinions of constituents)
- conducting interactive voice response phone surveys including inbound or outbound communication to fixed or mobile devices
- for certain members of the House of Representatives, broadcasting on regional community and open narrowcast radio services (see the ‘regional community and open narrowcast radio services’ section for more information).
Auslan interpreting and closed caption services
Auslan interpreting and closed captioning services may be purchased as an office expense for the conduct of your parliamentary business. This is only applicable when existing Government services, such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme or the National Relay Service, cannot reasonably provide the services in the circumstances. For example, for communicating with multiple constituents requiring the services in a group setting.
Things that cannot be claimed
The following list includes examples of the types of expenses that are not claimable:
- communication or engagement strategy development
- social media consultancy and marketing services
- costs not directly associated with creating the content of the electronic material, for example, hair styling and makeup for video production
- professional networking website memberships
- data products and data validation services that do not relate directly to communicating with your constituents.
Conditions applying to office expenses
In addition to the parliamentary business and value for money tests, the Parliamentary Business Resources Regulations 2017 imposes specific conditions on the use of office expenses.
If you contravene a condition, you are unable to claim expenses for the item.
The conditions cover:
- broadcasting on television and radio
- purchasing stamps or stamped envelopes
- material that:
- solicits a vote for another person
- solicits (for a parliamentarian, political party or candidate) subscriptions, other financial support, or non-financial support (other than volunteering)
- solicits applications for, or renewals of, membership in a political party
- provides instructions on how to complete a ballot paper
- includes an advertisement that pursues a commercial purpose for yourself or another person (you 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).
For detailed information on these conditions, including examples, see 'conditions applying to office expenses (office expenses budget’. MaPS can provide advice on proposed non-travel related claims under the PBR Act to ensure you meet your obligations through an optional, pre-claim assessment.
Use of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms
You should follow the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet's Guidelines for using the Commonwealth Coat of Arms if you wish to include it in printed or electronic material. For example, the Commonwealth Coat of Arms must not be used with political logos.
Establishment and maintenance of websites
In order to claim expenses from your office expenses budget, the website must be identifiable as your website, comply with your obligations and not contravene any conditions. For example, it must not solicit donations or political party memberships.
Your website may contain a party emblem or logo, and may link to your party website.
Website hosting may be paid up to 12 months in advance, and domain name registration up to 24 months in advance. However, you should be aware that if you cease to be a parliamentarian during the period of the pre-paid website hosting, you may be required to repay the cost for the hosting which exceeds the length of your parliamentary term as well as any corresponding penalty loading. The 25 per cent penalty loading applies where more than 28 days have elapsed since the original claim date. MaPS has no discretion to waive the penalty loading.
Progressive payments may be made for website development, redevelopment or design.
Postal vote applications (PVAs)
There is no prescribed limit on the number of PVAs and reply-paid envelopes that may be printed for a federal election using your office expenses budget, however, you must comply with your PBR obligations. This would include consideration of the number of PVAs required for your constituents. ‘Constituent’ is defined in section 5 of the PBR Act as a person enrolled to vote or resident in your electorate (state/territory for a senator).
You must not distribute material, including a PVA, which solicits a vote for a person other than yourself or provides instructions on how to complete a ballot paper (see Conditions applying to office expenses section above).
Due to your parliamentary business obligation, the delivery address for a reply-paid envelope for PVAs should be your electorate office, Parliament House office, ministerial/office holder office, or a post office box associated with such offices.
The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 requires a PVA to be in the approved form, i.e. as approved by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) by notice published on the AEC’s website. See AEC Guidelines for the Reproduction of PVAs.
Cost sharing for printing and distribution
You may enter into a cost-sharing arrangement for the printing and/or distribution of material produced jointly with another Commonwealth or State parliamentarian, provided that you only claim your proportion of the office expenses incurred and the material complies with your PBR obligations. Likewise, when distributing material using your office expenses budget, you may include material that has been produced by a state parliamentarian or local government representative, provided you only claim your proportion of the distribution costs and the included material complies with your PBR obligations.
You should take care to ensure that the dominant purpose of producing and/or distributing the material is your parliamentary business. Expenses of one parliamentarian cannot be bestowed upon another for the benefit of the other. For example, a member of the House of Representatives cannot meet the full costs of production and distribution of a publication under his or her office budget on behalf of a senator, even if the senator and member share a constituency, or vice versa.
If you enter into a cost-sharing arrangement for printing/distributing material with another parliamentarian, you must ensure that all material included in the distribution complies with the conditions that apply to office expenses.
Postage meters and Australia Post charge accounts
MaPS supplies a postage meter (franking machine) for your primary electorate office. This device imprints postage paid on material to be mailed, with credit downloaded from Australia Post through a modem.
You will need to establish an Australia Post charge account. This is a private arrangement between yourself and Australia Post. While the standard credit limit is $25,000, you may contact Australia Post directly to vary the amount.
When the credit is exhausted or running low on your postage meter, your office can download credit from Australia Post, usually in $500 and $1,000 blocks, subject to the balance remaining in your Australia Post charge account.
Postage meter charges are automatically billed to your nominated Australia Post charge account. Charges for the dominant purpose of your parliamentary business may be claimed from your office expenses budget.
You may also claim, from your office expenses budget, Australia Post account charges for bulk postage organised through your local post office. The postage must be for the dominant purpose of your parliamentary business.
You cannot claim the purchase of stamps or stamped envelopes from your office expenses budget. However, if you wish to have access to stamps, your parliamentary department may make these available to you to the value of $1,800 each financial year. If you choose to receive this allocation, it will be deducted from your office expenses budget.
Postage meter readings
Postage meter readings are taken at the end of each financial year to calculate remaining funds available from the annual budget for office expenses for the following year. Readings may also be taken at other times, for example, prior to a Federal election. Readings are obtained remotely by Pitney Bowes or can be done manually.
For training in the operation of postage meters, contact Pitney Bowes.
Postage costs for official duties
Postage costs for the official duties of a Minister or Assistant Minister are administered by the relevant portfolio department, and for a Presiding Officer by the relevant parliamentary department.
MaPS will provide a postage meter for postage expenses for official duties for each senior office holder who is a member of the Opposition and for the leader of a minority party.
Postage costs for official duties are not subject to your office expenses budget provided for your parliamentary and electorate duties, or the conditions that apply to your office expenses budget.
Postage costs for your official duties are included in your expenditure reports published by IPEA separately to any postage transactions met under your office expenses budget.
Invoices for postage costs
All pages of the Australia Post invoices must be submitted to MaPS through PEMS immediately upon receipt. If PEMS is unavailable, complete form 141 - certification and request for payment - printing, communications and software or form 155 - certification and request for payment - office stationery and supplies, minor office equipment, ICT accessories, publications and mobile electorate office expenses (see related resources).
In order to have the invoice paid on time and to avoid a late fee from Australia Post, MaPS needs to receive the invoice and certification at least 5 business days before the invoice due date to allow for processing and certification of the account. Accounts received with less than 5 business days until they are due will not be processed in time and will incur a late fee.
If you have reached your monthly credit limit and the account has not been paid, Australia Post will put a block on the account.
Courier and freight transfer costs
You may claim from your annual budget for office expenses courier or other freight transfer costs for transferring documents and other small items for your parliamentary business between your offices.