All parliamentarians and relevant Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 (MOP(S) Act) employees are encouraged to become familiar with their responsibilities and conditions that apply to their use of Commonwealth-provided or funded offices, directing electorate employees, the use of other public resources and claiming expenses for referendum-related activities.
The Parliamentary Business Resources Act 2017 (PBR Act) does not preclude parliamentarians from using public resources or claiming expenses for activities related to a referendum, subject to meeting their obligations under the PBR Act, including the parliamentary business dominant purpose and value for money tests, and any specific conditions that apply.
Please note that this advice only relates to the requirements of the PBR Act and MOP(S) Act frameworks. It is the responsibility of parliamentarians and MOP(S) Act employees to ensure any other legal requirements or authorisations are met. In particular, please be mindful of any requirements and guidance issued by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) – refer Referendum 2023.
Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 Framework
Directing employees during a referendum
Personal and electorate employees may undertake certain activities relating to the 2023 Australian Indigenous Voice referendum provided they are consistent with the legislative obligations of their employing parliamentarian under the MOP(S) Act employment framework and Parliamentary Business Resources Framework (PBR Act framework).
Parliamentarians should be satisfied that electorate employees are not undertaking party political duties and are able to defend the duties undertaken by all their employees.
What can a parliamentarian direct staff to do?
As part of the referendum, Parliamentarians may direct an electorate employee to undertake duties such as:
- Preparing materials and brochures in relation to their employing parliamentarian’s platform on the referendum (consistent with the PBR Framework obligations).
- Handing out materials related to the referendum (consistent with the PBR Framework obligations) from their electorate offices and other Commonwealth-provided or funded offices.
- Conducting door-knocking to provide information about the referendum and/or their employing parliamentarian’s platform.
- Contacting constituents to understand issues of concern in relation to the referendum.
- Coordinating volunteers in relation to the activities mentioned above.
An employee may wear clothing (such as a t-shirt or cap) referencing their parliamentarian’s preference for voting if:
- The item of clothing was not produced, distributed or claimed under the PBR Act framework and
- The parliamentarian is satisfied they can justify that the employee is not undertaking any party-political business.
It is the responsibility of each parliamentarian to ensure any other legal requirements or authorisations are met around the referendum.
What can a parliamentarian NOT direct staff to do?
As part of the referendum, Parliamentarians may not direct an employee to:
- Re-produce copies of the AEC referendum pamphlets to provide to constituents. Under the PBR Framework, the pamphlet cannot be reproduced by a parliamentarian using their office expenses budget).
- Undertake party political duties if an electorate employee.
What supports are available?
Employees are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the Fatigue Management, to assist them in managing their health and well-being during the referendum period.
For tips on how to respond to racism please go to Racism. It stops with me or visit MOPS Learning to access a range of training courses to support MOP(S) Act employees manage instances of constituent racism, aggression or fixation.
For further information on the supports available please see: Wellbeing and HR Advice and Support.
Parliamentary Business Resources Act 2017 Framework
Use of Offices and Office Resources
What can parliamentarians use their offices and office resources to do?
As part of the referendum, parliamentarians can use their Commonwealth-provided or funded offices for activities such as:
- Displaying referendum-related material.
- Producing, communicating and distributing material they claim using their office budget, provided the parliamentarian has satisfied their PBR obligations and specific conditions that apply (see more below).
- Distributing referendum-related material that has been produced outside of their annual budget for office expenses (such as by third parties, political parties or as a personal expense), provided it complies with other legal requirements applicable, such as the authorisation requirements set out by the AEC.
- Handing out official referendum pamphlets provided to them by the AEC.
- Holding and facilitating discussions with constituents and interested parties on matters relating to the referendum.
What can’t parliamentarians use their offices and office resources to do?
As part of the referendum, parliamentarians are unable to use their Commonwealth-provided or funded offices for activities such as:
- Undertaking referendum-related fundraising.
- Pursuing the commercial purpose of the parliamentarian or another person.
- Providing a personal benefit to the parliamentarian or another person
For further information on parliamentarian use of offices - see Use of offices and office resources | Ministerial and Parliamentary Services.
Parliamentarians are accountable for all use of resources provided to them at Commonwealth expense, including any charges incurred for use of office equipment and facilities, such as telephones.
Annual Budget for Office Expenses
Parliamentarians may claim office expenses from their annual budget for office expenses (office budget) related to a referendum, subject to meeting their obligations under the PBR Act, including any specific conditions that apply.
What can parliamentarians claim using their office budget?
As part of the referendum, parliamentarians are able to claim office expenses provided they satisfy their PBR obligations (e.g. dominant purpose of conducting their own parliamentary business and value for money) and the specific conditions that apply. For example, parliamentarians can use their office expenses to:
- Produce material on the referendum, including printed and electronic, websites and social media content, subject to the relevant conditions for those office expenses.
- Conduct virtual town hall meetings by electronic communication.
- SMS broadcasting and surveys.
- Print and distribute postal vote applications, provided it meets the requirements of the AEC (see more below).
What can’t parliamentarians claim using their office budget?
As part of the referendum, parliamentarians cannot claim office expenses for:
- Material that includes statements that provide instruction on how to complete a referendum ballot paper, such as ‘vote yes’, ‘vote no’, ‘write yes’ and ‘write no’. This restriction includes material with a QR code or weblink to another website which includes these phrases.
- Material that solicits donations, membership to a political party or a vote for another person (see Conditions for claiming office expenses for more).
- Advertising the commercial purpose of another person (including a business).
- Production or placement of content for broadcasting on television.
- Reproducing the official Yes/No referendum pamphlet produced by the AEC, as it includes statements such as 'The case for voting Yes', 'Vote Yes', 'The case for voting No' and 'Vote No'.
For further information and examples of material that cannot be claimed by parliamentarians using their office budget, such as providing instructions on how to complete a referendum ballot paper – see the office expenses budget | Referendums | Ministerial and Parliamentary Services webpage.
When in doubt, please contact the MaPS Helpdesk for further information.
Conditions for claiming office expenses
The PBR Regulations impose specific conditions on the use of office expenses, including that material does not:
- solicit a vote for another person (or any political party)
- solicit subscriptions or other financial support or non-financial support for any parliamentarian, political party or candidate (other than volunteering)
- solicit applications for or renewals of membership in a political party
- provide instructions on how to complete a ballot paper
- include an advertisement pursuing a commercial purpose for yourself or another person (including a business)
- exceed the limit of your office budget.
These conditions also apply for referendum-related activities. For further information on each of these conditions – see Conditions for claiming | Ministerial and Parliamentary Services.
QR Codes and third-party websites
Please be mindful that the inclusion of weblinks, QR codes or other URLs that link directly to websites may have content change from time-to-time. Pre-claim assessments and assessments made at the time of a claim are only considered by MaPS at that point of time. However, the PBR Act obligations on parliamentarians are ongoing. Parliamentarians should be careful to avoid the actual or perceived use of public resources to direct individuals to material that contravenes those obligations.
Postal Vote Applications (PVAs)
There is no prescribed limit on the number of PVAs and reply-paid envelopes that may be printed using the office budget, however, parliamentarians must comply with their PBR obligations. This would include consideration of the number of PVAs required for a parliamentarian’s constituents.
The delivery address for a reply-paid envelope for PVAs should be the claiming parliamentarian’s electorate office, Parliament House office, ministerial/office holder office, or a post office box associated with such offices.
The AEC has referendum specific advice around the legislative requirements and approved PVA artwork – refer Postal voting - Australian Electoral Commission.
All parliamentarians and relevant MOP(S) Act employees are encouraged to become familiar with the conditions and use the pre-claim assessment process to help guide in the use of permitted statements, visuals and other designs.
The use of office expenses that contravene any of the obligations or conditions may result in a debt to the Commonwealth and may attract a 25 per cent penalty loading. Further information on the penalty scheme under the PBR Act is available on the MaPS website.
Further information on office expenditure
For more information on office expenditure please see Referendums | Ministerial and Parliamentary Services (finance.gov.au)
Travel for parliamentarians and MOP(S) Act employees is administered by the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority (IPEA). IPEA should be contacted regarding any travel related queries, including travel relating to a referendum