By Professor Adrienne Stone
In 1992, in Australian Capital Television v Commonwealth  HCA 1, the very first case on the constitutional freedom of political communication, the High Court struck down a Commonwealth law prohibiting electronic advertising during election periods. That law had been enacted as a campaign finance reform measure aimed at reducing the reliance of political parties on their donors and thus the High Court’s first application of the freedom of political communication struck a blow to the cause of campaign finance reform in Australia.
In more than twenty years since, however, freedom of political communication cases have focused on other questions such as the protection of political process, the application of defamation law in political debate and the permissibility of insult laws. It was not until late last year, however, that the Court returned to consider the operation of the freedom of political communication to the regulation of electoral finance. In Unions NSW v New South Wales  HCA 58, the Court heard a challenge brought by unions to two sections of the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act 1981 (NSW).
What were the challenged laws?
The general scheme of this Act requires disclosure of political donations by political parties, members of parliament, candidates and ‘third party campaigners’ (other persons who incur more than $2000 in electoral expenditure annually). It also caps the amount that can be donated to these persons and the total amount of electoral communication expenditure for State election campaigns. Continue reading