Who can stand for election?

Standing for federal elections

Candidates in federal elections must be 18 years old, Australian citizens and eligible voters. There is no requirement that candidates live in the electorate that they wish to contest.

The Constitution of Australia, under section 44, disqualifies the following people from nominating as candidates:

  • citizens and subjects of a foreign power;
  • anyone convicted of an offence punishable by a sentence of 12 months or more;
  • undischarged bankrupts;
  • anyone holding an office of profit under the Crown;
  • anyone with a pecuniary interest in an agreement with the Commonwealth Public Service (except members of incorporated companies with 25 people or more).

These constitutional restrictions have seen several candidates who have won elections challenged in the courts. Several candidates have been disqualified for holding dual citizenship, including One Nation Senator-elect Heather Hill. In 1999 the High Court declared her election to the Senate in the previous year invalid on the ground that her Australian-British dual citizenship constituted an allegiance to a foreign power. All candidates for the federal parliament must therefore take ‘reasonable steps’ to renounce their foreign citizenship. The rule does not, however, apply to State and Territory elections.

Disqualification on the basis of holding public office also represents a significant barrier for many potential parliamentarians. Although the aim of the rule is to prevent elected representatives being compromised by their duty to the executive government, it extends to a wide range of occupations with very little potential for conflict. For example, in 1996, Liberal Party candidate Jackie Kelly won the seat of Lindsay while an officer serving in the RAAF (an office of profit). She was found ineligible but, having resigned from the RAAF, successfully recontested the seat in a by-election. The Commonwealth and some states have legislated to ensure that public servants who resign their positions to contest elections are reinstated if they are unsuccessful but this problem has not been eliminated entirely.

How do candidates nominate?

People wishing to nominate in federal elections have to do so between the issuing of writs for an election and the close of nominations (between 10 and 27 days after writs are issued). Nomination forms are available from the Australian Electoral Commission and can either by submitted individually by candidates or in bulk by political parties.

Candidates must be nominated by 100 electors or be endorsed by a political party, in addition to paying a deposit of $1000 to contest a House of Representatives seat and $2000 to contest a Senate seat. Deposits are returned to candidates who get more than four per cent of the first preference vote.

Nomination and deposit requirements limit access to election contests in an attempt to discourage frivolous candidates, and to try to reduce the length and complexity of ballot papers so as to minimise the possibility of voter confusion and mistakes. In 2013, 529 candidates nominated for the Senate. A further 1188 candidates nominated for the House of Representatives – an average of eight candidates in each seat.

Standing for state and territory elections

The states and territories have similar laws governing who can nominate in their elections and when and how they nominate. Grounds for exclusion from candidacy vary but generally relate to residency, criminal sentences and offices of profit.

The number of people who need to support a nomination also varies, from six (for example, in the Northern Territory) to 15 (New South Wales). Deposits vary from $200 (Northern Territory) to $700 (Victorian Legislative Council). The percentage of votes needed to recoup deposits also varies. While it is typically four per cent of the first preference vote, 20 per cent of the quota is required in the Tasmanian and ACT Legislative Assembly elections.