(Image: AAP)

An Australian National Audit Office review of the Electoral Commission's political donation process has revealed the contempt with which political parties and many donors hold our most important transparency requirement, and prompted a brawl between the auditors and the agency charged with overseeing Australia's political process.

The audit shows that, over a four-year period, more than a fifth of annual donation returns were late, and around 17% of post-election returns were also lodged by political parties, associated entities and donors later than required under legislation, in a number of cases around four months late.

However, the Electoral Commission has point-blank rejected the ANAO's recommendation that the Commission make stronger use of its enforcement powers via a graduated approach. The auditors concluded that the AEC was too light-touch in its response to repeated breaches of legislation by political parties, with Labor state and territory branches appearing to be a particular problem.