Comments from the Electoral Reform Society of South Australia, October 2013
The Electoral Reform Society of South Australia has reviewed the Electoral (Funding, Expenditure and Disclosure) Amendment Bill. As a result the ERS SA has a number of concerns about the proposed legislation and recommends that the Parliament refer the Bill to a Parliamentary Committee.
In summary the concerns raised by the Society are:
- The Bill is being dealt with unnecessarily quickly by the Parliament
- Addition electoral funding should, as a priority, be directed to the Electoral Commission of South Australia for the provision of information during State Elections
- Where electoral funding is to be distributed to political parties, this funding should be allocated on a per vote basis without threshold restrictions or differential per vote values.
Time frame and reference to Parliamentary Committee
We are concerned at the haste to pass this Bill, particularly as it is now not to apply at next year’s State election. As South Australia is one of the last States to consider public funding, we should be taking a considered approach. This Bill should be put to a Select Committee so that more than the politicians and the political parties have the opportunity to make input. If the proposed legislation is not to apply until the 2018 State election, there is time for this to happen.
The interim report of the Select Committee on matters related to the General Election of 20 March 2010 recommended that a joint select committee be established after each general election to undertake a review of that election. This committee should be established immediately to consider this Bill.
Use of public funds
We are told that the principle behind this Bill is that if it is in the public interest to restrict the capacity of political parties and candidates to raise money through various means like donations or certain types of fundraising events, the public then needs to provide some form of funding so that political parties can operate. This bias toward parties should be debated and justified to the public’s satisfaction. Those in the community that do not accept this principle should be allowed to put their case.
The Electoral Reform Society does not accept that all public funding needs to go directly to political parties and candidates. Instead the Society argues that at election time, the Electoral Commission SA should distribute material about the election to all electors. This package should include not only details about the election and where to vote, but details about the candidates, including contact details, for both Houses of Parliament and details about how-to-vote cards/tickets (which would assist in counteracting any future bogus how-to-vote cards distributed on election day). If South Australia is to have an informed electorate such detail needs to be provided.
Any funds that may be raised through this Bill need to firstly go towards having a well-resourced Electoral Commission and then in providing electors with details to help them make their decisions on how to vote. If we are serious in encouraging participation in the political process now is the time to provide more details so that electors can make informed decisions.
Differential level of funding
The Society would also argue that all electors should be treated equally and if there is to be public funding, then the monetary value of their votes should be the same. Why should the value of a person’s votes depend on which candidate they vote for? There is no need for arbitrary thresholds.
In the case of this Bill there are two arbitrary thresholds. If a candidate gets below 4% of the vote there is no public funding for that candidate, but if a candidate gets more than 10% of the vote, these votes have a lower value than for the first 10%. This is not acceptable on the principle of ‘one vote, one value.’
As a result of these thresholds there are some messy clauses in this Bill to cover instances where a candidate gets below the threshold but is elected. If there are no thresholds the legislation would be simpler and there would be less red tape.
Much of this Bill appears to be directed at and favouring the main established political parties, which is unfair to the others. For example, there are some tight timelines for both new political parties and any individuals who may be considering nominating and want to be part of the public funding arrangements. These deadlines could discourage such candidates from contesting an election.
This Bill is purportedly about funding election campaigns and yet it also allows for special assistance funding for political parties that appears to be solely for administrative and operational expenditure. And furthermore this ‘special assistance’ is only for political parties who have MPs, with a differing rate depend on how many MPs within these parties.
It would appear that Independent MPs would not be eligible. If in future taxpayers are going to have to pay for the privilege of there being fair and transparent elections in South Australia, then there is the need also for some fair and
transparent legislation. The Electoral Reform Society is concerned that as it stands the Electoral (Funding, Expenditure and Disclosure) Amendment Bill does not appear to provide this.