Thursday, 11 May 2006
Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005
Consideration in Detail
The government will oppose all of these amendments to the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005. Amendments (20), (21) and (23) to (35) would repeal several sections of the Electoral Act, including section 211 and others, which would remove the capacity to allow group voting tickets. This would mean a return to pre-1983 style voting, with no above-the-line or below-the-line voting. The government is considering the recommendation for compulsory preferential above-the-line voting in Senate elections which was made by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in its report on the 2004 federal election. The committee also recommended that the option of compulsory preferential below-the-line voting be retained. Consideration of these amendments would pre-empt the government’s response to the joint standing committee’s recommendations.
Amendment (37) appears to contradict the original objective of the scheme, which sought to provide public funding to cover the costs of contesting an election and to reduce the need for parties and candidates to rely on donations to participate in elections. Amendment (38) is likely to increase the administrative burden on candidates and parties. Sections 304 and 309 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act currently place a disclosure obligation on candidates and allow endorsed candidates to submit a nil return as their donations and expenditure are disclosed in the party’s annual return. This amendment would impose a second disclosure obligation on candidates so that candidates would effectively have to lodge two disclosure returns for a single disclosure period. The disclosure returns would largely report the same expenditure except that the proposed amendment does not contain a disclosure threshold.
The requirement that all expenditure on behalf of, or gifts or donations to, a candidate must be with the written authority of the candidate may place a cumbersome administrative burden on both candidates and donors. The requirement may also result in fewer gifts being made directly to candidates if donors are unable to acquire written authority in advance to make a gift. Much electoral expenditure—for example, advertising—is undertaken by a party as a whole or by campaign committees and benefits more than one candidate. This amendment would place an administrative burden on candidates and parties to apportion expenditure to individual candidates and ensure written authority from all affected candidates. The proposed amendment would also reduce transparency as returns would only be required to be publicly available for a period of six months after being received by the Australian Electoral Commission. There is no limit on the public availability of candidate returns under the existing section 304.
We oppose amendments (39) to (41) and (43) to (45). Similarly, we oppose amendments (42), (46) and (47). The government considers that the current provisions place an unnecessary administrative burden on publishing and broadcasting businesses. Expenditure on electoral advertising is already disclosed by individuals and organisations that authorise the advertisements, as required by other provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. The government obviously does not support amendments (48), (50) and (63). It considers that the proposed threshold is appropriate on the basis that the current threshold was too low when it was originally set and has since been eroded by inflation. The government is of the view that the support and contribution of political parties is critical to the health of Australian democracy and merits some recognition at a significantly greater level than currently.
Statistics provided by the Australian Electoral Commission show that 10 per cent of the donations reported by donors for 2004-05 were under $10,000 and 62 per cent were over $10,000. The member for Calare talked about 80 per cent of donations, but the figure of 81 per cent that I used in summing up was in fact for all other parties, including Independents et cetera. All private funding would be disclosed under these provisions. Disclosure is an interesting aspect. I should point out that these disclosure provisions are a minimum requirement and anybody will be free to disclose donations below $10,000 if they so choose. The opposition have been against this as well so, come the next election, it will be interesting to see whether they will disclose donations under $10,000 or accept the threshold of $10,000. (Time expired)