Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Australian Electoral Rules and Democracy

In a post on his political blog Neil (Ninglun) expressed surprise that I would consider voting for the Socialist Equality Party, simply because that party has demonstrated that "the NSW rules are a fundamental abrogation of democracy".

There was in fact a little more to it that this. That said, I thought that I would look at the abrogation question because I suspect that very few Australians actually realise what has been done in all Australian jurisdictions and what it actually means for democracy.

Let's start with electoral funding. Introduced to reduce funding rorts and dependence on big donors, clearly a successful ploy, candidates and parties who get a certain proportion of the vote receive funding. This is paid after the election, providing a funding base for the next campaign. Now whatever the arguments for this, it clearly disadvantages new entrants to the political scene.

The rules state that a political party must have so many members or be deregistered. Surely that's fair enough? Well, it creates certain problems.

When you are new or in decline, getting the minimum numbers can be a problem.

At the time the Democrats were deregistered in Tasmania they were still supported by one in fifty Tasmanians. The critical issue became not the actual or potential support of the electorate, but the capacity of Party people to go out and recruit members, a very different issue.

This does not matter for bigger parties who if push comes to shove have the people and money capacity to sort the problem one way or another. It matters enormously if you are depending on a few volunteers.

Now we come to real kicker in NSW, the rule that parties must be registered one year before the election.This rule, supported for some reason by Greens, Liberals, Nationals and Labor, makes life very difficult. It means, for example, that the new environmental group led by Patrice Newell cannot run as a Party.

If you look at the history of Australian politics, you will see that most new political movements really came together in the twelve months before the election. This is no longer possible in NSW because the rules preclude it. And no one has really complained!

So if you are about to set up as a new political movement in NSW you need to do the following.

First, you must complete all the political conditions required for registration as a Party a minimum of twelve months before the election. Better allow more time since you will have to deal with objections from existing Parties.

Secondly, you have to get the minimum numbers of Party members. It does not matter how you do this, although you do not want to breach formal rules. Still, there is lots of scope for creative recruiting.

Thirdly, in cash management terms you have to budget to get through the first election with the minimum required vote in each seat or the council because then you will have a war chest. So focus your efforts to maximise the funding payback.

People wonder about the rise of the independents. There have always been independent movements, but it is only in the last decade that they have become a real alternative to a new Party or political movement.

This is not surprising, for the independents have become the Party that you have when you are not having a Party. So long as you do not breach the rules regarding independence, and their seem to be a number of these, you have lots of scope for cooperation and joint fund raising.


Lexcen said...

Very interesting observation.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, Lexcen.