There hasn’t been a lot of notice paid to the government’s planned changes to the Australian electoral laws, even though there are significant measures contained in the legislation. In another example of legislation titles as Orwellian propaganda, this change is called Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill.
I’m not sure how it helps “electoral integrity” to knock a whole lot of people off the roll for election day – although I guess George W Bush and the electoral authorities in Florida would agree with such a definition.
The legislation has a range of changes, not all of which are bad. A major one is closing the voter rolls on the day the election is announced, thus making it much more difficult for people to get on the roll or change their details in the lead up to the election. If we had fixed terms this would be less draconian, as at least people would all know when the election day will be, but when the Prime Minister can basically announce an election at the drop of a hat, this is much more problematic, especially for people in more remote areas.
The Bill also increases the size of a donation that can be given without having to be publicly declared from $1500 to $10000. As most of the political parties are registered as separate state and territory based entities, this means 8 separate donations of $9999 could be made to one of the major parties without the donor’s identity having to be disclosed.
The Bills also takes the vote away from all prisoners – a definite move down the Florida track of trying to disenfranchise specific groups of people.
The legislation has been examined by a Senate Committee which should report today. The submissions, transcripts and report (once it is tabled) is available by clicking on this link.
Politicians have an almost inherent conflict of interest when considering changes to the Electoral Act, but it is a law like any other, so it has to be up to parliamentarians to produce it. At least, unlike many other countries, the actual conduct of elections is run by a relatively independent body in the form of the Australian Electoral Commission – although given the immense politicisation of the public service these days, full independence is becoming a bit more difficult.
UPDATE: Debate on this legislation has been deferred until the next sitting week in May. The Senate Committee report has now been tabled. Government senators did not recommend any amendments, so the chances of any amendments being accepted during the Senate debate looks very slim.