NSW electoral funding laws give advantage to big parties

New laws in NSW will give a large rise in public funding to political parties who have more than three MPs elected. Photo: johnk

In NSW, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) heard evidence from Operation Spicer of significant breaches of donations laws by Liberal candidates and private donors before the 2011 state election.

The hearings have exposed 12 state and federal Liberal politicians, who have either resigned or stood aside, including former NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell. ICAC is due to release its full report next year and this will include recommendations on whether criminal charges should be laid.

Now, and before the March state election, the NSW government has sought to amend the state's electoral funding and disclosures laws.

On the positive side, penalties have been increased for breaking the laws on political donations. However, the new electoral funding laws passed by the NSW parliament on October 21 will also deliver substantial increases in public funding to political parties who have more than three MPs elected and a multimillion-dollar windfall to the party elected to government.

The original proposal by Mike Baird's government was to raise the amount of annual public funding for parties with more than three elected members from $86,800 per member to $100,000 per member.

An amendment put forward by the Shooters and Fishers Party raised the amount payable per elected member to small parties who only get one to three people elected, but incorporated the government’s figure of $100,000 per elected member over three to a maximum of 22 members. Labor’s amendment, which lapsed, would have matched the Shooters and Fishers amounts up to three elected members, but would have only modestly reduced the amount payable for each elected member in excess of three to $83,000.

The government also proposed to cut the amount of public funding to small parties if they failed to get a member elected to the lower house, but junked this proposal during the debate.

The Greens moved several amendments in the lower and upper houses to try to reduce the caps on electoral spending and political donations. In arguing for the reduction, Greens MLC John Kaye said: “We believe the community wants us to reduce total public funding and also reduce the caps so that in the end we have a system that has the corruption reduction elements that are purported to be in this bill, but at the same time does not squander public money.”

The Socialist Alliance is opposed to laws that would restrict or circumscribe the right of unions or other progressive, working-class and community organisations to donate to political parties.

This position is based on an understanding that democracy in Australia is constrained by class inequality and social divisions. Against the power of the corporate class stand the majority of working people and we need all the political and financial support we can muster under this unfair system.

The Socialist Alliance campaigns for a totally different system of public funding of election campaigns. The current system privileges and entrenches the incumbents and the traditional parties of government and pays for expensive (and misleading) advertising campaigns in the privately owned mass media.

The party supports a system of public funding that guarantees all contending parties and candidates an equal chance to present their platforms before elections. Such a system would remove the need for parties and candidates to raise exorbitant amounts of money for their election campaigns.

Imagine if all candidates were provided equal time on prime time TV and other media to put forward their policy platform. Parties like the Socialist Alliance and other progressive candidates, including the Greens, would reach an audience they can only dream about today.

[Susan Price is the endorsed Socialist Alliance candidate for Summer Hill in next NSW election. Read the Socialist Alliance’s policy on electoral reform.]

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