Restrictive electoral laws a blow to democracy

Issue 

On December 27, 2006, the Socialist Alliance, along with all other parties without representation in the national parliament, lost its federal electoral registration. If we do not regain registration, the name Socialist Alliance will not appear on ballot papers at the next federal poll.

With a federal election due sometime this year, the alliance has launched an emergency campaign to regain its federal electoral registration as soon as possible. The bureaucratic process of becoming registered again can take a number of months, so we need to start immediately.

Our deregistration was the result of the Howard government's Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act 2006, passed in June (visit <http://www.aec.gov.org.au> for details). The basic aim of this anti-democratic law is to bolster the two-party parliamentary club, while strengthening the Coalition's position at the expense of the ALP.

Other parliamentary parties have rightly attacked aspects of the new law (such as depriving prisoners of voting rights, eliminating any chance of people enrolling once an election date has been declared and increasing the threshold at which parties have to declare donations received to $10,000). However, they haven't said much about the law's discrimination against parties that have yet to win a presence in parliament.

Similar restrictions have been adopted by Labor state governments and we currently face deregistration in Victoria as well.

It was the Hawke Labor government that introduced the party registration system in 1984 as part of a scheme to publicly fund the major political parties. The scheme also provided the authorities with immense powers to pry into the membership, organisational and financial affairs of new parties.

One of the justifications for this scheme was that it would reduce the reliance of parties on wealthy donors, but corporate donations to the major parties continue to rise: $12 million shared between them in the last year alone.

The Liberal Party received $17.9 million and the ALP $16.8 million in public funding from the last federal election. Between them they also collected $5.4 million in public funding from last year's Victorian state election.

The system operates as an insider's club. The big parties in parliament get paid to stay there while the restrictive electoral laws force small parties without parliamentary representation to spend their meagre resources on satisfying endless bureaucratic requirements to maintain registration.

In addition to this, the major parties' MPs get massive salaries and expense accounts, which they shamelessly rort. Last week, for example, it was revealed that Australia's richest politician, Malcolm Turnbull, is using his taxpayer-funded travel allowance to pay $175 a night rent for a Canberra townhouse owned by his wife. Both PM John Howard and Labor opposition leader Kevin Rudd rushed to his defence, as did Greens Senator Bob Brown. This is the insiders' club in operation: shoulder-to-shoulder solidarity at the parliamentary trough!

The Socialist Alliance is determined to regain its status as a federally registered political party. Without it, all the struggles to which we make an important contribution will be weaker. We are also determined to assert our democratic right to put our socialist politics forward through election campaigns.

If you can help the Socialist Alliance regain its federal electoral registration, please contact Dick Nichols on (02) 9690 2508 or at <national_office@socialist-alliance.org>. You can download a membership form from <http://www.socialist-alliance.org>.

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