Legislative Council

GOVERNMENT BILL: Electoral Funding, Expenditure and Disclosure

December 1st, 2016

On the 1st of December 2016, Mark spoke to the Electoral (Funding, Expenditure and Disclosure) Amendment Bill 2016.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I have added myself to the speaking list now that the time pressure to pass all these bills this afternoon has gone and we are coming back next week. I have now decided that I will take an opportunity to speak briefly on this bill. My first observation very much follows on from what the Hon. Kelly Vincent has said. I am very keen to see that we have another Electoral (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill coming next year, because that will be our opportunity to fix up some of the outrageous impositions that the Attorney-General has put on small parties in particular.

The worst of those is the $3,000 deposit for the lower house seats. I know there is an argument that it is too high for the upper house as well but, from the Greens' perspective, we did support a modest increase, less than what was put forward, but we agreed with a modest increase in upper house deposits. The idea that lower house deposits should also be increased to $3,000 was sprung on us without consultation. It was snuck through in regulations in a very sneaky manner, and the Greens will take every opportunity we can to oppose them. I am sure we will have allies in the Dignity for Disability party in relation to that. I do not think the name change has gone through?
The Hon. K.L. Vincent: About four more days.
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Okay. In four more days, the Hon. Kelly Vincent will be representing a new party, but I will leave that announcement to her; I do not need to pre-empt that. The consequence for small parties wanting to contest every seat is that you have to find in cash, up front, $150,000 to contest a state election: that is, 47 lower house seats at $3,000 per seat and perhaps a team of three contesting the upper house at another $9,000.

It is $150,000 in cash up-front. Bear in mind that for small parties that might not reach the threshold of 4 per cent to get electoral funding, that is effectively money that they will never get back. It is not something that the big parties have to worry about. They always get their deposit back in every seat, but for small parties, that is not the case. The Hon. Dennis Hood's party, certainly the Greens, whilst we aspire to reaching the threshold in every seat, the reality is that we do not, and so those deposits are gone and there is no public funding. We really do need to address that issue of the up-front deposits. The opportunity to do that, I think, will be in the miscellaneous amendment bill that we see next year.
The Hon. S.G. Wade: You don’t run in every seat, anyway.
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: The honourable member has interjected that the Greens do not run in every seat, we do. In the last three elections the Greens have contested every seat in the state parliament. It is making it harder, with the $3,000 deposit, but certainly that has been our aim and I hope we can do it again at the next election. That brings me—

Members interjecting: 
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I am not going to be baited by any honourable members. I will not be responding to any of these unruly and out of order interjections. I do want to reflect very briefly on some of the comments that the Hon. John Darley made, when he indicated that they would be opposing clauses 9 and 10, I think it was, of the bill, which deal with special assistance funding.

The case, as I understand the honourable member put it, is that around the water cooler or in the front bar, people do not like the idea that they are paying money to political parties for administration. I think we need to be a bit careful about how far we take that argument, because the last time I looked, the Nick Xenophon Team has collected all of the public funding that has been offered to them in terms of federal elections, and I am expecting that they will accept the public funding that is offered to them at this next state election. The idea that the taxpayers are funding elections and funding political parties is something that is already in our federal system and it is soon to be in our state system.

From the Greens' perspective, we certainly accept that when you put it to people out of context, 'Do you think it's okay for the taxpayers to be funding political parties contesting elections?' most people would probably say no. But if you offered them a choice and said, 'If we got rid of corporate political donations, if we stopped pokey companies or tobacco companies or armament companies or asbestos companies, if we prevented corporations from donating to political parties, if we banned that, would you accept the taxpayers funding elections?' I am sure the hands would all go up. So really we have to be a bit careful about taking a purely populist line and going out there saying 'We're trying to save the taxpayers' money,' when in fact the vast bulk of the money that political parties will receive is in public election funding and it will not be in the special assistance grants.

The onerous obligations on political parties to comply with these new reporting requirements does, I think, reasonably require some assistance of the state to allow us to meet those obligations. If you look at a worst case scenario, that is a small party that is going to have to find $150,000 cash if they want to contest every seat, they are not going to get public funding because they are a small party, they will not get the 4 per cent threshold, yet they still have the same onerous reporting requirements, and if we were to remove those special assistance grants, then effectively you are saying small parties are not welcome in South Australia, not welcome to contest elections. I think that is a bad result for our democracy.

Having got that off my chest, most of the bill is fairly innocuous. In fact, probably I should be more generous than that. It is quite sensible. It actually improves the ability of parties to properly comply with the law by making sure that reporting and auditing requirements are clarified so that the circumstances that the Hon. Rob Lucas described, with people having to not only report pretty much in real-time but having to audit in real-time, is not imposed. We have to bear in mind that there are serious consequences for not complying with these rules, and those consequences are financial in terms of missing out on public funding. It does make sense for the law to make it as easy as possible for political parties to comply with their reporting and their auditing requirements.

We certainly do not intend to oppose this bill going through now because the sooner we clarify the accounting and the bookkeeping and the administrative requirements the better, but we do put the chamber on notice. I expect I will have some support on the crossbench and I hope on government and opposition benches as well, that when we deal with this next bill we are going to have to do tackle the more serious fundamental issue about whether small parties are indeed welcome to contest elections in this state. If the answer is 'Yes, we are a democracy; small parties should be able to contest,' then we have to reduce some of these barriers to entry, and the highest of those is, in fact, the $3,000 per seat.

I made the point that I said it was done in a sneaky and underhanded way: the point is that there was never any problem identified with enormous numbers of people abusing the electoral process by nominating for lower house seats without the intention of taking the election seriously. For the vast majority of seats, it is the major parties and the smallish number of minor parties that contest it. We do not see any abuse of the process. There was no case made for increasing lower house deposits: the Greens objected to them at the time.

My recollection is that they were done in regulations after parliament had risen with no ability to disallow them. That is my recollection. They came in, parliament was not sitting because we were in a pre-election period—there was no ability to disallow those regulations. No such excuses this time. Whilst the window to disallow the regulations might have passed, the ability of parliament to set a cap on the deposits is open. It will be open next year with the miscellaneous amendment bill and the Greens will certainly be taking that opportunity.

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