Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
Inquiry into the funding of political parties and election campaigns, Tuesday 9 August 2011
Professor Anne Twomey, Private capacity
Full transcript available here.
Senator RHIANNON: One thing we have been grappling with is third parties. I am wondering what consideration you have given to that and, if there were limits in place leading into an election or generally, how that would sit constitutionally?
Prof. Twomey : I think the third-party issue is the hardest in the entire thing because on the one hand these third parties do have a legitimate interest in making their views known. The key to it is being able to set a cap or whatever at a point where the legitimate interests of those parties can be served so that they can make their point and they can make it in a way—
Senator RHIANNON: So a cap on election expenditure?
Prof. Twomey : A cap on expenditure by third parties. As most other countries do it, if you are under a certain limit, you can do what you like but if you want to do over a certain limit you have to register and be subject to disclosure requirements and you get much higher limits. It needs to be a limit that is sufficiently high to allow you to reasonably put out your point but it does not need to be so high that you can swamp everybody and wipe them out of the system. Where you set it is the really difficult point.
Senator RHIANNON: Where you set it is a difficult point. Another difficult point is: is it for just a certain period of time or is it there forever?
Prof. Twomey : That is right. Of course, whenever you set it for a particular election campaign period then obviously people are going to manipulate it by putting in all their advertising before. It is also particularly difficult at the federal level when you do not have fixed terms. At least in New South Wales you have fixed four-year terms and you know when your election is going to be and you can set the dates and the rest of it. When you have three-year terms and there could be an election at any time, how you manage that sort of thing is far more difficult.
Senator RHIANNON: This has been an ongoing issue. I understand that you see it as being unlikely that there would be a constitutional challenge if it were only individuals who could donate.
Prof. Twomey : I would never say it was unlikely that there would be a challenge.
Senator RHIANNON: 'Successful'—I was trying to get the language right.
Prof. Twomey : You would be far more vulnerable to a successful constitutional challenge if you took away the rights of individuals, especially if they were Australian people who were on the electoral roll, people who have a right to vote. If you removed their right to donate to political parties, I think you would have real problems. If it is removing the powers of non-Australian voters, so overseas people, people who do not have a right to vote, or if it is removing the capacity of corporations, associations or unions to do so, I think it would be a much more diminished risk.
CHAIR: Thank you, Professor Twomey for your attendance today. I know you made yourself specially available to appear before this committee. It is appreciated. The quality of your evidence, as usual, was outstanding. You will be sent a copy of the transcript. If there is any aspect you want to do a supplementary submission on to the committee, feel free.