Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
Inquiry into the funding of political parties and election campaigns, Monday 8 August 2011
Appearance of Emeritus Professor Colin Hughes, Private capacity
Partial transcript. Full transcript available here.
Senator RHIANNON: I would like to go to some of the points you have raised in your submission that I thought were of interest and useful for the committee to consider. You talk about the continuous coverage between elections—I am now talking about disclosure—being preferable and indeed essential. Later in your submission you talk about the need to have a complete picture of party finances. I recollect that you gave considerable emphasis to that. I was wondering if you could expand on the form you think that should take, considering that it is widely recognised that improving disclosure is so important?
Prof. Hughes: I think the point is that there have to be frequent, perhaps quarterly or twice a year, accounts of expenditure and donations to get the full picture. In terms of when the voter makes up his or her mind, the theory that they are issued the writs with a blank mind and then start filling in the details hastily is unrealistic and has probably always been. What we need to do is ask what influence is being applied to electoral thinking throughout that process. By the time you get to the issue of the writs, most people—quite possibly, upwards of 90 per cent—have made up their minds and that is usually to vote the same way that they voted the last time, but not always. Concentrating on a very narrow period, whilst the level of political communication rises in those last few weeks, what has been going on during the life of the present parliament suggests that that need not necessarily be the case. 'Continuous campaigning' has been a phrase that has been around for some decades, but we are really starting to see it in a much more extreme form perhaps then we have previously.
Senator RHIANNON: When you got into some more detail on this point, you also talked about the accounting capacity of members' offices. You set out that you thought that that needed to be enhanced and you spoke of the need for a centralised service. Could you expand on what you meant by that and how you thought that that could work?
Prof. Hughes: There is the miracle of the computer. There would be suitable software that would be installed in members' offices so that expenditure and receipts could be registered at the time they occurred and centrally communicated forthwith, rather than saying that the worthy souls who often man members' offices are expected to be bookkeepers on the side. Many of them have skills in other directions. You could just have a centralised system that went into the members' offices. There have been prosecutions in the past—not at the federal level, to my knowledge—of people who trousered donations as they came in and things of that sort.