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Second Reading Speech: Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Reducing Barriers for Minor Parties) Bill 2014.

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 4 Mar 2014

Lee introduces the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill, designed to reduce barriers for minor parties wanting to run for election.

Today I introduce the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Reducing Barriers for Minor Parties) Bill 2014.

The opportunity for all citizens to run for election, either individually or collectively as political parties, regardless of wealth and background, is an absolute cornerstone of our democracy. In recent years there has been an alarming trend across a number of Australian jurisdictions to increase barriers to political participation, in particular barriers that make it more difficult for minor parties to run in elections.

In February of last year, the Coalition and Labor teamed up to pass legislation that doubled nomination fees for candidates running for election to the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Greens strongly opposed this change, alongside other minor party and independent Senators.

At the time, The Greens warned about the consequences these changes would have on minor parties. In the House of Representatives, my colleague and Australian Greens Deputy Leader Adam Bandt noted that these changes were unlikely to have a significant impact on The Greens, but would create a barrier to smaller parties and individuals. Many minor parties would still try and raise the funds necessary to participate in the democratic process, but it would leave them with fewer financial resources to use in their election campaign. Labor and the Coalition - the architects of this proposal - would however be flush with cash from private, corporate donors and face no such impediment.

In the last federal election we saw a significant number of minor parties, including new parties, register and run. While The Greens may not support the policies of every one of these parties, we absolutely support their right to participate in the democratic process. There has been much media coverage and discussion following the election about the number of minor party Senators who were elected in 2013. Concerns have been raised, rightly in my view, around the lack of transparency around the Senate voting system and the proliferation of secret preference deals that leave voters in the dark. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is looking into those issues, and I look forward to participating in that discussion. The Greens have a clear position on these issues. We strongly support the right of all political parties, and future political parties, to register and run for election without having to pay exorbitant fees, but we don't support a Senate voting system that forces parties and candidates to enter into secret preference deals that voters have no knowledge of.

If the legislation passed last year was an attempt to try and lock out minor parties, and it's hard to see it as anything other than that, it failed. More minor parties than ever contested the election and a number of new parties were elected to the Senate - some at the expense of Labor and the Coalition.

There is a growing concern shared by minor parties across the political spectrum that the response from the major parties will not necessarily be a democratic reform of the Senate voting system that will end compulsory, secret preference deals, but will take further steps to limit the role played by minor parties. After all, both Labor and the Coalition have recent form in this area.

In a similar vein to Labor's doubling of nomination fees last year, the Campbell Newman Liberal National government in Queensland is proceeding with plans to make it more difficult for minor parties to get off the ground and running in that state, by increasing the threshold required before parties become eligible for public funding.

The Greens strongly oppose those reforms, and will oppose any reforms in this Parliament that are designed to protect the interests of the major parties.

This Bill makes our intentions clear. It seeks to undo the anti-democratic doubling of nomination fees pushed through by the major parties last year. It will revert nomination fees to $1,000 per Senate candidate and $500 per House of Representatives candidate. It will restore some fairness to our electoral processes.

Senator RHIANNON: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.


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