On 22 May 2014 the Electoral Reform Amendment Bill 2013 was passed in the Queensland Legislative Assembly, amending the Electoral Act 1992 (Qld).
Changes effected by the legislation include:
- a deep cut to taxpayer funding to political parties for campaign and related purposes
- increasing the percentage of votes parties or independents must attract to receive public funding from four per cent to six per cent
- raising the threshold at which donations must be declared from $1,000 to $12,400 which is more in line with Federal electoral law
- removing the limit on what can be spent on election campaigning in each electorate
- the publication on the Electoral Commission of Queensland’s website of official, party-authorised how-to-vote cards
- requiring voters to produce some form of ID at a polling booth, such as a utilities bill or similar. If enrolled electors do not produce ID at the time of casting a ballot they will need to make a declaration vote that will later be checked for its validity.
The Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Jarrod Bleijie said the Government's new reforms ‘would simplify, modernise and protect' Queensland's electoral system and would save $3 million annually. He said that the reforms ‘clean up electoral amendments, made by Labor in the dying months of its final term’ that resulted in a ‘massive blow out of projected taxpayer funding to $24.3 million over the 2012–2015 election cycle’.
Under the new reforms, public funding for political parties will revert back to a dollar amount per vote. For each first preference vote a party receives, the party will receive $2.90 in public funding and the party’s candidate will receive $1.45. Independent candidates will receive $1.45 for each first preference vote.
Under the previous public funding arrangements the amount of public election funding that a registered political party was entitled to was:
- all of the first 10 per cent of electoral expenditure
- three-quarters of the next 80 per cent of electoral expenditure
- one-half of the remaining 10 per cent of electoral expenditure.
But election expenditure by political parties, candidates and third parties was previously capped as follows:
- registered political party: expenditure cap—$80,000 per district contested.
- endorsed party candidate: expenditure cap—$50,000
- independent candidates: expenditure cap—$75,000.
- registered third party: expenditure cap—$500,000 but no more than $75,000 in relation to a particular electoral district, in the first financial year
- unregistered third party: expenditure cap—$10,000 but no more than $2,000 in relation to a particular electoral district, in the first financial year.
Previously, a registered political party was also eligible for administrative funding that was the lesser of $40,000 indexed for each elected member, or a state wide amount of $1 million indexed. It is not yet clear whether administrative support for parties will remain. [For more details of former arrangements see Political financing: regimes and reforms in Australian States and Territories.]
The reforms followed the publication of a discussion paper in 2013 to which the Queensland Government made a formal response. In that 2013 response, the Attorney-General declared that ‘changes to the rules governing political donations, public funding of elections and electoral expenditure will be made to ensure the opportunity for full participation in Queensland’s electoral process. Disclosure requirements will ensure transparency and accountability’.
Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk said the new donations rules would mean ‘donations from big business would be kept secret. There will be no transparency, there will be no accountability and it is a backwards step’. Ms Palaszczuk said under the changes most donations made to the Liberal National Party (LNP) during the 2012 election campaign would not have been disclosed.
On the matter of voter ID, the Human Rights Law Centre said that the votes of ‘tens of thousands of vulnerable people are threatened by voter ID laws. Those most at risk are elderly and young voters, people in remote rural regions, people with disabilities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the homeless’.