Dissenting report by Coalition members of the Committee
1.1Australia’s position as a successful democracy is reliant on a robust electoral system.
1.2Australia’s successful electoral system and related institutions have been developed over many years. They are trusted by Australians, who understand that they are independent, impartial, and non-partisan. The electoral system and related institutions protect the democratic rights and freedoms of all Australians.
1.3It is critical that any changes made to Australia’s existing electoral system are made to improve our democracy for all. They must not be motivated by partisanship. The Coalition will not support any changes that favour a particular political party or cause.
1.4The Coalition believes that any proposed electoral changes should be assessed on the following principles:
1.10The Coalition members of the Committee recommend that the Electoral Act be amended to allow for the obligations of Registered Political Parties to be applied to independent candidates where the Australian Electoral Commissioner believes those candidates are conducting their activities in a manner consistent with a Registered Political Party.
1.11The Australian Electoral Commission should be empowered to require independent candidates to provide transparency on the activities of independent candidates or independent parliamentarians where those activities involve coordination, support, resourcing or assistance with other independent candidates or parliamentarians.
1.12It has been recognised through the course of the Committee’s inquiry that the 2022 Election saw a series of successful independent candidates, now known as the Teal Party, contest a number of seats.
1.13There has been evidence presented to the Parliament, and through this inquiry, that suggests that this was done, in part, as a coordinated effort and that this coordination was either not presented in a transparent manner, or was unable to be categorised under the current electoral law.
1.14It is concerning that allegations of this activity were made, while the candidates in question claimed to be unaffiliated independent candidates.
1.15The statement from Teal members of parliament and candidates that they are not a political party is as offensive as it is wrong. Creating a level playing field between established political parties and the Teal Party will ensure equal treatment and limit the ability of ‘political players’ to game the system.
1.16The Coalition members of the Committee recommend that the Government give consideration to the adequacy of the current electoral regulatory framework to nominate as a candidate at a Commonwealth election, and in particular any measures that could be implemented to strengthen the integrity of the system.
1.17It is important that the regulatory framework to support the nomination of candidates in Commonwealth elections reflects community expectations and is consistent with the strong integrity of electoral outcomes expected under the Commonwealth Electoral Act.
1.18The Committee, and the Parliament more broadly, has heard evidence in relation to the ability for the nomination of large numbers of candidates for election that create burdens on electors, barriers to entry for some candidates or parties, and the potential for candidates to be utilised purely for preference distribution.
1.19It is imperative that electors are provided a choice of candidates that is reflective of the community support and that the system of nomination is transparent and effective.
1.20The Coalition members of the Committee recommend the pre-poll period be statutorily limited to be a maximum of one week prior to election day and that the Australian Electoral Commission provide parties and candidates with the earliest possible advice about prepoll locations.
1.21The Coalition members of the Committee support reducing the length of the pre-polling period from two weeks (12 days) to one week (five days).
1.22The reason for the proposed reduction is twofold. Firstly, a reduction in the length of the pre-poll period would sizeably reduce the administrative burden on both the AEC and election candidates. Secondly, reducing the length of the pre-poll period would also allow for voters to make their voting decisions with the most current information.
1.23Voters who need to vote prior to polling day are also able to apply for a postal vote. The limitation of pre-poll to five days would therefore not impact the ability of a voter to cast their vote upon receipt of that form.
1.24This proposed change could also be made without diminishing the pre-poll arrangements for remote communities, in order to provide a greater access to enfranchisement to these electors. In limiting pre-poll in this way, it will allow a greater focus of resources to this important task.
1.25The Coalition members of the Committee recommend that a new offence of ‘electoral violence or intimidation’ be added to the Electoral Act. This amendment is fundamental to address behaviour arising in an election such as violent, obscene or discriminatory abuse, property damage, and stalking candidates or their supporters to intimidate them or make them feel unsafe.
1.26No one should feel unsafe while participating in our democratic process.
1.27Over an extended period, the Committee and the Parliament has been presented evidence that political volunteers and supporters have been subject to politically motivated abuse, violence or harassment. The strength of our electoral system rests on the contestability of ideas and the presentation of that contest to electors. But this contest must be safe for the participants engaging in it. There is no greater importance than securing this contest in the electoral system for the ensuring of free and fair elections.
1.28Any behaviour that results in the withdrawal of participants from our democratic process, whether it be the intimidation of electors from supporting the candidate or party of choice or for standing for election, should be treated with the same severity and urgency as foreign interference in our electoral system or the impact of other electoral-specific offences.
1.29To that end, threats that stop, influence or hinder someone’s participation in an election are a threat to all of us and should be dealt with through a standalone offence, with specific sanctions that relate to the removal of the threat from preventing further electoral interference.
1.30The Coalition members of the Committee recommend that the AEC return all electoral practises to pre-COVID standards.
1.31Following the removal of any restrictions that were placed upon electors who are participating in Commonwealth elections relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coalition members of the Committee believe there is no justification for any measures that were put in place to ensure the conduct of pandemic-elections to continue.
1.32The Government should commit to not continuing these measures until the Parliament determines otherwise as a result of physical restrictions placed on electors.
1.33The Coalition members of the Committee recommend that vote counts after polling day for each electorate should be carried out in the electorate itself, not transported considerable distances.
1.34The Coalition members of the Committee strongly support the counting of votes in locations within local electorates as far as possible. The Commission made extensive comment about their support for local campaign workers in the electoral process, including the scrutiny of the vote.
1.35By removing votes for counting at other and distant locations, campaign workers who are unable to travel for those counts do not have the ability to participate in the scrutiny of their local electorate. This is an important part of the democratic process, and the Australian Electoral Commission should recognise and support that participation, particularly at the point of scrutiny of the vote after polling day.
1.36The Committee recommends that the Australian Government lower the donation disclosure threshold to $1,000.
1.37The Coalition members of the Committee believe that it is essential to balance the disclosure threshold with the potential risks to the privacy of contributors.
1.38Similarly, the disclosure threshold must not discourage participation in the electoral system by members of the community, civil society groups and businesses who could fear intimidation or retribution of supporting political parties or candidates.
1.39In the 2022 Federal Election, there were numerous incidents of small businesses endorsing political candidates and/or political parties and facing threats and boycotts by left-wing activist groups.
1.40Businesses and private citizens ought to be able to contribute funds to political parties across the political spectrum without malevolent political players making threats based on information sourced from the AEC’s disclosure reports.
1.41In addition to this, the Coalition members of the Committee note that while State and Territory Governments have lower, if varied, rates of disclosure, the system as it applies at a Commonwealth level should account for potential expenditure in each jurisdiction. The Coalition suggests reducing the national annual disclosure threshold to the sum of each of these jurisdictions’ respective disclosure thresholds, $8,000 per financial year, would be a more appropriate figure.
1.42The Committee recommends that the Australian Government introduce ‘real time’ disclosure requirements for donations to political parties and candidates.
1.43The Coalition members of the Committee support the implementation of a reduced disclosure timeframe for political parties and candidates.
1.44A monthly disclosure period strikes the balance between ensuring electoral transparency and allowing political parties and candidates to undertake appropriate due diligence without unduly inhibiting their ability to execute their proper function in Australian democracy – to represent the Australian people.
1.45For example, if a donation was received by a political party or a candidate, then the party or candidate requires enough time to determine the origin of the funds, determine whether the receipt of the funds is consistent with the Electoral Act, and to return the funds if the funds were found to be from a prohibited donor.
1.46Disclosure requirements shorter than a month would be extremely administratively burdensome, particularly given many political parties rely on volunteers to manage local party units.
1.47The Coalition believes that reporting monthly is a satisfactory period to achieve realistic ‘real time’ disclosure.
1.48The Committee recommends that the Australian Government gives consideration to amending the definition of ‘gift’ in the Electoral Act to ensure it meets community expectations of transparency in political donations.
1.49The Coalition members of the Committee are open to considering amendments to the Electoral Act’s definition of a ‘gift’. However, these should be considered in the context of the impact that any changes to the definition of a ‘gift’ would have on bequests and gifts-in-kind, particularly in conjunction with any amendments resulting from Recommendation 4.
1.50The Committee recommends that the Australian Government introduce donation caps for federal election donations.
1.51The Coalition members of the Committee do not support the implementation of a donation cap as it is proposed.
1.52Donation caps can only be fair when political parties and candidates are treated fairly and equally, and therefore any donation caps must include party membership fees, subscriptions, levies, affiliation fees, and union affiliation fees.
1.53Such a cap would create an uneven regulatory playing field, particularly as it is proposed, and creates a partisan approach to electoral reform.
1.54The Committee recommends that the Australian Government introduce expenditure (also known as spending) caps for federal elections.
1.55The Coalition members of the Committee do not support expenditure caps for federal elections as they are proposed.
1.56The Coalition members of the Committee strongly reject a system of expenditure caps where independent candidates are treated differently to a candidate from a political party.
1.57In addition, it is particularly egregious that the Government members propose a system that would rig an expenditure system in their favour. A spending cap that fails to take into account Labor’s union-funded campaign machine is nothing short of a financial gerrymander.
1.58All candidates should be treated equally by legislation in a democracy. To do otherwise is to undermine the democratic process.
1.59The Committee recommends that donation caps and expenditure caps apply to third parties and associated entities.
1.60While the Coalition members of the Committee will not support electoral expenditure caps, should they be introduced, any caps on electoral donations or expenditure should apply to third parties and associated entities.
1.61In addition, expenditure caps should be lower for third parties and related entities. This is appropriate as they are not participating as candidates or as political parties.
1.62The Committee recommends the Australian Government introduce a requirement that all political parties, members of Parliament, candidates, associated entities and third parties be required to establish a Commonwealth Campaign Account for the purpose of federal elections, to better allow for disclosure and monitoring.
1.63The Coalition members of the Committee support this recommendation, subject to further detailed legislation being presented by Government.
1.64The Committee recommends the Australian Government introduces a new system of administrative funding to recognise the increased compliance burden associated with a reformed system.
1.65The Coalition members of the Committee note this recommendation. This recommendation is dependent on the administrative burdens resulting from the outcomes of the other recommendations.
1.66Should the administrative burden increase on political parties and candidates, a detailed proposal of the new system of administration funding should be considered by this Committee.
1.67The Committee recommends the Australian Government introduce a new system of increased public funding for parties and candidates, recognising the impact changes a reformed system will have on private funding in elections.
1.68The Coalition members of the Committee note this recommendation. An increase in public funding for political parties is reliant on the outcomes of other recommendations.
1.69Australia is experiencing a cost-of-living crisis and there has not been sufficient evidence provided to the Committee that demonstrates that increasing public funding for parties and candidates is the best use of taxpayer funds, particularly over continuing to allow business and private citizens to contribute to the democratic process in a fair and transparent way.
1.70The Committee recommends the Australian Government provide the Australian Electoral Commission with additional resources to support, implement and enforce these reforms.
1.71The Coalition members of the Committee note this recommendation. The Coalition members of the Committee note that an appropriately funded Australian Electoral Commission is essential to a functioning electoral system.
1.72The Committee recommends that the Australian Government develop legislation, or seek to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, to provide for the introduction of measures to govern truth in political advertising, giving consideration to provisions in the Electoral Act 1985 (SA).
1.73The Coalition members of the Committee oppose the introduction of measures that purport to adjudicate truth in political advertising. Freedom of speech and the contestability of ideas are necessary for a healthy liberal democracy.
1.74Distinguishing between truth, opinion, and falseness in the context of an election is an inherently subjective process, and one that is appropriately left to voters. The Federal Government and its bureaucracy, no matter how independent and qualified, has neither the scope nor the ability to adjudicate truth in election campaigns.
1.75It would be inappropriate for any government body to censor political parties and candidates in their communications. Elections and election campaigns are and should remain a marketplace of ideas. If candidates or political parties make statements or release inaccurate policy positions, it is the role of the media, civil society and other political actors to hold their statements to account.
1.76That this proposition has been put forward by the party of Government who are responsible for the inaccurate and misleading 'Medicare' campaign in the 2016 election is the height of hypocrisy.
1.77The Committee recommends that the Australian Government consider the establishment of a division within the Australian Electoral Commission, based on the principles currently in place in South Australia, to administer truth in political advertising legislation, with regard to ensuring proper resourcing and the need to preserve the Commission’s independence as the electoral administrator.
1.78The Coalition members of the Committee believe the role of the Australian Electoral Commission is to deliver electoral events and not to determine what is truth. Introducing such as function would substantially increase the size and the role of the AEC, but it would also politicise an institution that can only successfully exercise its core function due to its independence.
1.79The AEC Commissioner, Mr Tom Rogers, has stated that “any involvement of any electoral administration body…runs counter to the principles of neutrality and non-partisanship.” The Coalition members of the Committee support the Commissioner’s comments and reiterate that arbitration of truth is not the role of the AEC.
1.80The Committee recommends that, providing the Committee receives a reference to conduct a review of the next federal election, consideration of the new framework be included in terms of reference to the Committee. Such consideration could include the effectiveness of the revised arrangements, and identification of any further improvements.
1.81The Coalition members of the Committee consider that any amendments to the terms of reference is a decision for the relevant Minister in the next Parliament.
1.82Consistent with the recommendation made in this Committee’s Advisory report on the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Amendment Bill 2022, the Committee recommends that the Australian Government strengthen the opportunities for electoral enfranchisement and participation to allow the Australian Electoral Commission to support increased enrolment and participation, particularly of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including in remote communities.
1.83The Coalition members of the Committee support mechanisms to increase electoral enfranchisement and participation, including among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
1.84The Committee recommends the Government resource the Australian Electoral Commission to work directly with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community organisations to increase Indigenous enrolment and participation, particularly in remote communities.
1.85The Coalition members of the Committee support this recommendation.
Senator the Hon James McGrath Senator Ross Cadell
The Hon Darren Chester MPSenator the Hon Marise Payne
Mr James Stevens MP
Australian Electoral Commission, Committee Hansard, 28 September 2022, p. 4.
Committee SecretaryJoint Standing Committee on Electoral MattersPO Box 6021Parliament HouseCanberra ACT 2600 Phone: +61 2 6277 email@example.com
On 5 August 2022 the Special Minister of State, Senator the Hon Don Farrell, asked the Committee to inquire into and report on all aspects of the conduct of the 2022 federal election.
06 Sep 2023: Canberra02 Aug 2023: Canberra23 Jun 2023: Canberra
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