The government introduced four electoral reform bills to parliament yesterday. Antony Green offers a good overview that notes what’s missing from the recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters’ inquiry into the 2019 election: the particularly contentions measures of voter identification and optional preferential voting, and arrangements for handling an election during the pandemic, which will presumably have to follow at a later time.
• The most striking is a bill to triple the number of members required of a registered political party to 1500 and to disallow the registration of parties whose names contain, with limited exceptions, words already used in the name of a pre-existing party. The former requirement does not affect the significant exception that exists for parties with seats in parliament, as applies to Katter’s Australian Party, the Centre Alliance and the Jacqui Lambie Network (Antony Green notes it also helped Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party to both register and blag free ABC air time before the last election, not that this proved notably helpful to them). Parties will have three months after the passage of the bill to either pass muster or face deregistration, in which case they will not be identified on ballot papers or eligible for public funding. This would appear to be one in the eye for the Liberal Democrats, who this week confirmed Campbell Newman as their Senate candidate in Queensland.
• A bill encompassing “counting, scrutiny and operational efficiencies” gives effect to JSCEM’s recommendation that the pre-poll voting period should be cut from three weeks to two, which the Coalition, Labor and Greens members were all on board with. It also allows for pre-poll votes to be pre-processed in the two hours before polls close so the actual counting of the votes can begin without delay, which should address an issue of recent election nights in which election day booths are mostly in by 8pm but pre-poll voting centres often aren’t until 11pm to midnight. Similarly, the bill allows for postal votes to be pre-processed so more of them can be counted on Sunday.
• An “electoral offences and preventing multiple voting” bill includes a measure to prevent those suspected of multiple voting from persisting in doing so, and one to target behaviour the Liberal Party has complained of being subjected to by GetUp! activists, specifically “violence, obscene or discriminatory abuse, property damage and harassment or stalking”. Former electoral administrator Michael Maley wonders if the latter measure might capture heckling or asking difficult questions; electoral law expert Graham Orr notes it brings the activities of FriendlyJordies to mind.
• A bill to lower the threshold for which third parties campaigning at elections will have to register as political campaigners, requiring them to file annual financial disclosure returns. The current six-figure threshold does seem on the high side, but the cause of “public confidence in Australia’s political processes” would surely be better served by lowering the threshold for declaring donations to political parties.
• The Australian Electoral Commission has published the full panoply of reports and data relevant to the now finalised federal redistributions of Victoria and Western Australia. Antony Green has worked his estimated margins into a finalised 2022 federal election pendulum.
• Rachel Siewert, Greens Senator for Western Australia, announced on social media this week that she will resign her position in the Senate next month. This will allow the party’s preselected lead Senate candidate, Dorinda Cox, to build her profile ahead of next year’s election, a common practice for the Greens.