Party registration changes unfair to small parties, too restrictive

New electoral laws proposed by the Government will have unintended consequences and unfairly benefit incumbent political parties, warns the Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability Program.

The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Party Registration Integrity) Bill would require political parties to have 1,500 unique members each within the next three months, up from 500, and prohibit new parties from using words found in the names of existing parties, with some exceptions. The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Political Campaigners) Bill 2021 would lower the expenditure threshold to be registered as a political campaigner from $500,000 to $100,000.

“The government is rushing through new electoral legislation before the next election without full consideration of the consequences,” said Bill Browne, Senior Researcher at the Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability Program.

On increasing the party registration requirement to 1,500 unique members:

“It is unfair to triple the number of party members required for registration just months out from the next election,” said Mr Browne.

“Australia is a federation of differently sized states, and the new threshold could be prohibitive for parties focused on a smaller state or territory,” Browne said.

On prohibiting the use of words that already appear in party names:

“Words like ‘liberal’, ‘labour’ and ‘green’ describe ideologies and interests found across multiple parties, not just the parties that got there first,” said Mr Browne.

“Australia has a long history of splinter parties, like the Democratic Labor Party and the Liberal Movement, whose names represent their background and concerns.

“It would be absurd if the existence of the Communist Party meant the Anti Communist Party could not be registered, or if the James Hird Party needed the James Joyce Party’s permission to exist.

“The bills are a lawyers’ picnic waiting to happen, as parties fight over whether ‘Liberty’ is an ‘alternative form’ of the word ‘Liberal’.”

“Banning ‘frivolous’ party names may be insignificant compared to the other changes in the bill, but it is mean-spirited and not in keeping with Australia’s larrikin culture. Even joke political parties often have a serious point to make, or point their satire at deserving targets,” Browne said.

On lowering the expenditure threshold for political campaigners:

“The $500,000 expenditure threshold for political campaigners was the result of extensive debate and consultation, and no good reason has been given for lowering it,” said Mr Browne.

“Advocacy is an important part of the work that charities do.

“If the government were serious about political transparency, it would lower the disclosure threshold for political donations to $1,000 and introduce real-time reporting of donations.”

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