Tasmanian Government Must Go Further to Make Elections Fairer

The Tasmanian Government’s proposals to make political donations and election spending more transparent are a step in the right direction, but the new laws do not go far enough. The legislation still leaves Tasmania with the weakest regulation of third-party campaigners, such as industry lobby groups, of any state or territory in Australia.

The proposed electoral reforms improve transparency for candidates and political parties, but represent a huge missed opportunity to bring much needed accountability to third-party campaigners, according to the joint submission prepared by the Australia Institute Tasmania,  the Human Rights Law Centre, and Australian Conservation Foundation to the Department of Justice’s Review into the proposed Electoral Disclosure and Funding Bill 2021 (Tas) and Electoral Matters (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2021 (Tas).

Key Information:

  • The proposed legislation requires political donations over $5,000 to be disclosed every 6 months, or every 7 days in the lead up to an election — a moderate improvement on current laws which require  political donations above $14,500 to be disclosed once a year.
    • The submission calls for all donations to political parties and candidates of $1,000 or more to be publicly disclosed.
  • The proposed legislation misses the opportunity to introduce spending caps and adequate transparency for third-party campaigners. If the proposed laws proceed as drafted, Tasmania will still have the weakest regulation of third-party campaigners in the country. Huge corporate campaigns, like that of the gambling industry in 2018, will likely continue to influence political processes and election outcomes into the future.
  • The proposed legislation includes a loophole that would make it easy for third-party campaigners to hide political donations from public view: only donations in the six months prior to an election need be disclosed, meaning that an industry lobby group could receive a major donation six months and one day prior to the election with no requirement to declare the source of the donation.
  • The organisations call on the Tasmanian Government to make a raft of changes to the proposed laws to make elections more fair and transparent, including:
    • Introducing stronger, proportionate regulation of third-party campaigners;
    • Requiring political parties and candidates to disclose donations of $1,000 or more;
    • Introducing spending caps on elections, to prevent big industries using their wealth to flood the airwaves.
    • Amending the legislation to introduce truth in political advertising provisions, establishing an offence for misleading political advertising.

“We agree with a number of parties and commentators that the threshold for the disclosure of donations should be set at $1,000 for political parties, candidates and associated entities,” said Eloise Carr, Director of the Australia Institute Tasmania.

“This is consistent with most jurisdictions in Australia and is important to achieve greater transparency,”

“We also recommend amending the legislation to introduce truth in political advertising provisions, modelled on South Australian and ACT legislation,” said Ms Carr.

Alice Drury, Senior Lawyer, Human Rights Law Centre, said:

“Tasmanians deserve to have elections that are fair and open. These proposed laws go some way to improving the status quo, which is the worst regulation of elections in the country, but they don’t go nearly far enough.

“The Tasmanian Government can fix this by amending the proposed laws to require sensible regulation of third-party campaigners, like the gambling industry. It should create a level playing field in election debates by introducing spending caps for Legislative Assembly elections, which already exist for the Legislative Council,” Ms Drury said.

Jolene Elberth, Democracy Campaigner, Australian Conservation Foundation, said:

“The 2018 state election showed us what happens when cashed up industry groups are allowed to go on a spending spree to protect their own financial interests.

“Elections should be about the best ideas, not who has the deepest pockets.

“While we congratulate the Gutwein Government for this significant step in the right direction, it’s critical the regulations on third parties be strengthened,” Ms Elberth said.

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