Victor P Taffa
When former New South Wales Premier Neville Wran introduced public funding of elections in 1981 the question that should now be asked is whether or not our democracy is being hindered or assisted?
Candidates at elections have what is called a ‘reporting period’. After the ‘reporting period’ is concluded questions continue to be asked of candidates after this period has concluded. Why does this occur?
As a candidate in the 1999, 2004 Ryde Local Government and 2008 Ryde State By-Election questions were asked of my candidacy after the reporting period had concluded.
The Election Funding and Disclosures Act 1981 requires that all disclosures meet certain requirements. If the Election Funding Authority ( EFA)contacts you after the disclosure period have ended it would generally be because the disclosure was incomplete. The question that should be asked is the reporting period too short? The New South Wales Electoral Commission has said “The disclosure period is provided for in the Act.”
When a State general election has concluded are questions asked of candidates after the reporting period? According to the Commission “If the disclosures do not meet the requirements set out in the Act than the Authority will contact candidates, groups and parties to obtain further information.”
The obvious flaw in this Act is that questions can be asked after the disclosure period has concluded. Surely this can lead to the accusation that a ‘witch hunt’ is being pursued against candidates that the Government does not like. This situation also applies to New South Wales Local Government elections.
When asked if the reporting period is too short and can in it be longer to consider that NO further questions be asked of candidates after the reporting period, the Electoral commission would not comment.
Prior to 1981 there was NO public funding of candidates for election. Is democracy being served by the continuation of this?
Democracy has not been previously hampered and the political success impacted upon of either the Democratic Labor Party or Australian Democrats in not having public funding of elections.
Has the Introduction of public funding for candidates made the cost of running elections go up higher than in 1981 dollars? According to the Electoral Commission “Public funding has no connection with the cost of conducting an election.”
So has the financing of the New South Wales Electoral Commission office gone up to meet the increased burden of the number of elections that it now has to run? The Electoral Commission said “This information is contained in the Annual Report which is available from the NSWEC website.”
When I asked as to where the 1981 annual report of the Electoral Commission was and if it was on the website, I was told that “the Mitchell Library would have a copy and that it was not on the website because it goes back too far.”
If the Electoral Commission cannot afford to pay for an electronic link for its website then quite clearly the office of the New South Wales Electoral Commission is underfunded and burdened with the administration of the machinery of public funding of elections for candidates.
Changes made to Industrial relations laws have also ensured that trade union elections are conducted by the electoral commission and this has a flow on effect to the workload for the electoral commission.
The Minister in Charge of the electoral commission according to budget papers for 2009-10 is Premier Nathan Rees. How can the Premier on the one hand under fund the electoral commission to do such basic tasks such as update its website, and on the other hand pay candidates for public elections?
Not only does this inequity in public administration occur but successive Labor State Government’s have lost $90 m on a TCARD electronic ticketing system that New South Wales was promised for the year 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and which South Australia has had for years. In fact South Australia is looking to renew its electronic ticketing system.
What actually happened to the court case that was to proceed about the TCARD? It would seem that the Rudd Government subsequently gave the Rees Government $91 m on a Metro Rail project that would not have been seriously considered if the State Government actually appreciated the differences between Heavy and Metro rail. The Metro rail plan does not have train drivers, escalators to the stations and nor is it an integrated transport system.
When asked of the staffing levels of the electoral commission office and staffing levels in 1981, the reply was to “Please see the Annual Report for the State Electoral Office of that year.”
When asked if the office required less staff if there was not public funding of elections for candidates the reply was “The Authority operates separately to the NSW Electoral Commission.”
Not only is there an Electoral Commission but also an Electoral Funding Authority that also requires funding to operate it. The cost of maintaining public funding of elections continues to mount. Staffing levels would surely be less without public funding of elections for candidates.
The whole issue of the funding of elections should be compared to that of the United States. Under a republican system of Government, there is an expensive presidential election and presidential coronation ceremony every 4 years plus Congressional (Parliamentary) elections every 2 years.
Should Australia ever become a republic the cost of running elections may very well send the country broke. The New South Wales Electoral Commission does not make comparisons of the cost of running elections against that of the United States.
Currently Australia has a 3 tiered system of Government. With the abolition of State Government’s and the enhancement of regional Governments, the replacement would be a Federal election plus 700 or more regional elections for a population of 23 million. What would be the cost of administering these elections and by whom?
When asked as to the cost of the running of the electoral commission office the answer came back as to “Please see financial statements contained in the Annual Report.”
The EFA annual report requires a search party and as mentioned previously does not have back dated annual reports easily available. The EFA paid $7.85 million from the constituency fund to eligible parties, independent groups and independent candidates that contested the 2007 State Election and more than $1.64 million was distributed from the Political Education Fund to five registered political parties.
The electoral commission assured me that the answers to these questions do not require an FOI (freedom of information) request. The electoral commission said “Not applicable as the information to factual questions is contained in Annual Reports and on the websites.”
The problem with this is back dated archival annual reports are in the Mitchell Library.
When the cost of the running of elections is considered are all taxpayers given value for money? Is public funding of elections for candidates worth the noble principle of “enhancing democracy” and can Australia ‘nation build’ new heavy railway lines with the money that would be saved by not funding candidates to run in elections?
The cost of elections must be curtailed and by simply changing to a republic will end up providing only 1 new job.