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Thursday, 23 August 2012
Page: 9742

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (10:58): I rise to make a few brief comments on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Procedure) Bill 2012. Full participation in elections either as a candidate or as a voter is fundamental to democracy. That is why I and the Greens are pleased to support the postal voting provisions in the bill.

Schedule 1 of the bill will modernise postal voting provisions to facilitate the use of technology, improving the way in which postal vote applications are made and processed by directing all applications to either the Electoral Commissioner or an assistant returning officer. We accept the Australian Electoral Commission's position that the legislation updates existing laws to bring them into line with current practices.

However, there is one matter in this bill that is not supported by the Greens. We will of course be supporting the bill's passage through this House, but my colleagues in the Senate will be raising this matter further when it arrives there—that is, the provisions of the bill which increase nomination requirements for candidates. We as the Greens have serious concerns that the proposed increased nomination fees and increased number of nominators required to nominate as a candidate are undemocratic and will unfairly disadvantage smaller parties and candidates.

The doubling of the nomination fee to $1,000 for a House of Representatives candidate and $2,000 for a Senate candidate and increasing the number of nominators for an unendorsed candidate from 50 to 100 create, in our view, an undue barrier to small parties, and potentially to Independents as well, seeking to participate in the electoral system. It can create an equity issue for small parties, Independents and people on low incomes. It can also make the cost of running a full ticket in the Senate appear prohibitive for a smaller player.

The Greens acknowledge that the size of the Senate ballot paper getting larger is a problem, and we can see why a higher threshold for nominating in the Senate has been considered. A candidate should be able to demonstrate that they have a genuine pool of supporters, especially on the Senate ballot. But, in our view, these measures combine to potentially create a difficult hurdle for smaller parties and candidates to clear and will likely discourage participation in the electoral system.

I want to be clear: I do not believe that these provisions are likely to be a barrier for Greens candidates. We are not raising this on behalf of ourselves as a party. We have the resources, membership and number of supporters which will mean that for us these provisions will not pose a great difficulty.

However, we are concerned that for many other smaller parties and individuals these new provisions may be a major barrier. In our view, it should be a fundamental feature of any democracy that a citizen should be free to run for political office. Surely the number of candidates participating in an election is a measure of the health of the democracy, not something to be curbed. As such, the Greens do not support this aspect of the bill, and we will seek to address it when it comes before the Senate, but I will be supporting the bill in this place.