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Thursday, 7 February 2013
Page: 499


Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (13:52): The Greens do have a number of concerns with the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Procedure) Bill 2012. While from the title and at a first glance this legislation may appear to be just of a technical nature, we all need to be aware that it really goes to the heart of the democratic process. If you look at the history of democracy, you will see that democracy has been expanded to help ensure that everybody who is able to vote is also able to participate fully, and that clearly means also being able to stand for election.

The changes we have before us that increase the nomination fee and change the number of nominators for an unendorsed candidate do put in place severe limits. I realise that we need to ensure that we have manageable ballot papers. I come from New South Wales and I clearly understand that. The first election I ran in in 1999 was the giant tablecloth ballot paper election. That was when more than 80 parties ran for the upper house. In New South Wales we put a lot of effort into the standards to be put in place so that front parties, as some of them were, could not be just set up. When working on changes that raise the bar and put limits on how candidates participate, one needs to always be careful that they are not making it much harder for smaller parties and Independents to participate in our electoral process.

We have serious concerns that the proposed nomination fees and the number of nominators required to nominate as a candidate are undemocratic. Doubling 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 does create an additional barrier. People sitting here may think this is fair enough in that we will have a more manageable ballot paper and avoid having to reduce the font size, which is what the AEC said it would have to do if it became bigger. Reducing the font size would bring in a whole set of problems if people have difficulty reading the ballot paper.

If this chamber decides to push ahead with these changes it will create an equity issue. It makes the cost of running a full ticket in the Senate close to prohibitive for small players. That could be hard to imagine for many senators sitting here, but that is quite real. I can remember how tough it was for the Greens in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These are issues we need to consider very closely.

While we do need to get the appropriate balance, the Greens do not think we have struck that appropriate balance here. We will be moving that we retain the current levels with regard to payments and the number of nominators. We will certainly give serious consideration to the other amendments I understand others on the crossbench will be moving.

I again want to emphasise that this is not just a technical matter; it is about us getting it right and not just making it easy for established parties to be able to continue to run their group of candidates in every seat because they are able to afford it and can quickly get the number of nominators required. We need to ensure that in every election people who have a legitimate right to participate in our electoral process are readily able to do so.