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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 5611

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (16:06): The Greens do not support some of the recommendations of the parliamentary committee inquiry into the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Procedure) Bill 2012. Those recommendations that increase nomination requirements for candidates are problematic. Schedule 1 to the bill will modernise postal voting provisions to facilitate the use of technology to improve the way in which postal vote applications are made and processed, directing all applications to either the Electoral Commissioner an assistant returning officer. We support these aspects of the recommendations. The Greens support those aspects of the bill except the Australian Electoral Commission's position that the legislation update existing laws to bring them into line with current practices. They certainly are important developments. However, we have serious concerns that the proposed increased nomination fees and the number of nominators required to nominate as a candidate are undemocratic, and will unfairly disadvantage small parties and candidates.

Doubling the nomination fee to $1,000 for a House of Representatives candidate and $2,000 for a Senate candidate, and the number of nominators for an unendorsed candidate from 50 to 100 nominators, creates an undue barrier to small parties seeking to participate in the electoral system. It actually creates an equity issue for small parties and people on low incomes. It also makes the cost of running a full ticket in the Senate close to prohibitive for small players. The Greens certainly acknowledge that with the size of the Senate ballot paper becoming very large, particularly in New South Wales, we have a problem. We need to find the balance here. So we can see why a higher threshold for nominating in the Senate has been considered. But a candidate should be able to demonstrate that they have a genuine pool of supporters.

The Greens very much believe that a foundation of democracy is to recognise the right of voters to run in elections. We see that these measures combine to create a difficult hurdle for small parties and candidates to clear, and could work to discourage participation in the electoral system. So the Greens will not be supporting this aspect of the bill and will move amendments to remove those aspects, and to restore a fairer system in terms of people who choose to run for office, when the bill comes before the Senate. I thank the Australian Electoral Commission for their advice, their evidence and their submissions that they provided when we were considering this bill, as well as all those who put in submissions and the other committee members. I always find these issues about how to improve our electoral system very interesting.

Debate adjourned.