By Tony Fitzgerald,
2 June, 2013
The recent proposal to pay extra public money to political parties was widely seen as another misuse of public money for private benefit. However, the scheme was even more objectionable because of the impact that it would have had on future elections.
Australian democracy is more than a contest between the major political parties, which are merely private organisations – small groups of people who have banded together to advance their own opinions and interests and those of like-minded people – with no formal status beyond registration under the Commonwealth Electoral Act.
However, elections are heavily weighted in favour of the major parties. Each has parliamentary representation considerably in excess of its electoral support, with each parliamentarian receiving entitlements which facilitate party political campaigning.
In addition, Division 3 of Part XX of the Commonwealth Electoral Act gives the major parties a considerable advantage over other political parties and independent candidates. Public funding based on past election results, especially when subject to an eligibility threshold, disadvantages minor parties and most independent candidates. It also tends to deter new parties and individuals from contesting elections because of the cost.
An election is inherently unfair when some candidates are at least indirectly supported by public funding, some receive less public funding than others and some receive no public funding at all. Like gerrymanders, that is to say disproportionate electorates, disproportionate payments of public funds distort the electoral process, affect election results and entrench and perpetuate the status quo. Additional payments which benefit some but not others and some more than others increase the unfairness.
When major political parties exploit their dominance to obstruct dissent and handicap challengers, they abuse their power and diminish and weaken our democracy. Unfortunately, it’s increasingly obvious that that doesn’t concern today’s professional politicians whose ethics are summed up in their slogan “whatever it takes”.
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