How to make change

Take power away from parties, and return it to voters.

Currently, power brokers in the parties can offer safe seats to candidates in return for loyalty. Forcing the major parties to run two candidates would stop this. Voters could still support a party, but also choose the person they prefer of the party’s candidates.

To break the oligopoly, we need:

  • More choice – major parties should offer two candidates
  • More scrutiny – announce candidates before the election, so there’s time for scrutiny
  • Donations transparent – donations should be immediately made public
  • Donations taxed – no tax deduction
  • Capped election funding – limit money-for-votes to a fraction of the votes

More choice

We can’t force parties to run two candidates. But, we can make it risky for them not to.

Remember when MPs lost their seats due to section 44? House of Representative MPs losing their seat caused a by-election. But senators “found unelected” didn’t cause a by-election. The difference in the senate was this: instead of a new election, the votes from the last general election were counted again. Almost always, the seat went to the next candidate on the party’s list.

We could do the same in the House of Representatives. In every term of parliament, there’s a few MPs retire or die. Instead of the expense and political distraction of running a by-election, we could just recount the votes from the last election.

If a party has put up two candidates, they’ll keep the seat. If they’ve only put up one candidate, the seat will go to someone else. Parties would hate that.

More scrutiny

An election campaign is five weeks, or less. That’s not long enough for the media to scrutinise each candidate. Not even the local papers, with only four or five candidates to check, have time to interview the candidates and check their claims. If a candidate hasn’t always been a local, it takes time to track down people who’ve known them elsewhere.

Every election, some candidates are disendorsed when nasty secrets or opinions appear. What happens to that party’s supporters – they have no-one to vote for! Imagine if Pauline Hanson had been disendorsed in time for the Liberals to select another candidate, back in 1996. And what if Victorian MPs Telmo Languiller and Don Nardella had been looked at more closely? The police decided not to prosecute, but would the electorate have voted for them if they knew what they were up to?

If parties had to endorse candidates six months before an election, that would give local newspapers time to turn over a few rocks and see if anything crawls out.

Parties benefit from their endorsed candidates: money goes to the party rather than the candidate (AEC), nomination is streamlined, and party branding appears on the ballot paper. These benefits should only be permitted for candidates that have been declared as the party’s intended candidates six months before the election is called.

Donations transparent

Currently, political donations must be declared, and the information made publicly available.

That’s nice in theory, but revelations after an election are pretty useless.

There should be special bank accounts for political campaigning. All expenditure on campaigns should come from these accounts. Just as a normal account holder can see their bank statements online in real time, the general public should be able to see all deposits to political accounts in real time.

And in-kind donations, such as the use of an aeroplane, should be made public.

Donations taxed

Political donations are a tax deduction.

Why?

Capped election funding

Candidates get money for every first preference vote they receive. It’s about $2.70 for each vote (AEC). Typically, the major parties each get a third of the vote: that’s $28 million between them.

We should cap election funding at 20% of the vote – levelling the playing field for independents, and saving the taxpayer $10 million.