The Queensland Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie, has announced a series of changes to Queensland’s election laws designed to reduce transparency of election funding, make life more difficult for small parties and make it harder for many Queenslanders to vote.
His plans are the latest in a series of cynical attempts by the Liberal National Party government to implement a conservative agenda right out of the US Republican playbook: using legislation to gain a political advantage.
Campbell Newman's government has already followed the lead of Republican governors in US states like Ohio and Wisconsin by targeting the union movement, and public sector unions in particular, with massive job cuts and restrictions on union organising. This is an attempt to cripple groups who oppose the government’s right wing agenda.
Queensland’s election funding laws are among the strongest in the country, ensuring transparency in donations while restricting the donations arms race. They are a standard that the rest of the country should aspire to.
Instead, the Newman government plans to strip away these important reforms. If these laws pass, donations up to $12,400 will not have to be publicly disclosed, and large parties will be able to spend as much money as they can collect.
While making it easier for his party to take in money and spend it, Newman is also targeting smaller parties to undermine their ability to compete.
The government’s plan to increase the threshold at which a party can receive public funding to 10 per cent will make it harder for parties like Bob Katter’s Australian Party, the Greens and Family First to run in elections.
The LNP is claiming this change is needed to stamp out election “profiteering”. This is a completely bogus argument. Queensland’s electoral laws only permit reimbursement of certain campaign expenses, with no scope for parties to generate a profit.
This change is a thinly veiled attack on small parties that have continued to take a large part of the vote in Queensland elections. Katter’s Australian Party and the Greens polled over 19 per cent between them at the last Queensland state election. It’s yet another attempt by the LNP government to use their large parliamentary majority to undermine their political rivals.
The Attorney-General has also announced plans to introduce laws requiring all voters to show proof of identity on election day. It is claimed this is needed to deal with voter fraud, but the effect will be to limit voter turn out. Right wing politicians in Australia have stoked paranoia about the danger of voter fraud by impersonation, but there is very little evidence of this.
The Newman government’s green paper on this issue in January acknowledged that “there is no specific evidence of electoral fraud in this area” and acknowledged that such a law would be a “disproportionate response”.
Voter identification laws aren’t needed to stop fraud. What they do is restrict who can vote, in a way that is advantageous to conservative politicians. In numerous US states where Republican legislators have passed voter identification laws, large numbers of voters lack any valid identification, and are thus prevented from voting.
Such laws target the young, the elderly and the poor, who are less likely to have a passport or a driver’s licence. Many of these groups are more likely to vote for parties other than the LNP, and may be discouraged from voting or find it harder to find an appropriate proof of identity.
The LNP’s latest moves to tilt the electoral playing field in its favour provide a timely lesson of the dangers of granting any one party complete control of parliament. If Queensland had an upper house where the LNP did not have a majority, the other parties would be unlikely to permit such blatantly self-interested and anti-democratic reforms to pass.
Voters would do well to remember that as the federal poll approaches.
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