Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . . PDF . . . . Video

Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2015 Week 02 Hansard (Thursday, 19 February 2015) . . Page.. 636 ..

The scrutiny of bills committee has noted that the cap on electoral expenditure is a burden on political communication because it places a ceiling on the amount of political donations which may be made and on the amount which may be expended on electoral communications. The government does not agree with this conclusion of the committee. In fact, we are removing the cap on donations, not maintaining it. In relation to expenditure caps, there is clear policy justification for such a measure. There is a clear connection between any limitation on freedom of expression, or burden on political communication, and the purpose of this particular limitation.

By limiting the expenditure of individuals, parties and third parties, we are maintaining a level playing field where no one candidate can gain an advantage, or monopolise the election debate, by excessive expenditure on advertising. Limiting electoral expenditure also reduces the risk that candidates and parties will be beholden to their financial supporters. This issue has been explored in more detail in the revised explanatory statement that I am tabling today.

The bill also increases the amount by which elections are publicly funded from $2 to $8 per eligible vote, which was also recommended by the select committee. The government agrees with the committee findings that full public funding of elections would not be appropriate. However, increasing existing public funding will help to level the playing field between the various parties and individual candidates, thereby allowing more meaningful exposure of candidates’ election platforms and better informing voters,

I note that there have been some observations that this level of public funding is much higher than that received in federal elections. That observation is only correct if you look at the public funding for votes received by House of Representatives candidates. If you combine House of Representatives candidates and votes received by Senate candidates, per party the amount is largely similar, and that should be taken into account.

I turn now to the enhancements that the bill makes to the reporting framework. The bill amends the period for lodgement of returns of gifts to require quarterly reporting, except in the two quarters leading up to an election, when more frequent reporting is required. Establishing quarterly reporting with a lodgement period of 30 days from the end of the quarter, together with more frequent reporting in the lead-up to an election, ensures transparency and accountability without imposing an unnecessary administrative burden.

As recommended by the Electoral Commission, the bill enhances the reporting framework by amending the act to ensure that gifts given to MLAs in their capacity as a minister are treated as gifts for the purposes of the campaign finance provisions, therefore ensuring that they are disclosed.

The Electoral Commission has also recommended that consideration be given to whether some categories of gifts in kind, such as free room hire, should be exempt from disclosure under the act on the basis of practical difficulties encountered with meeting the current reporting requirements for free room hire. Accordingly, the bill makes changes to ensure that the free use of facilities for routine meetings is included in the definition of “gift” for the purposes of quarterly disclosure.

Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . . PDF . . . . Video