Political party funding reforms: an assault on representative democracy

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Alarm bells should always go off when the major parties come together and agree on something.

This week the major parties made a deal on campaign finance reform. And it’s a deal that should make us all furious – it enriches the parties at taxpayers’ expense and it undermines our system of representative democracy.

Representative democracy is the idea that voters elect candidates who best represent their interests in the legislature. We don’t vote on laws directly and we don’t vote for political parties. We elect representatives.

But Australia has an election funding model that favours large political parties. There are two ways that the current system favours existing political parties. First, taxpayers’ money flows directly to political parties rather than individual candidates. Second, a party must receive at least 4% of the primary vote to qualify for funding.

Currently, political parties receive $2.47 per eligible vote. The Australian outlines how this played out at the last election:

At the 2010 election, public funding provided more than $53m, with $24m to the Coalition, $21m to the ALP and $7m to the Greens.

This funding model entrenches a political oligopoly by building in a $50 million advantage for existing players. The system erects massive barriers to entry and disadvantages smaller political parties and independents. It shuts out new voices to the debate and undermines representative democracy.

The campaign finance reforms deal announced this week inflates the problem even further. The agreement includes an extra $1 per primary vote received – further cementing the dominance of the major parties.

If you have concerns about this assault on representative democracy you can email Special Minister of State Mark Dreyfus, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott or Leader of the Nationals Warren Truss.

For more on this issue, here’s what the IPA’s David Jancik wrote about the other changes to political party funding yesterday.

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