Monday, March 21, 2011

Elections and Political Parties

NSW saw the absurdity of the modern campaign when married to fixed four year terms when the ALP held its official campaign "launch" yesterday - just six days from the election.

Meanwhile in the SMH we read that;

Today the Parliamentary Budget Office is due to release its audit of the government's election promises, but not those of the Coalition.

The Coalition has refused to submit its costings to the office, choosing instead to hire the former NSW auditor-general Bob Sendt. It is understood they will be released as late as Thursday, allowing as little as two days for scrutiny.

There is NO DOUBT that O'Farrell is running your classic promise nothing substantial campaign. His latest ad "the contract with NSW" ends with "most important of all - we'll be accountable". he doesn't tell us what that means, and really he will be just as accountable as the ALP - in 4 years time we get to vote.

But O'Farrell is pulling the same stunt as Tony Abbott in not getting his promises "costed" by a body with not only the skill, but also the resources to do so.

The issue for me is that we've completely changed our political system with fixed terms, public funding and the publication of party names on ballot papers and party replacement of upper house MPs without doing much more than requiring 500 membership forms to be submitted.

We really need a slew of reforms, covering party form, published platforms, longer campaigns and independent assessment of platforms.

The first is creating a legal entity called "political party" - so they don't have to decide whether to be limited liability companies or associations. They should be granted limited liability status in return for full disclosure of their financial position. The party rules must be entirely democratic - no party can be controlled by an individual (a la Hanson mark 1) or external bodies (the ALP) - in fact only people who take out membership can vote and it is one vote one value except in so far as the party can make its own rules for how the membership is "subdivided" except that geographic boundaries for election to governing bodies must be based on State and/or Federal electorate boundaries.

The register of political parties provides for a platform to be lodged with Elections NSW (Electoral Commission of NSW). This should be mandatory, the party deemed not to be registered for electoral purposes if it does not publish a platform.

The campaign times are currently designed with the idea of quick elections because they used to occur at times of hung Parliaments or Governments that had lost confidence of the Legislative Assembly. The haste of under three weeks from nominations closing to polling day does not suit fixed terms. Six weeks is a more reasonable timescale for nominations to close.

The cut-off for platforms being submitted would then be the five week period before the election. If the party hasn't submitted by that date then the party loses all other rights of being a party for the election (including invalidation of any nominations lodged by the party as a party).

The Parliamentary Budget Office should be replaced by an Electoral Proposal Assessment Commission to be made up of five commissioners elected using proportional representation from the Legislative Council ( which should result in the fifth person at least representing divergent views). One week prior to the election it is required to produce a report evaluating the budgetary implications of each platform and reporting on the relative "completeness" of the platforms lodged. It cannot evaluate anything promised by a party beyond that included in the registered platform, though it can comment on completeness of the platform in the context of the rest of the campaign.

That way we'd force political parties to start taking elections seriously.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

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