Electoral laws and the banana republic

There is a big change to the way Australians have to vote for Senate candidates.
Instead of being able to put just a “1” above the line on the Senate voting paper, voters now have to place numbers 1 to 6 above the line (or number at least 12 boxes below the line).

Well, that’s odd. There was never a big public outcry, calling for a change to the way we vote. Most voters seemed quite happy to place a number “1” above the line, whilst those who so desired could number all of the boxes below the line.

So, why the change?
It is here that we could pose the famous Latin question, “Cui bono?” (“Who benefits?”)

Well, now, isn’t that an interesting question?

It turns out that the big parties weren’t very happy that some of the minor parties were getting an occasional candidate elected to the Senate.
The big political parties dominate the Australian political scene, supported by the media (who usually give short shrift to the little parties). So some of the minor political parties began swapping preferences with each other, to help at least get one of their number into the Senate, and the tactic was working.

However, as far as the big political parties are concerned, democracy should be designed to benefit them, not everyone — so they changed the rules, to benefit themselves.
The big political parties changed the law in their own favour. How surprising (not).

Who were the prime movers of that new law? The big political parties.
Who were the main benefactors of that law? The big political parties.

This change should come as no surprise to any astute follower of Australian politics, as it’s not the first time that the big parties have changed the rules to entrench themselves at the expense of democracy.

A while back the big political parties changed the law so that they would get public funding for every first preference vote they receive.
Funding would only be given to candidates who received over 4% of the vote, effectively excluding most small parties. The law was designed to ensure that the big parties got their snouts in the trough, without enabling the little parties to get funding as well.

The story being spun about the change was that public funding would stop political corruption by removing the possibility of rich people, organisations, and companies giving money to politicians in return for political favours or for making changes to laws.
However, the time when parties need huge funds is prior to an election, and public funding is only given out after elections. The big corporations are still donating millions of dollars to the major parties to this day.
Surely the corporate businessmen must be giving away millions of dollars out of the goodness of their hearts?
Some even give money to both sides of the political fence.
Isn’t that odd? Of course, it’s not like they would want to buy political influence, is it?

The public funding law was really about the big politicians getting their hands on more money, whilst freezing out the little parties.

Who were the prime movers of that law? The big political parties.
Who were the main benefactors of that law? The big political parties.

It used to be that candidates didn’t need to register a party to get their party’s name on the voting slip.
Having your political party’s name on the ballot paper is very important — as most people don’t know the name of their local candidates, but they do know what party they want to vote for.
If there was any way to stop your opponents, or even just some of your opponents, from having their party name listed on ballot papers, that would be an easy way to stop them from getting votes.

So, the law was changed.
Suddenly, all of the minor parties had to jump through hoops to get their party name registered with the Australian Electoral Commission. They all had to provide lists of at least 500 members, and have the AEC run random checks on all those people to confirm they were members. This necessitated lots of communications being sent out to party members (especially to those members who didn’t have, or didn’t check emails).
The process of doing all this could cost thousands of dollars, which is damaging to small parties, who don’t have big corporations bankrolling them.
Obviously, any parties with only two hundred or four hundred members couldn’t even be registered.
For some of them, if they couldn’t have their party name on the ballot paper, there was little point even running for office; because, unless the mainstream media was giving your candidate lots of publicity, then most voters wouldn’t even know what issues they stood for (which is the whole point of having party names on ballot papers).

This law wasn’t about public funding of political parties, because individual candidates can still get public funding, even if they belong to a non-registered party (so long as the candidates reach the 4% threshold set by the big parties, of course).
So, what does this law do? Well, it makes it hard for small parties to get registered, and then to keep their registration — and it ties up those parties in a huge load of bureaucratic paper trails, which they are hard pressed to do (since they don’t have the staffing levels which one can afford when taking money from rich corporations).
The new law does what it was designed to do — keep the names of lots of small parties off the ballot papers, and stops them from “taking away” votes from the big parties.

Just to cap it all off, the big parties designed the law so that it didn’t matter if their own membership was above 500 or not, and so they didn’t have to run around and ensure that their members were all notified about dealing with the AEC’s bureaucratic machinations.
They made the law with a clause saying that any political party who had a member in parliament didn’t have to meet the 500 member requirement — which, just coincidentally, happened to apply to them! Well, what a surprise.

Who were the prime movers of that law? The big political parties.
Who were the main benefactors of that law? The big political parties.

There are tales of small republics which describe themselves as a “democracy”, but their leader (dictator) keeps on changing the electoral laws to make sure his opponents don’t win elections.
Or the dictator brings in new laws, or subverts old ones, to stop his political opponents in other ways.
Such places are colloquially known as “banana republics”.

Australia isn’t quite as bad as that, but our “two-party dictatorship” regime has various parallels.

Tired of small parties getting into parliament? Change the law so that’s unlikely to happen (they’re trying to keep parliament for only them and their supposed opposition).
Want more funding for your party? Change the law so that taxpayers have to give you money (and design it so that the small parties are unlikely to get any).
Tired of small parties getting votes? Change the law so that they will get less votes.

The big parties have been acting like this country is their very own banana republic.
They’re always looking out for new ways to screw over the fair dinkum Australians.
They need to be stopped before it’s too late.

Ahead of the NSW election, someone asked Antony Green how to vote — this was his response”, ABC News, 21 Mar 2019 (Antony Green)
(“At the federal election in May, there will be a difference in how you fill in the big ballot paper.At federal Senate elections, the instructions say number six boxes above the line or 12 below.”)
Tony Abbott fires a warning shot at micro parties in the Senate”, WA Today, 9 September 2013 (Dan Harrison)
(“The prime minister-elect also said he supported change to tackle the Senate voting process after micro party candidates in WA, Victoria and NSW look likely to be elected under complex preference deals.”)
Election: Coalition shy of Senate majority”, The Australian, 9 September 2013
(“Australian voters look set to deliver a jumbled Senate where the balance of power is held by minor party players including a former footballer, prompting senior parliamentarians to call for a review of the election process.”)
Federal Elections”, Parliamentary Education Office

Note: Technically, the Latin phrase “Cui bono?” means “to whom is it a benefit?”; however, it is commonly rendered as “Who benefits?”

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