While the rest of the country has been focusing on federal politics, two weeks ago the Queensland Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie, announced plans for a number of changes to Queensland’s election laws.
The package includes some innocuous proposals to improve electoral processes, but also a number of items that seem aimed to roll back the clock on election funding reforms and make it harder for some groups of voters to cast a vote.
Queensland’s election funding laws have managed to progress beyond those of the Commonwealth and most other states (arguably apart from New South Wales), with caps on donations and election spending and low thresholds for the disclosure of donations.
The Newman government plans to scrap donation and spending caps, and raise the threshold for disclosing donations to $12,400. This threshold, the same as the federal level, will massively reduce how many donations are required to be disclosed.
While making it easier for large amounts of money to be donated and spent by political parties with reduced requirements for disclosure, the LNP is planning to significantly cut back on the amount of public funding – making parties even more reliant on private donations.
These funding cuts will most severely hit smaller parties. In addition to overall amounts of funding being cut, a candidate will need to poll over 10% to qualify for funding – a massive jump from the current 4% threshold.
Most candidates in the 4-10% range come from parties like the Greens and Katter’s Australian Party, and this will deprive them of substantial sources of funding in a targeted manner.
The LNP has tried to justify this targeted assault on smaller parties on the grounds of stopping “profiteering” – but this has no basis. Queensland has long had rules requiring receipts for election-related expenses be provided for all public funding. If you didn’t spend as much as what you are entitled to, you don’t get a full share. This is very effective at stopping any candidate from making a profit from public funding.
The LNP claimed this was needed to offset the expense of the massive payrises to Queensland MPs (since reversed), ignoring the fact that most of those payrises were to go to government MPs, while public funding cuts would disproportionately hurt the ALP and smaller parties.
Perhaps the most insidious proposal is the government’s plans to introduce voter identification requirements.
Voter ID laws have been a common tactic of US Republicans aiming to reduce turnout amongst groups that often lack identification.
There is little to no evidence that impersonation voter fraud takes place in any organised way – certainly not enough to have ever changed the result in a single electorate, let alone an entire election. The government’s own green paper acknowledged that this was not a problem.
Voter ID laws only make sense if there’s groups of people who you don’t want voting – and it’s worth watching what the LNP plans to do with this idea.