Electoral Reform

June 8, 2014
  1. There is a growing public frustration with the electoral system at the federal, state and local government level.
  2. The major parties that have long dominated parliamentary politics are increasingly seen to be in the pockets of powerful corporate interests, and the electoral laws to privilege the major parties.
  3. Traditional party loyalties are breaking down and more voters are looking to smaller parties for an alternative to the traditional parties they have become disenchanted with. The undemocratic preferential voting system which privileges the major parties masks some of this disquiet.
  4. The major parties are responding with more and more restrictions on the electoral registration of parties and higher costs for those seeking to participate in elections.
  5. In NSW, even the relatively low nomination deposit of $250 for the Legislative Assembly excludes many. At the federal level, the deposit has doubled to $1000 per candidate in the lower house and in the Senate to $2000.
  6. The Greens in NSW have supported some undemocratic changes to the electoral laws (although not the higher nomination fees). The NSW Greens have put forward proposals to restrict electoral donations by corporations and unions, supporting the NSW Coalition’s stand.

Class inequality

  1. A Socialist Alliance policy on electoral reform is based on an understanding that under capitalism democracy is fundamentally constrained by class inequality and divisions. A small minority owns or controls most of society's resources and uses this economic power to advance its own narrow and selfish interests.
  2. This class inequality constrains democracy in many ways: Parliaments remain limited in their power as many important decisions are made in corporate boardrooms and the electoral system is rigged by a permanent wealth gerrymander as corporate donations pay for much of the election campaigns of the major parties as well as some of the minor parties with billionaire backers.
  3. Democracy is further constrained by laws restricting the rights of workers to organise freely in unions, the right to strike and our broader civil rights to organise and protest.
  4. Socialist Alliance campaigns for the repeal of all such undemocratic laws. It also supports a Constitutional bill of rights entrenching democratic and social rights.
  5. Elections and direct democracy also need to be extended too many other positions of power apart from political representation. For instance, the boards governing all major public utilities should have representatives elected from their work force, with the right to veto and subject to recall. In a similar way, students, workers and teachers should be able to elect the leadership bodies at their high schools, universities and TAFEs.
  6. Such a radical restructure of our political system requires revolutionary change involving the active participation of masses of people.
  7. The Socialist Alliance understands that for there to be truly democratic elections, the gross economic inequity of the class system needs to be broken and new institutions of popular representation and direct democracy need to be built to replace the corrupted institutions developed to entrench the capitalist system.
  8. As part of this struggle to win the great majority to this perspective of a radical extension of democracy through the ending of class divisions, socialists also need to engage in the current undemocratic electoral system.
  9. Socialist Alliance contests elections, where possible, as a platform to agitate, campaign and explain its ideas to broader audiences. Any positions we win are used to organize and empower the working class and other oppressed groups.
  10. This is because we recognise that only through masses of people taking action can we change this unjust system.
  11. In this context, the Socialist Alliance puts forward proposals for democratic reforms, including reforms to the electoral system.
  12. These reforms are partisan to the oppressed and exploited and seek to expose and constrain the powerful corporate interests - the real enemies of democracy.
  13. The Socialist Alliance rejects the liberal framework of the Greens' attempts to circumscribe or ban corporate and union electoral donations.
  14. Such bans are more likely to constrain or trap the unions (and other working-class community groups), while the corporate elites, which also control much of the economy and media, will find ways around them.
  15. The Socialist Alliance campaigns for a totally different system of public funding of election campaigns. The current system privileges and entrenches the incumbents and the traditional parties of government and pays for expensive (and misleading) advertising campaigns in the privately-owned mass media.
  16. We support a system of public funding that guarantees all contending parties and candidates an equal chance to present their platforms before elections.
  17. The Socialist Alliance also seeks to end any privileges for elected representatives that lift their standard of living above that of the average working person because these privileges are part of the systematic corruption and co-option of such representatives by the corporate rich.
Therefore, the Socialist Alliance campaigns to:
  • Restructure the electoral system by replacing the preferential voting system with proportional representation at all government levels for elections to public office;
  • Abolish restrictive and onerous electoral laws, including party registration laws and nomination deposits for both houses of parliament at a state and federal level;
  • Abolish the current funding model in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 under which candidates are eligible for public funding only if they are elected or receive at least 4% of first preference votes, entrenching the status quo, and benefits the big or billionaire parties;
  • Introduce a publicly-funded election campaigns for all candidates, with a fixed amount decided before the election, moving away from the current system based on commercial advertising, ensuring all candidates an equal amount of authorised and free information on TV and radio, in letterboxes and newspapers, etc.;
  • The electoral commission be obliged to display all candidates’ “How to Vote” instructions with equal prominence at all polling stations to remove the need for the wasteful distribution of HTV cards on polling day;
  • In the lead-up to elections, the electoral commission be obliged to hold community stalls to explain the voting system and issue information on all parties;
  • Allow voters to recall elected representatives from all governmental levels if 10% of electors or more petition for a recall;
  • To end careerism and rorting, all elected representatives be paid an average workers’ wage, and receive average workers' retirement pension;
  • Representatives be obliged to hold constituency/community meetings on a regular basis;
  • To end the secrecy surrounding financial transactions between political parties and corporate lobbyists, all transactions must be recorded by bodies governing the electoral system and in the mass media;
  • Restrictions on political donations can be easily circumvented by the rich. We oppose all restriction on union donations as long as they are democratically agreed to by the members of those. The Socialist Alliance supports the public declaration of all electoral donations;
  • Lower the voting age to 16 years old. Introduce educational programs, devised for and by young people, to explain voting systems, parties and political change;
  • Limit electoral terms to 3 years;
  • Support publicly-funded citizen-initiated referendum on all issues of significant public concern.