Electoral Bill 2017

(Debate on Bill, 14 November 2017, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

I rise to support the Electoral Bill and the amendments to be moved by the Member for Lake Macquarie.

While most provisions in the Electoral Bill are good, I was concerned that the bill would have increased the number of eligible voters that an independent candidate would need to get to nominate for a State election from 15 to 50. This represented a substantial increase for independent candidates in the face of no changes for party candidates, and I believe strongly would have disadvantaged new independent candidates.

Democracies function best when any person, regardless of their wealth, associations and political affiliations can put their hand up to contest an election.

Finding 50 people enrolled in a district within a short time frame during the hectic period of an election when candidates are attending forums, doing interviews, completing questionnaires, door knocking, holding stalls, and writing and delivering leaflets would be onerous, particularly for new candidates.

In areas with large numbers of renters and frequently changing residents, candidates must verify that all those signing the nomination form are enrolled correctly; but this will be impossible for new independent candidates, who unlike incumbents, don’t have access to the electoral roll.

Independent candidates are already disadvantaged against party candidates, who need only be nominated by their party office and whose campaign has the support of a state wide party campaign.

The existing public funding model discourages candidates without community support from running because candidates need to get at least four per cent of the first preference vote to get reimbursed for what they spend on their campaign.

The involvement of any candidate in the political process can play an important democratic role. Independent candidates can add a new voice to debate that contrasts to those of the major parties.

The increase in the number of nominators proposed in the bill came from a recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters which referred to independent candidates running in the Legislative Council only as a way to reduce the ever growing size of LC ballot papers.

But it is unreasonable to also limit the number of independent candidates contesting Legislative Assembly seats where ballot papers remain short. In the 2015 State Election only 50 candidates ran as independents in only 36 seats. The highest number of candidates for a seat was eight and eight candidates were only recorded in six of the 93 districts. Only three seats had three candidates running as independents, including my seat of Sydney; none had more.

I understand that the government would like to respond to the electoral matters committee recommendation and that due to constitution reasons, the change requires a corresponding change for Legislative Assembly candidates.

I believe that existing requirements for independent candidates contesting an election for a Legislative Assembly seat should stay at 15 nominations from their district but I accept that the government is tied if it wants to make a change in the Legislative Council.

While the Member for Lake Macquarie and I would have no problem obtaining 50 nominations, we negotiated with the government to reduce the number to 25 to ensure that new independent candidates are not disadvantaged. This change is being moved by my independent colleague, the Member for Lake Macquarie and is made for both houses as is required under the constitution. I thank the government for working with us to create a fairer situation.

It is essential to healthy democracies that new genuine independent candidates are able to contest an election to represent their local communities. Healthy democracies provide a competitive field of candidates that enable any individual regardless of wealth or party membership to put themselves forward as a community representative.

We need competition beyond the major parties and I support the amendments.

See further debate on this Bill HERE