Around a couple of weeks ago, Special Minister of State John Faulkner announced the introduction of some much-awaited electoral law changes into the Senate in the form of a bill. These sorts of small, incremental reforms often go unmentioned when it comes to the leading news headlines of the day, but represent the bread and butter of good governance that we all would like to be able to take for granted. While the Howard Government during its final terms was seemingly willing to go to machiavellian lengths [PDF] to bend the system to its advantage, in the admittedly fresh-faced Rudd Labor Government we have an administration willing to improve the nation’s electoral system at the expense of the two major parties in this country.
The major reforms being introduced include a 90% decrease in the disclosure threshold for donations, a ban of overseas donations, and an overall tightening of the reporting regime and associated penalties under the Commonwealth Electoral Act of 1918. For the average voter this is unlikely to be particularly spellbinding stuff, but clearly the mechanisms of our democracy should not just be left to rust and diminish over time. In the modern era, when we consider the speed and volume at which money can flow across the globe and of course from corporate accounts into political party coffers over boozy lunches, we have every reason to have a good hard think about the relevant laws and how we can improve them. That John Faulkner as Special Minister of State is wasting little time in acting and has already alluded to the fact that there will likely be more reforms yet to come is something that we should be proud of as a nation.
The first part of a green paper focusing on funding, disclosure and expenditure issues is due in July 2008, with the second part focusing on other potential improvements due in October 2008. In particular, two issues I would encourage the government to tackle as part of the second part of the paper would be a rollback of the Howard Government’s draconian changes to electoral roll closing dates and somewhat more progressively, allowing young adults 16 and over to voluntarily enrol to vote should they wish to. I don’t see why young people who are well and truly old enough to make decisions about politics and want to have their say should be denied the opportunity.