Listening to some public intellectuals speak I often get the impression that the only right voters have is to turn up on election day (in Australia a duty and not a right) and cast a vote for either the Coalition or Labor, and then await developments. Further that it is somehow legitimate for established parties to restrict the entry of minor parties – in the private sector creating such obvious barriers to entry would be illegal, yet in politics it is somehow acceptable.
I’m sure if challenged that these public intellectuals would argue they have more nuanced positions, but still I hear and see this viewpoint quite a lot.
This morning we have the (usually) very sensible Gary Johns making the argument:
It just so happens that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, chaired by Liberal MP Tony Smith, is itching to give the minnow parties, including PUP, a nice little touch-up.
By that read: reduce the capacity of the minor parties to win seats, either by not allowing them on the ballot and/or making it hard for voters to vote for them.
Then we read this:
The Australian Electoral Commission sets out guidelines for parties to be eligible for federal registration.
When granted the privilege of party registration, candidates are entitled to run under the party banner. Clive Palmer, as is any other citizen, is free to contest a seat. Using the guise of a party, however, to enhance the chances of others is stretching the meaning of political party. Taxpayers should not support this device.
In other words, it is the bureaucracy that gets to determine who runs for public office and consequently sits in the Parliament, and not the voters. This is okay, because …
This opens up in to a next great threat to democracy – public funding of politicians. We’ve seen all sorts of silliness in NSW with politicians taking bribes, giving bribes, resigning over bottles of wine, and the like. At heart I suspect this is a story about campaign finance.
Anne Twomey had a piece in the Drum last week:
The reporting of the many allegations being made in the ICAC has given the false impression that property developers, politicians and parties have simply managed to avoid the application of NSW election funding laws by behaving in particular ways.
In NSW property developers cannot make donations to political parties. From this distance it isn’t clear to me why their right to participate in public life is uniquely proscribed but I suspect comments in the thread will tell me about corruption. So what? There are existing laws against corruption that should be deployed to deal with that problem – if it exists.
The end game here is full public funding of politicians. Anne Twomey is more or less arguing against that position, but I fear it is a losing battle. In the end, to “protect” voters from corruption we’ll see full public funding of elections. To “protect” voters against dodgy minor parties we’ll see stricter registration limits, and so on.
This is all consistent with George Stigler’s theory of regulation – incumbents creating barriers to entry to maintain their own positions of privilege. To be clear – I’m no fan of Clive Palmer, but I prefer him to the Greens overall and many, many ALP MPs too.
All these problems would go away if, as Gary Johns suggests, in a different context, “Taxpayers should not support this device.” People who run for Parliament should get no taxpayer support whatsoever. Nothing. The lurks and perks of office are so great that if anyone cannot finance their own run at public office they are not serious. If anyone cannot convince their friends and neighbours to finance their ideas why should anyone else vote for those ideas?