The Morrison Government is about to pull one of its best-ever scams.
All of the Coalition’s many tricks take Australians to the cleaners, but this quiet little rort is aimed squarely at Australian democracy.
On Thursday 12 August, the Government, via Member for Tangney Ben Morton, introduced into Parliament four pieces of legislation.
According to Morton’s office:
'The Morrison Government today introduced legislation to further strengthen the integrity of our electoral system, modernise electoral processes, improve services to Australian voters and maintain voter confidence in elections.'
Which all sounds great — who doesn’t want that stuff?
There is nothing of the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Party Registration Integrity) Bill 2021, which is mentioned neatly mid-way through Morton’s head office media release, buried between its benign cousins, the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Offences and Preventing Multiple Voting) Bill 2021 and the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Political Campaigners) Bill 2021.
Bored yet? The Morrison Government hopes so.
Introduced just months out from the next federal election, the Bill will require all non-parliamentary political parties in Australia to have 1500 members — triple the current 500 member requirement.
A non-parliamentary party is one that does not have an elected member.
There are currently 35 non-parliamentary Federal political parties.
This number will shortly change as the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has indicated it is considering deregistering four – the Great Australia Party, Australian Better Families, Australian People’s Party and The Small Business Party – while two, the Indigenous-Aboriginal Party of Australia and Federal ICAC Now, have been approved for registration and are waiting out the AEC’s mandatory 30-day objection period.
That should leave 33 non-parliamentary parties — but the Coalition has other plans.
The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Party Registration Integrity) Bill 2021 has been read twice and will take effect almost immediately.
Once it does, all non-parliamentary will parties have three months to prove to the AEC they have more than 1,500 members or they will be made extinct.
Just like that.
Membership numbers of Australian non-parliamentary parties are not disclosed, but it’s a fair bet some will fall short of the new threshold for existence in the not too distant future and the Coalition will pressure the AEC to show no mercy when it comes to booting the failures out.
But the AEC will suffer too.
It is a government organisation, which, in common with so many other government organisations, is under-funded and under-staffed. It is already on full alert for an election, which could be held at any time subject only to government machinations but certainly by May 2022. The AEC will now be swamped checking revised political party membership lists. Despite technology, this could be a massive undertaking and it needs to be right.
The proposition that this process will take just three months is as laughable as speaking in tongues.
But the Hon Ben Morton is not the kind of bloke to take things lying down and I think we can all be confident he’ll make the three-month deadline work.
Fairly or not, it is unlikely 33 non-parliamentary parties will make it to the starting line.
It’s the future that’s worse, though.
Forming a political party is a daunting task, but one that is necessary if Australian democracy is to thrive. The alternative is to have a moribund system of established connections and corruption with no new blood entering to invigorate the polity.
Getting 500 qualified electors motivated to unite to form a political party is one thing, getting 1,500 is a whole other level of hard.
The consequence of this Coalition shell-trick will be to stifle, choke even, the formation of all but wealthy new political parties because signing 1,500 from a standing start takes money and reach.
The Labor Party is unlikely to resist; none of the parliamentary parties will. Why should they?
The Australian electoral landscape just went grey.
Investigations editor Ross Jones is a licensed private enquiry agent and the author of 'Ashbygate: The Plot to Destroy Australia's Speaker'. You can follow Ross on Twitter @RPZJones.
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