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DEMOCRACY

People are dissatisfied with the state of democracy in Canberra.  Many eligible people are not enrolled to vote, thousands more either did not vote or voted informal at the last ACT election, many more voted for candidates from the minor parties.  Taken together, this amounts to more than 1 in 4 eligible voters dissatisfied with the three parties currently represented in the Legislative Assembly.

These people deserve better.

 

None Of The Above (NOTA)

The ACT Liberal Democrats endorse adding a None of the Above (NOTA) voting option to ballot papers.

While the Liberal Democrats oppose compulsory voting outright, our policy is that if people must turn up and have their name checked off – the least they ought to be able to do is go in and clearly say “No to you all”.

In terms of the difference between NOTA and an informal vote, voting NOTA is a choice. It is not a mistake or a prank or “throwing your vote away”. It is the ultimate democratic expression of how effective political campaigns are at truly engaging a voter to express their will. A NOTA vote is a purposeful protest. It cannot be washed away as a historical footnote.

A NOTA vote is a clear preference not to endorse any candidate. This helps to ensure that candidates will not be lazy. They have the obligation to convince people that they are worthy of their vote.

The inclusion of a NOTA option in our elections is the right approach because:

  • It requires political parties to have rigorous policy and credible candidates who build confidence in a constituency.
  • It reduces the pressures on public political funding.
  • It offers the clearest expression of voter intent, without a voter needing to understand laws around vote formality.
  • It is a simple change, with little to no public expenditure to achieve it.

What it does require is courage and confidence that candidates have the ability to persuade and convince a community, to earn the right and privilege to represent them.

 

Citizens initiated vote

The ACT Liberal Democratic Party believes that government is a servant and not a master. We believe that the people of a nation or territory should be able to strike down what they see as fundamentally unjust or unfair laws (including regulations).

Citizen Initiated Votes allow for laws to be struck down in a two part process. First, a petition requiring the signatures of a share (e.g. 4%) of the eligible electors would be submitted to the ACT Electoral Commission. Second, following a period long enough for people to think the issue over, the electorate would have the chance to vote Yes or No to abolish the law in question. The decision would be made on a simple majority basis. If the vote is no, there would be no opportunity to hold another referendum for a significant period (e.g. two years).

This policy effectively introduces the citizenry as a part-time, voluntary “house of review” that exercises a “citizen’s veto” over bad government policy. This will replace other sham attempts at consultation, such as unrepresentative citizen juries. The politicians would retain responsibility for introducing new legislation but in the knowledge that grossly unpopular laws, taxes or regulations could be repealed.

As citizen’s initiated votes would only be for repealing legislation – and not for introducing new legislation – they would still allow an elected government to get on with the job that they were elected to do. 

However, citizen’s initiated votes would act as an insurance policy against the major parties doing deals – like that between the Labor Party and the Greens, that mean that Canberrans suffer policies that they never voted for.  One salient example being the ACT Light Rail project. 

Sunset clauses

The ACT Liberal Democratic Party believes there are too many laws, taxes, regulations, mandatory licensing systems, hand-outs, rebates, off-sets and too much government in general. Each term the ACT government introduces dozens of new pieces of legislation and hundreds of pages of regulations and spending programs. Unfortunately, much of this legislation is never reviewed.

As the library of government legislation grows, the transparency of government decreases. It is simply not possible for anyone to wade through the mountains of government programs and assess their continued importance and success. Unnecessary or counter-productive laws remain on the books simply out of inertia.

The solution to this problem is to routinely include a sunset clause in legislation. When a new policy is introduced it will automatically lapse within a certain time-frame, no greater than 20 years. If the policy continues to make sense and has popular support then the legislation can be re-introduced. However, if the policy is no longer relevant or does not provide a clear benefit, then it can be allowed to lapse. Over time this approach will help to weed out excessive government legislation and impose greater accountability on the government.

Long term laws (that do not have sunset clauses) could be introduced with a super-majority of the Legislative Assembly. This would allow laws with broad support (such as laws against murder and theft) to remain permanently in force while obliging the government of the day to defend and justify all other legislation.

Such long term laws could still be repealed with a simple majority of the Legislative Assembly.

The ACT Liberal Democrats would accompany introduction of sunset clauses with a root and branch review of regulations (see policy on Local Economy and Business.

Voluntary voting

The ACT Liberal Democratic Party would make voting a right rather than an obligation and give residents back their voting freedom.

The right to do something implies that you have a choice not to do that thing. It would be absurd to say that Australians have the “right” to pay tax. Paying tax is a legal obligation, not a right. Under current laws, voting is also a legal obligation rather than a right.

The right to vote is a civil freedom, like free speech or free association. But free speech does not imply a requirement to speak.  Free association does not imply a requirement to join clubs or movements. Likewise, the freedom to vote should not imply a requirement to vote.

Electoral reform

The ACT Liberal Democratic Party believes that too many of the rules relating to how we vote in the ACT favour an incumbent government and the established parties. 

In particular, our system of fixed terms unduly favours an incumbent government and denies the right of the people to toss out an incompetent or over-bearing government. 

The ACT Liberal Democrats oppose government funding of things that private individuals or organisations are willing to pay for voluntarily. 

At the 2020 ACT election the taxpayer will be stung more than $8.62 for each first preference vote for political parties and non-party candidates when they poll at least 4% of the number of formal first preference votes cast in their electorate. 

This is as unjustified as it is outrageous. It is the highest rate in Australia and overwhelmingly supports the major parties. 

After the last Legislative Assembly election Labor, the Liberals and the Greens took $1.7 million of ACT taxpayers’ money.  This was more than 4 times the amount for the 2012 election. This is especially galling for the nearly 42,000 people who did not vote for these parties. 

This funding does not meet its intended purpose of reducing the influence of donors on policies. 

The ACT Liberal Democrats believe that there would be less need to lobby a government that did less.  As it stands, business success can depend on favourable ministerial decisions and there is no shortage of people keen to enlist the government's support to impose their views on the rest of us.

Public funding of political parties and candidates should be abolished.

The ACT Liberal Democrats vow to protect freedom of speech and freedom of association.  That is why we oppose election spending caps that unreasonably limit political communication by third parties.  The caps for the 2020 election are $42,750 per candidate, associated entity or third-party campaigner. 

These caps are ineffective – at least three third-party organisations were sanctioned by the ACT Electoral Commission after the last ACT election when it is too late for the spending cap to be effective. 

It is not even clear that there is a nexus between expenditure and voting outcomes.  The Canberra Community Voters party spent more than 7 per cent of total election spending at the 2016 ACT election but received only 0.7 per cent of the first preference vote. 

These ineffective and discriminatory caps should also be removed and replaced with clear transparency of expenditure.   

After the 2016 Legislative Assembly election there were calls to lower the voting age to 16, to ban the use of “corflutes”, and introducing “truth in political advertising”.  Such moves would further entrench established political parties. 

There is no reliable evidence that reducing the voting age to 16 improves the political maturity of 16 and 17 years old.  The ACT Electoral Commission has stated that if such voting was compulsory there is a real risk of imposing criminal penalties on minors who do not vote. 

While many people find corflutes unsightly, they are a small price to pay for democracy as they are one of the key means for small parties to get their message across.  The ACT Liberal Democrats believe that such freedom of expression should not be undermined.  In addition the rules for removal of corflutes and election signage after an election are burdensome on smaller parties and dangerous to the volunteers who must work often in the dark and close to busy road sides within a short time frame.  

The ACT Liberal Democrats consider that the answer to bad speech is the promotion of more speech.  So-called “truth in political advertising” laws amount to arbitrary rules which are more likely to impose burdensome red tape on smaller parties and independents who do not have the deep pockets to fight off vexatious claims made by their opponents during an election campaign. 

The last thing free people need is a government body pronouncing on what is “the truth”.  While such a duty being carried out by a public is ominous it is also difficult to undertake.  A former Electoral Commissioner for South Australia has stated that such a duty is unworkable. The acting ACT Electoral Commissioner during a committee hearing made remarks to the effect that the proposed laws were at very least problematic, but in any case, had the potential to negatively impact public confidence in the independence of the Electoral Commission.

The ACT Liberal Democrats believe that voters have the right to be better informed about their electoral choices and we are campaigning to remove the ban on canvassing within 100 metres of a polling place. At the 2016 ACT election more than 1 in every 10 voters found that it was a problem that how-to-vote cards were not available. 

The ACT Liberal Democrats vow to remove this pointless rule and replace the same rules that apply for Federal elections.  This would allow the Electoral Commission to use its scarce resources on more important duties.  

There is widespread dissatisfaction with the political system.  The ACT Liberal Democrats believe that voters should have more opportunity to tell governments and political parties what they think of them.  One way of doing this would be to have a “none of the above” option on ACT Legislative Assembly ballot papers and electronic voting screens, especially since voting is compulsory. 

While clearly the ACT Liberal Democrats want to secure as many first preference votes as possible, we consider that a none of the above option would improve governance by signaling to governments and political parties that they need to pay greater attention to the reasons why so many voters are disaffected.  Such an option is used in other jurisdictions – the US state of Nevada has had a “None of These Candidates” choice since 1976. 

At the last ACT Legislative Assembly election, a third of voters cast their ballots at a pre-poll station. Of these, around 2% voted informal – indicating that many voters chose to signal their dissatisfaction with the political process. 

The ACT Liberal Democrats participated in the ACT Electoral Commission’s trials of new electronic voting screens and ensured that voters who wished to vote informal could easily do so using such screens. 

With this year’s election occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic, early voting using electronic voting screens is even more important than ever.  Recent amendments to the Electoral Act 1992 have removed eligibility requirements for early voting, meaning that all eligible electors may vote early at an Early Voting Centre. 

It is salutary that it took a pandemic to allow the removal of an unnecessary – and pointless – piece of legislation that had required voters to justify their reasons for pre-polling.  The Liberal Democrats were the only party to support the ACT Electoral Commission’s proposal in 2017 to make a similar amendment which the Legislative Assembly failed to take up.  The Liberal Democrats believe that people in the ACT should not have to wait for pandemics to be granted more freedom in how they vote and how they live their lives. 

 

The official page of the Liberal Democratic Party in the Australian Capital Territory. Authorised by Guy Jakeman, Florey, ACT, 2615