Double standard on way to the polls

THE State election that will be held either in late February or early March will differ from the one held in December 1996 in one almost unnoticeable way.

The 2001 poll will be WA’s first with all parties formally registered with the Electoral Commission.

To most voters this means little, just a technicality that’s most unlikely to effect them on, before, or after, election day.

But the registration process has introduced an element of downright unfairness that shouldn’t pass without comment.

Before looking more closely at this a few general comments about registration are worthwhile.

Firstly, registration essentially means the Electoral Commissioner must now be satisfied that a group or movement seeking party status has a certain number of members.

Secondly, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, as long as the bar isn’t set too high - meaning membership levels that are out of reach of small legitimate movements - and as long as there’s an even playing field, meaning that all the parties are treated equally.

And finally, registration should probably have been enacted one or two years back. Instead, it became law just last month, when many small groups were already set to contest the coming campaign.

I’m told the reason registration was adopted was because the last NSW state election was disrupted by large numbers of candidates standing under party banners that were not bona fide parties.

Some people simply registered parties that were more like shelf companies, with only a handful of members, so ballot papers were inordinately large, voters were easily confused, and informal votes apparently rose.

WA has rightly chosen to pre-empt such foolishness to ensure there was no repetition here.

That being so one could have expected our MPs of all the major parties to have moved quickly to ensure election 2001 was not disrupted.

Moreover, until a week or so back a December election could have been called, so there was more reason for early action.

But that’s exactly what never happened. Instead, Parliament, like some Court/Cowan Government ministers of late, sat on its hands.

Instead, registration became law on October 25, on the very eve of the much anticipated election.

But that’s not all.

When Parliament devised WA’s registration, it drew up one set of rules for the parties now represented in Parliament and quite different ones for the many parties wanting to get members into Parliament.

So the Electoral Amendment Act (2000) states that those parties with at least one MP at June 14, 2000, only had to register while all the others must register as well as provide names and addresses of at least 500 members to the Electoral Commissioner.

Failure to come up with the 500 names means registration will be denied to those parties without at least one MP in Parliament so they cannot contest the election as a party.

Now that fancy piece of fast footwork means those parties without an MP at June 14, now have to go out and find at least 500 names of people willing to pay a membership fee and get that list to the Electoral Commissioner for vetting.

But the Liberal, National, Labor, Australian Democrat and Green Parties don’t have to supply 500-odd names.

One MP I spoke to said he believed three of the parties in parliament probably do not have 500 bona fide members so they naturally backed the double standard of one rule for themselves and another for all others.

Put bluntly candidates of the parties who are now MPs risked disqualifying themselves from standing in February or March if their party in fact had fewer than 500 members.

Also, we will never know precisely how many members the Liberals, Nationals, Labor, Australian Democrats, and Greens actually have.

None of this stopped the MPs imposing a belated burden on the others.

Officials from groups like, The Seniors Party, The Christians Democratic Party, or The Liberals for Forests, to name three, have had to divert an enormous amount of time, money, and energy, to ensure they have a 500 plus member list before they’ll be allowed to stand candidates.

This is a blatant case of what’s good for the goose will not be allowed to apply to the gander.

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