Government fails to adequately fund NSW Electoral Commission

NSW government fails voters by failing to properly fund the resources needed to make our democracy accessible.

Voter education and outreach is necessary for a healthy and accessible democracy. 

Abigail pointed out in Parliament that The Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 fails to properly address the lack of funding to ensure the inclusion of First Nations peoples, people with a disability and people from cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds. She also called out the outrageous 'acting in concert' provisions the Government tried to ram through Parliament which targets unions, trying to silence workers during a cost of living crisis, a time when people should be able to have say on how democracy is run. 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (21:50): On behalf of The Greens, I contribute to debate on the Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. The bill amends the Electoral Act 2017 and the Electoral Funding Act 2018, and follows the results of a government‑led report into the administration of the 2019 State election. The bill goes to the heart of our democratic system and concerns the processes and guardrails that safeguard the operations of our elections. Unfortunately, it is the wishes and prerogatives of the Government that dictate the contents of this bill. It is replete with the greatest hits of the NSW Liberal‑Nationals Government. Union‑bashing, corporate donations‑soliciting and disability‑maligning clauses are replete throughout, peppered in amongst otherwise innocuous changes in a flimsy attempt at camouflage.

Of great concern to The Greens is the total failure of this Government to adequately resource the NSW Electoral Commission to provide for appropriate and adequate inclusion of the voices of this State's already marginalised communities, including First Nations peoples, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and people with a disability. The bill prohibits the use of technology‑assisted voting at the next State election, except for phone voting for vision‑impaired and blind electors. It also shortens pre‑poll to seven days and, in turn, increases reliance on postal voting. This Government's decisions would serve to seriously disadvantage people with a disability, such as those with vision impairment or mobility issues, as well as potentially exclude young people and people in precarious or casualised work.

The Government's failure to adequately fund the Electoral Commission between election cycles is to blame for the failure to adequately resource voting options for our community. People with disability continue to be excluded from society because of failure after failure of the Coalition Government. Meeting basic accessibility requirements for people with disability should be the bare minimum, not an afterthought that is placed on the backburner for years and then given up on. We must do better to ensure that every member of our community is able to participate equitably in every aspect of our democracy. Anything else is simply not good enough.

I turn to the acting‑in‑concert provisions and the reason why The Greens cannot support the bill in its current form. The Government's attempt to pre‑emptively stymie the campaigning ability of members of our society outside their own exclusive members‑only tent stinks of desperate, rank politics. The acting‑in‑concert provisions have already been found unconstitutional once, yet in the middle of a cost‑of‑living crisis and waves of industrial unrest amongst the State's own employees, this Government is attempting to silence its elected advocates in the union movement.

It is clear that the principal intention was to limit expenditure by unions as a group. We support the view that section 35 unreasonably burdens the implied freedom of political communication. We believe collective action, such as coming together, should be permitted under the Act without any detriment. Decisions taken regarding the conduct of elections should be taken with bipartisan agreement, but the Government's insistence on the inclusion of this provision is anything but.

Earlier this year in this Chamber, the Government was delivered a resounding repudiation of its approach with a 22-to-14 vote expressing concern with the acting‑in‑concert provisions, noting their dangerous impact on the implied freedom of political communication. The irony of that vote is not lost on me—a motion moved by the Opposition expressing concern at infringements on the implied right to political communication. On the same day the Opposition joined forces with the Government to crack down on that same right to rush through, in an anti‑democratic way, some of the most anti‑democratic and draconian laws this State, and indeed this country, has ever seen, designed to stamp out the right to protest in this State.

I note now, as I noted then, the irony of that position of Labor and note the threats to our democracy that we are facing in New South Wales. So perhaps we should not be surprised that we are where we are today: with a Liberal‑Nationals Coalition that has grown used to sweeping aside our rights in pursuit of short‑term political gain. The anti‑democratic monster is beyond the gates. It has been welcomed through the door by craven politics and commercial radio shock jocks. The Greens cannot support the bill with the acting-in-concert provisions retained. We encourage the Government to act in good faith to remove those provisions at this stage and to allow the rest of the bill to pass.

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