Australians are rightly proud of our democracy and our electoral system. However, these systems are only as robust as the institutions and the frameworks that support them, and it’s vital they remain trusted, relevant and fit for purpose. Our democracy is best when it is conducted in a way that is transparent and where our community feels confident that our political system and our politicians are accessible to all, not just to those capable of making very large donations. Across the Western world we see the potential for a drift from democracy when people feel like their political system isn’t working for them and believe their system has been captured by vested interests. This is a trend we must work hard to avoid in Australia.
In this interim report the committee considers a number of matters pertaining to the 2022 federal election, including reforms to donation laws and the funding of elections, truth-in-political-advertising laws and encouraging increased electoral participation and lifting enfranchisement of First Nations people. The committee’s inquiry has received nearly 1,500 submissions, illustrating the importance in which Australians hold the electoral system. We have held nine public hearings to further examine some key questions with a wide range of stakeholders, and we have further hearings planned as we progress towards our final report. The committee is deeply appreciative of the witnesses who have appeared at those hearings to aid us in our work. The evidence we have heard has allowed the committee to develop clear goals for reform to increase transparency in election donations and curb the potentially corrupting influence of big money, to build the public’s trust in electoral and political processes and to encourage participation in our elections.
The report makes 15 recommendations grouped around three major themes: political donations and expenditure; trust in the electoral system; and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in elections. The committee recommends lowering the donation disclosure threshold to $1,000; introducing real-time disclosure of donations; introducing donation caps and expenditure caps for federal elections; and the provision of additional resourcing to the Australian Electoral Commission to support, implement and enforce these reforms. To help restore and maintain trust in the electoral system, the committee recommends that the government introduce legislation to govern truth in political advertising and that the AEC be established as the administrator of these measures. We also recommend the government strengthen opportunities for electoral enfranchisement to increase participation in elections by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, especially in remote communities. The committee will do more work on this and other matters before we present our final report before the end of this year.
In this interim report the committee recommends significant changes to our federal system. It is important to note that many of these reforms are not untested ideas or approaches. States and territories around Australia have grappled with the same challenges the federal system must now respond to, and they’ve provided models from which the Commonwealth can learn and adopt.
On behalf of the committee, I thank the many people who have taken the time to engage with this inquiry and our work. I thank the secretariat and my colleagues for their ongoing engagement with the important work of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. The report has been strengthened by the sincere and good-faith involvement of members across the political spectrum, even when we do not agree on all topics.