Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Letter to NSW Premier about the draconian undemocratic and impractical political donations' reporting laws

2 August 2011
Dear Hon Barry O’Farrell, NSW Premier

In this letter we explain to you our deep concerns about the NSW unique political donations reporting system. We can easily argue that this unique system is impractical, complicated, undemocratic and designed to serve no good reason.

We cannot deny that there is some good will in the system, by disallowing donations from tobacco, liquor and gambling industries. But still we believe that such good will is not practical to be achieved and enforced.

Our biggest problem is with the complicated nature of the system, including:
1- The requirement of disclosing expenditures: The Electoral Expenditure to be reported is defined in the system as “expenditure on promoting or opposing, directly or indirectly, a political party, or the election of a candidate or candidates. It is also expenditure on influencing the voting at an election”
2- The complicated nature of reporting Electoral Expenditures. This includes the need to have “Official Agent” (with certain requirements of this agent) and the need to hire company auditor.
3- The discriminatory nature of prohibited donors.

We have major concern with the first item, mainly. We believe that this system is designed to limit political participation of mainly marginalised groups. Currently, the citizens’ participation in political system is very low, and such system will further decrease this participation.

But let us look at the practical aspect of this requirement.

The system as currently stands will require anyone who wants to send a message during election period, to go through very complicated and exhausting system.

Let me give you examples, to show how this system is both impractical and indeed an attack on the basic rights of citizens to voice their concerns. Indeed it aims to gagg people and limit freedom of speech of ordinary or active unorganised individuals.

Let us assume that I have only $200 and I want to use them to send message of dissatisfaction to my local member. I can use this $200 by:
1- Printing home-designed poster against the member and stick them on posts or on walls of local businesses or outside homes.
2- Print hundreds of leaflets and distribute them to letter-boxes of local residents.
In doing this, I will be obliged to:
1- Register with the NSW EFA.
2- Appoint Official Agent.
3- Fill forms to report expenditures every year.
4- Hire company auditor to go through these forms and approve them.

Would not this be called “crack down on freedom of speech and opinions”? Would not this create many obstacles for political participation and could lead either to marginalisation of citizens or resorting to under-ground activities?

Then the biggest question here is who will watch the millions of NSW voters during election period? Does not this look like that we are living in police state, now.

Also, will the NSW EFA hire enough people to go through streets to catch people who hang stickers or posters on posts and walls? Does the NSW EFA has the capacity to go through internet of people to follow people’s postings that will affect the election, attack candidate or advocate for a candidate? Do not we describe this to be “censorship of ideas and thoughts”?

We believe that these laws and this system are gross abuse of citizens’ rights to express opinions and thoughts. Now, the NSW EFA will be appointed as a guardian on our brains, pins and computers.

And here let me ask few questions:
1- The Friends of Auburn Library organised a “candidates’ debate” during the election period: are they require to report for “Electoral Expenditures”?
2- Some Falung Gong families organised small gathering to “meet the local candidates”: Did they register with NSW EFA for reporting?
3- My friend shouted on local member and demanded that people vote against her: Is he required to appoint “Official Agent” and provide the EFA about his “Electoral Expenditures”?
4- What is the status of journalists who criticised this candidate or that one? What about “casual” journalists or active community members who send “letter to editor” that could affect the outcome of the election?
5- What about private conversation between me and my GP about the election? Does not my GP require to register for reporting?

After these plain examples, do not you think that this system is very ridiculous, naive, and undemocratic and was introduced by government that lost its mandate and was very desperate to appease the Greens before the last election? Do not you think that it is the time to expose the naivety of this system, its impracticability and the draconian side of its requirements?

We, as a small group that campaigned for the last 2 state elections in different seats with high marginalised communities, we believe that this system was introduced to stop small groups like our to participate in the political system. It has nothing to do with making political system more efficient, more transparent or more progressive. On the opposite. It limits the participation of marginalised people in the political system and pushes them to shut their ideas and minds.

Now, why the prohibited donors were limited to groups that the Greens are enemies with? Why only developers? Do not the drug manufacturers make donations to influence the political decisions of law-makers?

Then why there is need for company auditor to audit the forms? This is a political process that should involve people active in politics. Does not this requirement constitute extra obstacle for independent people to run for election to voice their concerns? How would a poor protestor who shouted on local member find enough money to hire company auditor to audit the required forms?

We believe that this system does not serve any democratic system that allows grass root democratic campaigns. The irony here is that the system was proposed and enforced by the Greens, the party that pride themselves to be “progressive” party believes in grass-root campaigns.

We hope that you can take this letter into consideration in a bid to scrap this undemocratic unrealistic system. We believe that you (unlike Labor in its last term) have the mandate and the power to do so.

While we did not agree with Liberals before on any issue, but you will have our full support on this issue.

Thanks and if you need to discuss these issues further, I can be contacted on 0404 447 272

Yours sincerely

Jamal Daoud

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