NSW campaign finance law likely to end up in the High Court

What issue has me lining up with NSW Labor, the ETU, the CPSU and the Shooters and Fishers Party against the NSW Liberal Party? Barry O’Farrell’s campaign finance laws, which were passed by the NSW Parliament this week. The report of the Legislative Council inquiry into these laws shows these organisations were my odd issue bedfellows.

As with the federal inquiry last year, I think my views were given a fair hearing. The final report quoted from my submission many times, though for once I was not a solitary voice on many of the issues I raised. Even many of the usual champions of a more regulated political system thought that this bill went too far.

Unfortunately, despite the report clearly expressing significant concerns with the bill, both on its merits and its constitutionality, the Greens in the end backed the bill with a minor amendment.

The two main effects of the legislation are to:

* during the campaign period starting 1 October the year before a NSW election, any campaign spending that has as a dominant purpose the influencing of voting will be included in the spending cap of any political party to which the campaigning organisation is affiliated (in other words, union campaigns will be counted towards ALP campaign caps);

* ban all political donations at all times to political parties and third parties from organisations (coming on top of an ban on donations from people not on the electoral roll – which of course includes permanent residents and citizens under 18).

The only advantage of this over-reach is that it will now almost certainly end up in the High Court. I’d be amazed if the unions did not challenge; while they are not certain of victory there is a viable argument on freedom of political communication grounds. And a victory on this point might curb the campaign finance excesses likely to eventually emerge from the Green-Labor control of the Senate.

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