6.1 For the 1996 federal election, 72 political parties were registered. These are listed at Appendix 4.
6.2 A number of applications and requests for review were on hand at the time the writ was issued for the election but, under the provisions of the Act, no further action could be taken on these until after the election. The AEC recognises the importance of party registration applications being dealt with as quickly as possible, particularly where there is the possibility of an election being held, and has already revised its procedures to help speed up the processing of applications. The greatest contribution to improving the efficiency of the process would require legislative amendment and this is discussed in detail under the heading 'Suspension of Party Registration Activity during Elections' below.
6.3 Federal registration of a political party confers considerable benefits. These include being entitled to have the party's name or abbreviation appear against candidates' names on ballot papers for federal elections, as well as the entitlement to election funding and copies of the Commonwealth electoral roll in electronic format. For this reason the Electoral Act sets eligibility criteria for parties and the AEC requires evidence that these have been met before registering a party.
6.4 The Act specifies that, to be eligible for registration, an applicant party must have either:
This requirement is designed to ensure that the party can demonstrate that it has a significant level of support within the community.
6.5 While having a member who represents the party in a Parliament is clear evidence of electoral support, the AEC draws attention to the fact that there is at present no restriction on the number of political parties of which a Parliamentarian may be a member. In the past this has allowed Members of Parliament to register, or assist the registration of, more than one political party. Such parties are entitled to registration regardless of the level of electoral support they might have, as well as affording Parliamentarians the opportunity to reserve another party name simply by registering a party, without having to show that there is any intention of the party functioning effectively. The status of 'parliamentary party' more appropriately should be accorded to those political parties which have a member representing the party in a Federal, State or Territory parliament/legislature.
That a Member of Parliament only be able to lend his/her name to a single political party for registration purposes.
6.6 Another avenue to obtain multiple registrations is to register a number of parties with substantially the same 500 members. This has the effect of allowing a single party to register a number of names and abbreviations and while such actions are clearly outside the intention of the legislation it also raises a number of more serious concerns. It can allow a series of candidates to be endorsed in single electorates with, effectively, separate party names printed beside their names. The intention of such an arrangement is to exploit the preferential voting system by directing preferences from each of these candidates to a single candidate thereby garnering a range of votes in the hope of having that designated candidate elected, but without the voters necessarily being aware of the relationship between candidates.
6.7 One means of preventing this is to limit a person to being a member, for registration purposes, of only one political party, similar to the proposal outlined above to allow Parliamentarians to lend their names to only one party. Such a provision could, however, prove to be difficult to enforce in some situations. The preferred option would be to restrict persons to being able to hold the position of Registered Officer for only one party at a time. As the Registered Officer is the person who endorses candidates at elections, this would limit the power one person can wield across more than one political party by preventing a person from controlling the endorsements for a number of parties.
That a person can only hold one appointment as a Registered Officer at any one time.
6.8 The registration of a political party and any subsequent amendments to its registered name or abbreviation currently are provided free of charge. It is an expensive process for the AEC as the Act requires such applications to be advertised in at least one major newspaper in each State and Territory, as well as the Commonwealth Gazette, at a cost upwards of $5 000.
6.9 There have been cases where applicant parties have submitted fresh applications merely because they wished to make a relatively minor change to the party's chosen name. A nominal fee for processing applications for registration and subsequent changes to the registered name or abbreviation of a party would not be onerous for a viable political party but at the same time would encourage them to finalise details such as proposed party name before submitting their application. The AEC has in mind a fee of $500 which is the equivalent to the nomination fee for a single Senate candidate and, for a non-parliamentary party, would represent only $1.00 each for the minimum membership required for registration.
A fee of $500 to accompany an application for the registration of a political party and an application to change either the registered name or abbreviation of a political party.
6.10 The Act allows a party to register both a name and an abbreviation, either of which may appear against endorsed candidates' names on ballot papers. Under the present provisions, the 'abbreviation' can simply be an alternative to, and may even be longer than, the registered party name. In effect, a party can register two, quite unrelated names. The AEC is of the view that a registered alternative should be an abbreviation of, or at least bear a meaningful connection to, the registered name.
The registered abbreviation of a political party should be restricted to either an acronym of, or a shortened version of, the party's registered name.
6.11 A political party may be de-registered by the AEC if it:
A non-parliamentary party may also be de-registered if it fails to endorse a candidate in a federal election within a four year period.
6.12 Where the AEC moves to de-register a party because it no longer meets the membership requirements, the Act specifies different procedures to be followed depending upon whether the party obtained its initial registration as a parliamentary or a non-parliamentary party. A party which was registered as a parliamentary party can be summarily de-registered by the AEC, whereas a party which was registered as a non-parliamentary party must be notified and given the opportunity to show cause why it should not be de-registered. It also has appeal rights that are not available to a parliamentary party. There is no obvious reason for the difference in approach and the AEC believes that the same processes and appeal rights should be afforded in every case.
The procedures for the de-registration of a party originally registered as a parliamentary party and the review of that decision be the same as currently exist for a non-parliamentary party.
6.13 Apart from de-registration action initiated by the AEC, it is open to political parties to de-register voluntarily. In the case of parliamentary parties voluntary de-registration can be applied for by either the secretary of the party (as defined in the Act) or by all of the parliamentary members. De-registration of a non-parliamentary party can be applied for by three members of the party.
6.14 Voluntary de-registration is clearly an important decision for a party and one which would not be lightly taken. Once de-registered the party's name, or a similar name likely to be confused with it, cannot be registered until after the next general election. Under the current provisions it is open to a small number of disgruntled members to de-register a non-parliamentary party against the wishes of its wider membership. The AEC believes that it would be more appropriate if one of the applicants for the voluntary de-registration of a non-parliamentary party was the party secretary: an elected office bearer charged with acting on behalf of the party.
Require that the secretary of the party be one of the three party members to submit an application for the de-registration of a non-parliamentary party.
6.15 The Act provides that certain decisions taken by the Australian Electoral Commission are appealable to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. This currently does not include all decisions to de-register political parties. Given the possible ramifications of de-registration, all such decisions should be open to review by the AAT.
All de-registration decisions of the Australian Electoral Commission should be included as reviewable decisions under the Commonwealth Electoral Act.
6.16 The Act provides for the registration of parties and changes to the registered details of parties (apart from the Registered Officer) to be suspended during the period from the day of the issue of a writ for an election or by-election through to the day of its return. The Act, however, prohibits any administrative action being taken by the AEC in processing such applications, not just the final, crucial step of making its decision.
6.17 This can result in delays well beyond just the election period which can be further compounded if two or more elections are held in quick succession. By-elections are no longer an infrequent occurrence, and the number of by-elections held leading up to and following the 1996 federal election served to create considerable delays in processing applications for registration of political parties. The intention of this provision seems to be to 'freeze' the Register of Political Parties for the duration of an election, but not to delay unduly the registration of applicant parties. This intention could be more effectively achieved if the Act was amended so that only the Australian Electoral Commission's actual decisions on the registration, de-registration or change of registered details other than changes to the Registered Officer, were delayed until after the return of a writ for an election or by-election. (It is necessary for changes to Registered and Deputy Registered Officers to be able to be made in the course of an election campaign). The AEC would then be free to proceed with various administrative tasks such as advertising in the press, meaning that no undue delay would be experienced beyond the return of the writ.
The suspension of all party registration activity during the period of the issue of a writ be amended so that only the Australian Electoral Commission's decision with regard to the registration, de-registration and changes to the Register of Political Parties other than to Registered Officer and Deputy Registered Officer details, is suspended.