Local Government NSW says the state government's Electoral Funding Act has 'effectively introduced expenditure caps on local government candidates’.
The act was rushed through the parliament in May, said LGNSW president Linda Scott.
Councillor Scott said the act imposed inconsistent expenditure caps for candidates and appeared set to stifle information that could help voters make their choice at the ballot box.
“Local government supports a move to clearer, cleaner elections at all spheres of government, but the Electoral Funding Act fails to provide this,” Cr Scott said.
"The act effectively introduced expenditure caps on local government candidates, parties and third-party campaigners but applies complex formulas that do not provide for consistent campaign expenditure across the state.
"Under the bill, an independent candidate standing for election to local government in Port Macquarie-Hastings would be able to spend 57 cents per enrolled elector.
"A candidate for Orange City Council would be allowed to spend 17 cents per voter, compared with 69 cents per voter by a candidate for Dubbo Regional Council.
"In rural Walcha, the allowable spend is $8.71 per voter.
"Meanwhile in metropolitan areas, a Campbelltown City Council candidate would be allowed to spend five cents per voter, compared with the 44 cents per voter in Waverley."
Cr Scott said she wants the state government to ensure the terms of referece referred to the joint standing committee on electoral matters were broad enough to address the flaws and unintended consequences legal experts had identified as flowing from the act.
“This new legal advice tells us there is no consistency in the application of caps and an obvious disparity in allowable funding – not only between metropolitan and regional areas, but within those areas themselves.Linda Scott
“This new legal advice tells us there is no consistency in the application of caps and an obvious disparity in allowable funding – not only between metropolitan and regional areas, but within those areas themselves,” Cr Scott said.
“The provisions of the act fail to establish a scheme that is fair and equitable to all registered voters across NSW.”
The Act also impose expenditure caps on third party campaigners – groups such as LGNSW, the NSW Farmers Federation, the Country Women’s Association, ACOSS and the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association.
“The cap for council elections is as low as $2500 per local government area, and around $61,500 per electorate in state elections, making it extremely difficult for community groups to promote key policy issues to voters,” Cr Scott said.
“This legislation could be perceived as a gag law, and may be inconsistent with the implied right to freedom of communication – a position the courts have said is necessary to ensure voters can exercise an informed choice at the ballot box.”
Cr Scott urged the government and joint committee members to consider LGNSW’s preferred terms of reference, which sought to address the identified problems and ensure the act achieved its objectives.
“LGNSW welcomes the state government’s commitment in May to refer the act to a parliamentary inquiry but it’s disappointing this has taken more than two months – particularly given the time pressure created by the upcoming state election,” she said.
“The act clearly requires sensible amendment well ahead of the 2019 state elections and the 2020 local government elections, and that means acting now.
“It’s the only way councils and communities will get the electoral certainty, consistency and fairness they deserve,” she said.