Be careful what you wish for

The Greens have been the most enthusiastic of the political party supporters of state-controlled campaign finance, wanting to eliminate public funding entirely.

But maybe in NSW they are starting to understand what a foolish idea that is. According to a report in the SMH yesterday, the government is planning a public funding scheme that favours major over minor parties:

candidates or parties that receive between 4 and 8 per cent of the vote will be reimbursed 25 per cent of their costs. Those who receive between eight and 20 per cent of the vote will be reimbursed 50 per cent, while those achieving more than 20 per cent of the vote will be repaid 75 per cent of their costs.

So the Greens would usually get 25% or 50% reimbursement, while the major parties would get 75%.

It’s the fundamental problem with all these proposals for electoral finance reform. While they are always surrounded with high-minded rhetoric about the integrity of the political process, they would give the political winners much greater power to rig the political game in their favour. Anyone who thinks that the NSW Right of the ALP would play fair in this system is very naive.

The great strength of the currently system, with extensive freedoms for the civil society to fund political activity, is that it does not link capacity to challenge the government to the generosity of those in power. Checks and balances is one of the oldest liberal constitutional ideas. We should never abandon it.