Baird bid to lower cap on campaigning thwarted

Dennis Long

The State Government sought to reduce the electoral campaign expenditure cap for registered third-party campaigners, including unions.

The attempt by the Baird Government to lower the amount that a 'third party' campaigner such as the Federation can spend in the lead-up to the 2015 state election has been defeated in the Upper House.

The setback for the Government follows lobbying of the cross benches by Federation, Unions NSW and the Nurses and Midwives' Association.

The Bill, in part, proposed to reduce the electoral campaign expenditure cap for registered third-party campaigners (including unions) from $1.05 million to $250,000.

As required under existing legislation Federation had already applied to be a registered third-party campaigner for the Newcastle and Charlestown by-elections and the state election. The legislation would have retrospectively changed the basis on which the Federation registered.

An amendment to the Bill that the existing cap of $1.1 million for third parties be maintained was carried 19-4 with only the Coalition members opposed.

Greens MLC John Kaye said that the original bill would "completely skew the political process towards the professional political class" and "privilege politicians ahead of third parties".

Speaking for the Labor Opposition, Luke Foley said, "Given that the bill does not seek to heavily lower the caps on what political parties and candidates can raise and spend, it is unfair for such large changes to the third-party caps to be introduced on
their own."

Labor MLC Adam Searle said, "It seeks to silence a part of the community that clearly is not supportive of the Government's plans to privatise the electricity poles and wires, certain hospitals or the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and its plans to continue attacks on injured workers."

Premier Mike Baird introduced the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Amendment Bill on October 14.

On October 17, Federation General Secretary John Dixon wrote to the Greens to express Federation's objection to the Bill and "in particular those elements of the legislation that seek to significantly tighten election spending caps for unions and other third-party campaigners".

Mr Dixon subsequently met with the Greens and the Shooters and Fishers Party to reinforce these concerns and worked with Unions NSW and other unions on the issue.

Federation does not believe that its campaigning should be categorised or regulated as party political advertising.

"The NSW Teachers Federation has a long history of articulation [of] both our members' and the public education community's concerns against governments of the day when their policies harm the public education system. The Federation has prosecuted these issues regardless of which major political party has been in

The letter to the Greens also noted that "our members' employer is the state government" and "our advocacy includes campaigning independently at state elections for the betterment of our members and the public education system's students
and parents".

"This new bill would seriously affect our ability to bring these important issues before the voting public at such crucial democratic events such as state

The letter cited the Stop TAFE Cuts and I Give A Gonski campaigns as examples of non party-political and community concerns.

The legislative proposals were not recommended by the Schott Review into electoral funding and apply to the next state election only.

Further legislation is expected to arise from the final recommendations of the Schott Review.

"Federation will insist that any new legislation respects to right of the Federation to campaign on behalf of its members," Mr Dixon says.

"The Baird Government does not have the right to silence teachers, parents and the community."