ELECTION DAY: Tweed Shire Council candidates and their supporters handing out flyers to voters on election day at Centaur Primary School in 2016.
ELECTION DAY: Tweed Shire Council candidates and their supporters handing out flyers to voters on election day at Centaur Primary School in 2016. Aisling Brennan

Election campaign costs too expensive for new candidates

IT MAY soon become a little cheaper and easier to run for council, as the NSW Government assesses the impact of expenditure caps on election campaigns.

On Thursday, Tweed Shire councillors will decide whether to support the staff's recommended submission to the NSW Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters that "the current caps are inadequate".

"The committee should consider an eligibility criteria for independents and new candidates to receive relief from expenditure caps in relation to start-up costs, to facilitate greater competitiveness in council elections," the draft submission states.

The submission also suggests the current expenditure caps disadvantage independent and new candidates from running for election because the caps tend to favour candidates who are supported by the financial backing of larger political parties.

But former independent council candidate Dion Andrews said he would be cautious about having an eligibility criteria for candidates.

"If you're looking at just the cap of the individual candidate it's not good enough, you have to look at the whole thing," Mr Andrews said.

"Eligibility criteria is leaving it way open for someone to turn around and set a point that a candidate must have $5000 in their bank account to run.

"There should be no financial eligibility to run for council."

Mr Andrews said the committee should look at all candidates, and the parties they're affiliated with, to ensure everyone had a fair campaign expenditure.

"When you have a big political party, it can quite easily bring all their volunteers and members to man booths," he said.

 

ELECTION DAY: Tweed Shire Council candidates and their supporters handing out flyers to voters on election day at Centaur Primary School in 2016.
ELECTION DAY: Tweed Shire Council candidates and their supporters handing out flyers to voters on election day at Centaur Primary School in 2016. Aisling Brennan

"But when you're a sole person in the community who doesn't have the means to do that, you can only man about five booths.

"There's already a lot of regulations there with sign sizes and other things in place. I don't think the cap by itself is enough to even the playing field."

But Councillor Ron Cooper, who led his independent "No High Rise" group to election victory in 2016, said he believed it was unlikely for council to ever get rid of political parties.

"When you analyse it there will always be a fairly even spread of right wing and left wing parties in this shire and it's a scramble for the last three seats for the independents," Cr Cooper said.

"(The caps are) probably a good idea but most independents won't be able to spend that kind of money."

READ: How much northern NSW MPs spent on election communication

Committee chair Dr Peter Phelps MLC said the original aim of the expenditure caps was to "prevent expenditure arms races, particularly in tightly-contested areas".

"The government introduced the caps to ensure a level playing field for everyone in local government elections," he said.

"However, the government also recognised that this is a complex area and has asked the committee to consider the matter. While some costs will be fixed, others may vary depending on the number of electors in a ward or local government area."

Council is also suggesting electoral advertising at election booths and handing out how-to-vote cards should be prohibited "to reduce costs for individual candidates, stop voter harassment at the polling booth and reduce waste from election campaigns".


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