Nurses and midwives threaten legal action over unjust laws

The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) is preparing for a possible High Court challenge against the NSW Government over amendments to the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act 1981 that impede the effectiveness of third-party campaigners to participate freely in political discourse.

Following the introduction of amendment bills by Premier Mike Baird last Tuesday afternoon (14 October), the Council of the NSWNMA discussed the implications of the proposed laws and unanimously passed a resolution* to fight against it.

General Secretary of the NSWNMA, Brett Holmes, said Council viewed the amendment bills as a deliberate attempt to shut down third-party campaigners and to prevent NSW constituents from being fully informed about public policy issues ahead of the general election in March 2015.

“The Baird Government wants to rush through these amendments under the guise of improved ‘transparency and accountability’ of election funding, however, their real purpose is to increase public funding for political parties and restrict third-party campaigners from collectively organising,” Mr Holmes said.

“The amendment to slash electoral communication expenditure caps on registered third-party campaigners by 78.57% (from $1,166,660 to $250,000) is a knee-jerk attempt to silence third parties, as well as hard-working voters who want to exercise their rights in free political communication.

“Premier Baird appears quite happy to increase the financial returns for political parties and candidates involved in an election – at taxpayers’ expense – but wants to deny those same taxpayers the ability to access information from a variety of sources to make informed choices.

“It’s clear these amendments are an attempt to impede the rights of membership-based organisations from participating in and responding to debate on public policies.  It’s a further restriction on the rights of third parties to advocate on issues relevant to their core purposes.”

Mr Holmes said the amendment bills were a rushed, knee jerk reaction by the Baird Government, designed to deliver itself a mandate to privatise the State’s public services.

In a letter to Premier Baird, dated 9 October 2014, Chair of the expert panel overseeing the Interim Report into political donations, Kerry Schott, lauded the panel’s Terms of Reference to pursue long term legislative reform, not knee jerk tinkering with the existing laws.  The Interim Report, however, is silent on analysis or recommendations regarding third-party electoral expenditure caps.

The NSWNMA reiterated its view that third-party expenditure caps undermined democracy and disproportionately excluded involvement in political discourse.

Notwithstanding the efforts to increase penalties for anyone rorting the system, the NSWNMA confirmed that it opposes the amendment bill with regard to electoral communication expenditure caps on third-party campaigners and calls on the Opposition and crossbenchers within the NSW Legislative Council to reject the bill as it stands.

*See below a copy of the resolution passed by the Council of the NSWNMA:

The Council of the New South Wales Nurses and Midwives’ Association authorises the General Secretary to engage Holding Redlich – Lawyers for urgent advice on the Election  Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Amendment Bill 2014, to consider launching a constitutional challenge to the Bill should it be enacted by the NSW Parliament.

Council is concerned that provisions of the Bill are illegal as they impede the rights of free political communication under the Australian Constitution.

Further, Council instructs the General Secretary to write to the NSW Premier seeking that should the Bill be passed into law, it will not be commenced until its constitutional validity is determined.

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