The following is an open letter to Premier Campbell Newman sent by Queensland Coordinator Michael Keating regarding the Queensland State Government’s consideration of banning canvassing at polling booths during elections.
Dear Premier Newman,
It is with concern that I read in the Brisbane Times on the 24th of April that you and your government are considering banning polling booth canvassing at elections. Such recommendations that you are looking at implementing have the potential for causing issues with the natural democratic process in this state.
The proposed change to polling booth canvassing is a potential issue for the free democratic process we enjoy in Australia. As a member of Pirate Party Australia, we gladly support the improvement of conduct during elections – both from politicians and their supporters. However, there are several issues with attempting to restrict or ban canvassing at polling booths. Chief among them is that it will take away the opportunity for people of all political backgrounds to be able to provide information to voters about their policies, backgrounds and any other relevant information. Restricting this would be restricting the normal democratic process, for what can only be seen as being for your own benefit. This also raises the potential issue of these laws being used to restrict free speech in airing political opinions at times of elections.
I listened to the response to this from Professor Graeme Orr on 612 ABC Brisbane on the morning of 24th of April and agree with several of his points. The biggest problem with laws banning canvassing at polling booths is it will restrict minor parties and interest groups from advertising their message. This restricts the natural political process and is a highly disproportionate response to what occurred at Redcliffe in February. This also raises the question of who would police such laws on voting day? The use of police during elections in Australia would be a massive step back on the progress made in the political process, and the potential of QLD being made a laughing stock of democracy in Australia would be very disappointing.
I understand that the report handed in parliament from Mr Walter van der Merwe in relation to the Redcliffe by-election on the 22nd of February has three areas of concern: “the overt intimidating and obstructing behaviour towards the public and election staff, the excessive display of political statements and the manner and time in which those statements were erected and displayed and the conduct and numbers of scrutineers at the Saturday night count.” These comments were not directed at any political party. While I haven’t read the report, I understand the recommendations include the “creation of a new offence for anyone found to be obstructing a person from entering a polling booth and including third-party interest groups under how-to-vote card rules.” I’d like to address the problems with these recommendations with you, and how they would affect the normal democratic process.
Creating an offence for anyone physically obstructing voter or voters sounds good on paper, however the issue with this is how such an offence is worded and interpreted. Simply offering to hand a how-to-vote card to a voter should not be considered ‘obstruction’, however the statements made by yourself and your Attorney-General suggest that such a thing would be counted as ‘obstruction’. Using common sense, how can that be considered obstruction? Further to that, would everyone be held to this standard? Most, if not all, politicians hand out how to vote cards when attending booths. One would hope that if these laws pass, that politicians and senior party officials are held to the same standard and prevented from attending booths to ‘obstruct’ voters.
Including third party interest groups under how-to-vote rules is also a potential issue in the restriction of free speech, free flow of information, and freedom of political communication. This is in a similar vein to the proposed changes to lobbying laws, where third party lobbyists would be restricted in what they can say or lobby for. Members of the public should not be restricted in what information they can receive at any time, and they should be capable of processing information on topics that are important to them. Limiting third party lobbyists would restrict the flow of free information for members of the public to receive and judge for themselves.
As a member of the voting public, I urge you, Mr Newman, and your government to consider the recommendations of the report before looking at taking such drastic steps. Not only is there the potential to restrict the normal democratic process in this state, but you would be quashing the rights to freedom of speech, freedom to information, and freedom of political communication for the people of this state to rightly decide their future when it comes to voting in state elections. Queensland would again become a pariah state, as in the years prior to the Fitzgerald Inquiry. This would be a most sad state of affairs.
Pirate Party Australia