Any government that changes electoral
laws governing the distribution of how-to-vote material might be viewed by the
more cynical of Crikey’s readers as engaging in some sort of electoral fiddle.
The more generous might consider the changes for a moment as to whether they
make the electoral system more open, accountable and transparent.

In the case of the NSW government’s
proposed changes to the regulation of how-to-vote material, there are questions
about whether some fiddle is on, and I’ll return to that matter later in this

But be assured, one thing they do not do
is make the system more open and accountable. In fact, proposed changes go out
of their way to ensure that no one is allowed to examine registered how-to-vote
material before election day. Even on polling day access is severely

The new rules are not regulations to
improve the openness of the electoral system, but a deliberate attempt to hide
the nuts and bolts of preference wheeling and dealing from public view.

It was Bismarck who once said that the
making of laws is like the making of sausages, something best kept from the public
gaze. The NSW government seems to have decided that this stricture should also
apply to the making of preference deals.

The how-to-vote changes are hidden among a vast raft of proposed changes to the act governing NSW elections, the
Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Act (1912). Most of the changes simply
remove obscure 19th century provisions. To the government’s credit,
it has opened the process to public submissions. The draft changes and
explanatory notes can be found at the NSW Cabinet Office site.
Submissions are open until the end of the month.

Antony Green’s full analysis of the proposed changes is up on the website here.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey