Fresh from deregistering 19 small political parties two days after Christmas for the heinous crime of not yet winning a seat in Federal Parliament, the Howard Government has taken another cynical step to lift the barriers to entry in our political system by funding another 220 electorate officers.

In the first increase since 1984, all Federal MPs will now have four rather than three staffers to persuade constituents what a wonderful job they are doing.

This will cost taxpayers about $15 million and load the government up with an extra 126 taxpayer-funded workers in an election year, while Labor’s ranks will swell by 88.

The Howard government has almost doubled the number of ministerial advisers that the Hawke-Keating governments and this small army of almost 600 is in addition to the 880 electorate officers who will service the public into the future.

Politics is an expensive business but once entrenched it is very hard to be knocked off and this is partly because of the substantial increase of public funding of incumbent MPs.

How does an independent or minor party challenger tackle a sitting MP whose annual printing allowance was increased from $125,000 to $150,000 a year last August.

It was the Hawke Government which first introduced public funding and with indexation this will be almost $2 a vote at this year’s election – provided you get more than 4% of the vote which is harder than many people realise.

Despite Crikey revealing the cynical attack on minor parties on Monday, the Australian Electoral Commission advises that they’ve still only had one media inquiry about this notorious silly season press release.

How on earth can the government possibly justify deregistering all parties you’ve never won a seat less than a year before polling day? Has anyone in the popular press even bothered to ask for explanation, let alone publish it?

Small parties haven’t got the public funding and paid staffers needed to handle basic administration, let alone go through what can be a tricky process of registration for a second time for no good reason. Is anyone going to stand up for the little guy or are we just an apathetic nation of duopolies, oligopolies and monopolies – political and otherwise?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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