It’s Clive’s party and his Puppies don’t have voting rights

I THINK my colleague Hedley Thomas is on to something. The Palmer United Party is not a party. Members of the Palmer United Party are, in effect supporters, not members.

Rule D13 of the PUP constitution determines that the six Foundation members are Clive and family. Rule D26 determines that a majority of foundation members can throw out any ordinary member.

Rule W1 determines that the six foundation members exercise all of the powers of the executive until December 31, 2016.

Finally, rule W3 determines that the chairman (and federal president) is fully authorised to exercise all the powers of the interim executive committee.

Nice work, Clive.

It just so happens that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, chaired by Liberal MP Tony Smith, is itching to give the minnow parties, including PUP, a nice little touch-up.

May I suggest to the committee that it consider further the question of whether a party is a party if members have, in effect, no voting rights?

At present, the committee recommends the provision of “a compliant party constitution that sets out the party rules and membership process”. This seeks to ask the government for a legislative guide on party rules and membership processes.

The Australian Electoral Commission sets out guidelines for parties to be eligible for federal registration.

Should a party seek to become registered, there are some circumstances where the AEC will ask for evidence that certain decisions are made in accordance with the party’s constitution. “A party constitution must deal with membership of the party. Matters that might be covered include: … what rights and obligations they have as members.

“A constitution usually includes details about the decision making processes of the party; namely, who is eligible to make decisions and how these are to be made.”

These matters do not canvass the concept of member of an organisation. Although the parliament will be reluctant to delve into party rules for fear of further opening the parties to legal proceedings from disgruntled members, there is a hole at the heart of the legislation.

Membership which can be extinguished by foundation members alone is not membership. Each of the major party constitutions is explicit in the grant of party member votes and should have no fear on this account.

When granted the privilege of party registration, candidates are entitled to run under the party banner. Clive Palmer, as is any other citizen, is free to contest a seat. Using the guise of a party, however, to enhance the chances of others is stretching the meaning of political party. Taxpayers should not support this device. The committee may like to consider appropriate legislation to remove privileges to any group that has no effective membership rights.

The committee has concentrated on other ways in which to minimise the chances of minnow candidates gaming the system. After all, the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party received 0.51 per cent of the vote and 0.04 of a quota, among the least preferred of all candidates.

Sensibly, the committee did not opt for requiring a minimum vote to be achieved by a candidate in the Senate election. Rather, it concentrated on the preferential voting system and the size of the party, which it recommend must have 1500 members (presently 500).

Further, it recommend the introduction of optional preferential above the line voting, and partial optional preferential voting below the line.

These changes will make it more difficult for the flukes such as Ricky Muir to be elected to the Senate. It should not interfere with the likes of Bob Day at Family First whose vote was at least respectable.

I would suggest to the committee that when it considers the party rules requiring a membership of 1500 it should check the party constitution so that if members do not have a vote they cannot be considered members. Such a rule would foreclose on the pretence that the PUP is a party.

Although the Electoral Act does not require a specific form of rules, it would not be difficult to change the law to ensure that, to be counted as a member, a member should have a vote within the forums of the party.

This may be a large step, but if there were a point to party registration, then a valid party would surely be one that has a membership with voting rights.