Regulation of Political Parties
Dr Carolyn V. Currie
The internal organization of the main political parties has come into question in Australia over the second decade of the 21st century, for not conforming to the same democratic standards that underpin our electoral system. In NSW various court appeals on behalf of disaffected factions in the Liberal Party, an Independent Commission of Corruption inquiry, and a Royal Commission have highlighted the question as to whether the courts or governments,
should intervene to ensure democratic principles are adhered to. Parties are governed by their own rules, the Australian Constitution and various state and federal regulations, which are limited to how they operate within the framework of the electoral system and their interaction with other political players. For instance, regulation has concentrated on the disclosure of private funding and the role of lobbyists. This paper reviews other models, such as that of Germany where Basic Law decrees that ‘parties help form the political will of the people’ and ‘their internal organization shall conform to democratic principles’. In Portugal, intra-party democracy is constitutionally protected—Article 51(5) provides that a party ‘must be governed by the principles of transparency, democratic organization and management and the participation of all of its members’. The internal organization of Finish and Spanish parties must also be democratic (Act on Political Parties 1969 (Finland), Article 6 of the Spanish Constitution). In Australia the original Federal Constitution drafted in 1900 led to a classification of political parties as voluntary private organizations, their rules generally unenforceable at law. Intra-party democracy has become highly contentious in the last few years, with slow patchy reform. Given these organizations give rise to our government, it is an urgent question in view of drastically falling membership whether reforms should be made to bring Australian party internal politics into line with other advanced nations. This paper outlines current problems, highlights deficiencies in the Australian regulatory models using comparative analysis, and concludes with suggestions for reform.