High Court to hear union challenge to electoral funding laws next week

There are so many things going wrong, and so many unpopular decisions, it’s no surprise that the NSW Government, alarmed about the State election in March, wants to gag third-party campaigners. Media campaigns by unions like the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association about hospital funding, the NSW Teachers Federation about education and general campaigns against selling off our assets like Unions NSW' “NSW Not For Sale” are always damaging.

The “Your Rights at Work Campaign”, vigourously championed by Unions NSW highlighting the attacks on employees in WorkChoices was one of the most successful campaigns, significantly contributing to bring down the Howard Government, and as a bonus, having the sitting PM tossed out of his seat of Bennelong - only the second time this has ever happened.

The Electoral Funding Act 2018 reduced by half the amount third-party campaigners could spend in State elections - down from $1 million to $500,000 and even if a number of third-party campaigners get together, as they have done to oppose selling community assets, slashing the public sector, or removing rights at work, the $500,000 remains the cap.

The High Court challenge, organised by Unions NSW (to which we are affiliated) has eight plaintiffs - Unions NSW, the Nurses, the ETU, the Australian Education Union, the USU, the HSU, the PSA, Australian Salaried Medical Officers as well as funding from seven other unions who, like us, don’t do third-party campaigning, the Australian Services Union, the Shop Assistants, Rail, Tram and Bus Union, and our colleagues in APESMA. All the local government unions are involved.

The Electoral Funding Act criminalises campaign practices and introduces two-year jail terms for third parties acting in concert, whether they be unions, churches, community groups, charities are industry groups. Lovely.

Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey has said, “if this legislation had been in place in 2011, or 2015, unions’ officials would have gone to jail for doing what they always do: campaign.”

The High Court in Canberra will hear the constitutional argument about the implied freedom of political communication on Wednesday 5 and Thursday 6 December where it will be fought by the NSW Government, the Commonwealth Government, the Government of South Australia and potentially other States as well.

Only tyrants oppose the right of people to campaign in elections. It’s great to be involved in an issue of principle as important as this.

Pictured above is a demonstration organised by Unions NSW when the case first came on for directions in the High Court in Sydney.

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