Voter backlash moves Abbott to kill off electoral funding bill

Opposition leader Tony Abbott.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott. Chris Ison

UPDATE: FEARS of a backlash by conservative voters in Queensland played a part in the Coalition dumping its support for a bipartisan deal on electoral reforms.

After months of secret negotiations between senior politicians and the organisational heads of the Labor, Liberal and National parties, the Coalition abandoned the deal on Wednesday night.

While it would have secured more stringent transparency measures on political donations, a clause to add $1 in public funding to every primary vote at the coming election created a mass public backlash this week.

That change would have delivered about $58 million in extra funding to the major political parties for administrative costs associated with the coming election campaign.

The public response fuelled a Coalition backbench uprising after the changes were not put to the regular party room meetings for debate.

Coalition sources confirmed a meeting of Queensland Opposition parliamentarians on Wednesday night discussed how the reforms might play in the Sunshine State.

It is understood discussions included the risk conservative Queenslanders could move their support behind new minor parties such as Katter's Australian Party if the Coalition backed the changes.

On Thursday morning, Queensland Coalition backbenchers including George Christensen and Ken O'Dowd and Paul Neville expressed their concerns about the reforms.

Mr O'Dowd told APN Newsdesk the Queensland MPs did not like the fact they were not previously informed about the changes.

"We didn't have a clue about this, it came completely out of the blue as far as I'm concerned," he said.

"I didn't know it was even going on until I saw reports, and then my constituents started ringing me up about it."

Mr O'Dowd said once he heard about the changes, his "gut reaction was no".

"We're looking at fixing up at least three years of Labor deficits, and then we're seen as having the hide to ask the public for more money," he said.

"To the public, this must look like we're going around with our snouts in the trough."

While Mr Neville said there was a case for public funding of political parties, to clamp down on excessive corporate donations, he was against the way the reforms were proposed.

He said "a proper, educated community debate" was needed before any proposals for such changes should go before parliament.

"I think there was a feeling of indecent haste about this whole issue," he said.

Mr Christensen took to Twitter, saying he shared voters' concerns and asking "In time of budget crisis, should we be boosting funds to parties?"

By mid-morning, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott fronted the press at parliament house, declaring the bill "dead", but denying he had been "rolled".

He said he had heard the public's response to the bill, and the Coalition would not be supporting the bill.

Leader of the House Anthony Albanese responded, saying Mr Abbott could not be trusted because he had reneged on the deal.


Two weeks ago (May 16):

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus writes to Opposition proposing passing the reforms before the election.

Last week (May 24):

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott replies, confirming his agreement.

Tuesday (May 28):

News breaks of the deal, but not discussed in party room meetings.

Wednesday (May 29):

Mr Abbott abandons deal in late night phone call to government.

Thursday (May 30):

Backbench uprising, with claims Qld MPs were not previously told.


11am: Leader of the House Anthony Albanese responded, saying Mr Abbott could not be trusted because he had signed a written agreement with the government, and had now reneged on the deal.

However, Mr Albanese would not comment on the 2010 deal the government made with independent MPs to enact more extensive reforms - an agreement the independents say the government had failed to deliver.

Mr Albanese said clearly Mr Abbott did not have the support of his party room, and that he was "rolled" by his political colleagues.


10.30am: Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has declared the bill "dead", as he tries to clear himself and senior Coalition figures from the public backlash.

Mr Abbott told reporters he had heard the public's response to the bill and would not be supporting the bill.

It is understood the senior Liberal MPs involved in negotiations over the bill did not tell the wider Shadow Cabinet or other Coalition MPs before Mr Abbott signed the agreement.

However, Mr Abbott refused to be drawn on the details of negotiations, saying only that while there was a case for public funding of political parties, the Coalition would not reconsider the reforms in the "foreseeable future".

Mr Abbott also said he would not characterise his change of heart on the bill as being "rolled" by Coalition colleagues, simply that he had responded to the public sentiment.


9.38am: Changes to electoral funding laws that could have delivered more than $50 million in extra funding to the two major political parties are on the rocks, with senior politicians on both sides facing a back-bench backlash.

It is understood the reforms were agreed to by Special Minister of State Mark Dreyfus, his Opposition counterpart Bronwyn Bishop and the leaders of both major parties.

Mr Dreyfus on Thursday circulated a letter which showed Opposition Leader Tony Abbott agreeing to the changes, which would add $1 dollar for every vote in the coming election.

That letter showed negotiations had also included the most senior levels of the organisational wings of both the Labor and Liberal parties.

>>Read Tony Abbott's letter to Mark Dreyfus

APN Newsdesk understands backbenchers on both sides of the aisle were blindsided by the reforms, as were The Greens and independent MPs.

The reforms were not mentioned during either the Labor caucus or Coalition party room meetings earlier in the week, and have created uproar throughout the parliament.

Topics:  anthony albanese bronwyn bishop federal election 2013 mark dreyfus tony abbott

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