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Your vote is valuable

By 2353NM

Over the past couple of months, Turnbull, Shorten, Di Natalie and others have been attempting to convince you that they are worthy of your first preference vote. The usual claim is that your vote is valuable. Guess what – it is. Every first preference vote cast at the election on 2 July is worth $2.62784 to the political entity that gets the vote (provided certain conditions are met). Ironically, the ‘value’ of your vote is indexed every six months to the CPI — which is more than the politicians are willing to do for Medicare rebates for doctors’ visits.

Given that 16,295,463 of us (as at 30 June 2015) will vote this weekend, that is around $42.8 million that will be taken straight from the taxpayers’ pocket and given to political parties, with no strings attached. Of course those that convince more of us to vote for them will get more of this largesse, which probably explains why it is rare to see members of political parties running the pub raffles or fundraising at community events – they don’t need to.

Public funding of political parties in Australia was ‘invented’ by a New South Wales ALP member, Rodney Caviler, who now admits it was the biggest mistake of his life. While originally intended to be a method for anyone who felt the need to stand up and represent a community in parliament to re-coup their costs in running for election (within an upper limit cap), it is now a free-for-all where the money is usually given straight to the political party’s head office with no strings attached.

The reality is that the major parties have no real need for branches and membership fees: the majority of their costs are met by public funding and donations from corporate sponsors. This gives them a large advantage over smaller parties and those who are trying to establish a party. The major parties have the financial ability to get their message out to a far greater extent because they can afford the research, preparation and production costs that this type of marketing requires, which in return ‘earns’ more votes at the next election. The Greens (probably the next largest political party in Australia) claim that almost all their donations are from individuals and the value is nearly always under $500, although they would also receive public funding.

On 23 May 2016, ABCTV’s 4 Corners program devoted an episode to political donations in Australia. The program included interviews with corporate donors, former party fundraisers and the Chairman of the NSW Electoral Commission, Keith Mason QC, who at the time was withholding $4.4 million from the NSW Liberal Party due to non-disclosure of donor information relating to the 2015 NSW State Election. Mason was asked:

How important is it, in your view, to the proper functioning of democracy that … that donors are open and transparent?

KEITH MASON QC, CHAIR, NSW ELECTORAL COMMISSION: It, it, it’s really vital. And it’s equally important — ah, perhaps some would say more important — to make sure that, that representatives in government respond only to the, the voting decisions; not to corrupting decisions of, of undisclosed financial donations.

The donations in question were sent to the Liberal Party through a claimed third party in Canberra known as the Free Enterprise Foundation.

Former Liberal Party Federal Treasurer Michael Yabsley was also interviewed by 4 Corners and suggested a return to community fundraising rather than corporate donations would be a good thing for our democracy:

MICHAEL YABSLEY: Now, you know, the political parties — and you can hear it now: they’ll be saying, “Oh, you know, we’ll have to do sausage sizzles and, and lamington stalls.”

In terms of the health of democracy: that would be a damn good thing, if that’s how fundraising needs to take place. Far better to take the fundraising to the sausage sizzles, um, than, than some sort of, um, um, arcane process around a boardroom table.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: So back to the future?

MICHAEL YABSLEY: In, in many respects, ah, I’m, I’m all for it. It would be a very, very healthy thing for democracy.

In the last week, the world has found out that asking electors for their opinion doesn’t necessary get the answer the politicians expected. The referendum asking if the UK should leave the European Union (EU) was an unexpected victory for those that wanted to leave. The proponents of the leave cause were the ‘right wing’ of the Conservative Party, led by former London Mayor Boris Johnson and the ultra-conservative United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Interestingly, The [UK] Spectator magazine noted in 2014 that Prime Minister David Cameron was leading his ‘conservative’ MPs on by forcing through –

… the EU referendum bill — originally introduced in a panic by Number 10 as a symbolic measure to unite the party and highlight Labour and Lib Dem opposition to giving the British people a say on Europe

Well, that political move ended well. The current resident of ‘Number 10’ resigned the day after the Referendum, admitting the failure of his ‘remain’ campaign.

It could be argued that Abbott tried the same thing with the same sex marriage plebiscite in Australia. He pushed it out hoping that it would unite his party and highlight the lack of traditional ‘morals and ethics’ of the ALP and Greens, possibly something he could capitalise on at the 2016 election.

At the time Abbott came up with the plebiscite proposal, the Australian Electoral Commission estimated the cost of the special plebiscite at close to $160 million. The AEC helpfully publishes the cost of all federal elections since 1901, so the estimate is readily verified. Assuming a public vote is necessary to determine the marriage equity issue (which legally it isn’t by the way – the Howard Government inserted the condition that marriage is between a man and a woman into the Marriage Act in 2004), the referendum could have been run in conjunction with the current election campaign. The cost estimate for that scenario was around $44 million. Turnbull (who claims he supports marriage equity) is still planning on the plebiscite which he now claims is non-binding – so we pay the money out and his side of politics (at least) will vote according to their individual personal beliefs. Turnbull is effectively pouring $160 million of your and my money down the drain in what could be described as a vain attempt by his predecessor to hold his political party together.

And before we conclude, here’s another thing to consider. The election campaign was eight weeks. The ALP campaign launch was at the beginning of week 6, the Coalition campaign launch at the beginning of week 7. Considering that the timing of the election was picked by the Coalition, why would they leave it so late to ‘open’ their campaign? The reason is simple: until the campaign launch, the travel by the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and most other politicians is paid for by you and me — not the political party. That’s right, you and I are paying for Malcolm and Bill’s ‘Magical Mystery Tours’ until they launch their campaign!

This either makes the ALP stupid or better off than the Coalition as they will be paying for Bill’s ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ for an additional week. However, there is no redeeming value here in the ALP’s actions. It’s similar to suggesting the Olympics being ‘opened’ on day 7 is better than performing the opening on day 9 of the 10 day competition. It’s not logical and it only makes sense if you support the current ‘norm’ of politicians being able to take what they believe is necessary from the public purse, without worry about privacy or the funding constraints imposed on the health, education and support mechanisms for members of our community in need; not to mention an interesting definition of morals and ethics.

A software company (Parakeelia) wholly owned by a political party charges MP’s for the (mandatory) use of its product, the charge is paid by the MP from taxpayer funds and the profits are returned to the political party. Also, the workings of the Free Enterprise Foundation only became known because the NSW Electoral Commission decided to use the tools they had available to force the details of how hundreds of thousands of dollars ended up in the NSW Liberal Party’s bank account. Political parties are paid for every vote they receive. All of this is apparently legal. It’s not hard to see who writes the rules and who they benefit.

Probably, the worst abuse of power is that all the donations (provided they are over the generous threshold of $13,000) will be released to the public – 24 weeks after the election. You and I have little influence when large organisations can write cheques for thousands to reinforce the policy that they want to get over the line (and the major parties have the marketing skills, techniques and funding to sell ice to Eskimos). When will this stop?

While we have a two party system, these arrangements will continue into the future. The reality is that in the majority of the electorates in Australia, either an ALP or Coalition candidate will be elected. It has been demonstrated across Australia and around the world that a parliament without a majority forces people to work together, which usually creates a better result. New Zealand has worked in this manner since the 1990’s and most western European countries have worked in this way for far longer – without the revolving door to the prime minister’s office that Australia has endured. While no one can tell you how to vote on 2 July, remember your vote does have some value — the person or party you choose to give you first preference to receives $2.62. Make sure the respective political machine earns it.

What do you think?

Should WE pay for political parties’ campaigns?

Should parties be required to fund all of their costs from when the election is called (or when parliament is dissolved), not just after their ‘official’ launch?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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  1. Steve Laing -

    If politicians want to get their message across, they can do it freely (or very cheaply) via the internet or social media.

    1) Advertising, whilst effective at swaying people on the emotional level, is rarely effective at the reasoning level – and it would be much better for all of us if people voted on that basis rather than on gut feel or emotions. So lets have some very clear restrictions on budgets (and given how much we pay political parties for our votes there appears to be plenty of money to do it) to make it fairer for anyone who wants to stand to be able to afford to do so.

    2) The hullabaloo road shows should be banned. They add no value, and indeed distract the dwindling number of journalists to cover crap and not the actual policies and issues. The only candidates who should be allowed to campaign directly in a constituency are the candidates who are standing in it – they are the only people that constituents can actually vote for, so lets hear what they actually have to say before we decide to vote for them or not. Our current LNP MP, Ian “NOT” Goodenough, appears to be AWOL. Unacceptable.

    3) Facts and promises that are made in elections need to be documented and thereafter checked. If a promise is made, but no action is taken within the specific period they’ve outlined, then the politician making such needs to be stood down.

    If we want to improve our democracy, elections need to stop being a media circus, and start to be about policies. The LNP would clearly prefer it to be nothing but a lottery, knowing that with their additional funding they hold more of the tickets.

  2. Athena

    Good article and several relevant points. We need to know about donations in real time, not several months after an election has been held. If we had the ability to draw the public’s attention to the donations as soon as they or the kickbacks happen, then hopefully less people would believe the spin.

    I also agree with Steve about the need for limitations on political advertising and cessation of road shows. Reduce the advertising limit every time a three word bogan slogan is used and every time someone throws mud at their opponents instead of communicating their own policies.

  3. Jack Russell

    I heartily agree Steve, especially performance reviews (as applied to the rest of us) which will force attention toward the promises made and the job at hand – with the added benefit of eliminating the failures from office efficiently – and with financial penalties for fraudulent waste of public money.

    A scenario we employers of the current dross can only dream of.

  4. Steve Laing -

    Exactly Jack – we are the employers! I’d love to see proper job descriptions for the role of MP and selection criteria, and then have all candidates submit their resume as to why they believe they could do the job. And they’d have to put it through the appropriate software to ensure that there was no plagiarising! The AEC should have to do all the necessary checks to make sure that what they had submitted was true, and if not, then that should either be reported, or they have their candidacy revoked (plus their vote going forward removed – harsh, but fair).

    In the workforce we are expected to be accountable, so its about time our elected servants were too.

  5. jimhaz

    “He recommended that individual candidates should be reimbursed for the amount they actually spent on getting elected, up to a ceiling; that funding was to be strictly for election campaigns; and that “funding was expressly not to be used for internal party administrative purposes”.

    Then the party machine men – the right-wing powerbroker Graham Richardson prominent among them – degraded the concept”

    Yep, an excellent plan IF there was the ceiling.

    I am not surprised to see Richardson was involved in making it something else. I view Richardson as the killer of morality within the ALP – he was the rot starter in so many ways. In terms of the LNP Sinodinos is the modern equivalent, although that whole party is like Richardson. Richardson also appointed Obeid, was a lobbyist for Ron Medich accused murderer, and works for Sky News, was involved in tax evasion with Rivkins Offset Alpine Printing company and the Cash for comment scandal. ie he is a scumbag.

  6. Kronomex

    Ten minutes after the final vote has been counted and they suffer from selective amnesia until the next election is called then they, magically, remember about the voters. They also ALWAYS remember to put their hands out for the $43,000,000 that the taxpayers are lining their pockets with.

  7. gee

    yes, the promises made before the election should be recorded and checked, and just like in consumer law, if the product does not match the description, we would be entitled to remedy the situation, i.e. get a refund

  8. Sarah

    I voted for The Euthanasia Party in The Senate.Lets hope they poll well…

  9. corvus boreus

    I hope you allocated votes for other parties/candidates as well, otherwise your vote will likely not have had any effect at all.

  10. Sarah

    Corvus boreus: Of course dear I may be old but I am not silly.

  11. corvus boreus

    Cool, I do have a tendency to make assumptions about the possible actions of others based upon my own capacity for naivety.

  12. Kaye Lee

    Ted Mack had a lot to say on this in his Henry Parkes Oration in 2013….

    “The taxpayer cost of federal elections has increased from $38 million in 1984 to $161 million in 2010. Of the latter $53 million was public funding to parties and candidates. Currently, in spite of massive increases, public funding is less than 20 per cent of about $350 million total election spending. We are now effectively the second best democracy money can buy.

    There is an overwhelming need to reduce overall election spending. The United States democracy has been largely destroyed by the huge amount of money dedicated to this purpose and Australia is accelerating down the same tollway. Maximum spending limits must be applied to all elections. At present freedom of speech is only effectively available to the rich and those using other people’s money. The Electoral Commission should produce booklets setting out candidates’ biographies and policies as was done for the 1999 Constitutional Convention elections with all advertising banned.

    Political parties as they have developed over the last century seem like two mafia families seeking control of the public purse for distribution to themselves, supporters, the special interests who fund them and for buying votes at the next election. Political parties are not mentioned in the Constitution. They are effectively unregulated private organisations but they now control government treasuries.

    When they unite with common interests, for example funding themselves, the public are mostly powerless except on the rare occasions when public outrage is too great. For example the attempted 60 million dollar virtually secret increase in public funding for the parties earlier this year.

    Both parties have rightly suffered huge reductions in membership over the last few years almost in direct proportion to the centralisation of power in their organisations. Public election funding and huge allowances have reduced the party’s need for workers for elections. Candidates now can rely on direct mail, general advertising and paid help.

    By centralising power as Tony Fitzgerald puts it: The public interest is subordinated to the pursuit of power, party objectives and personal ambitions, sometimes including the corrupt acquisition of financial benefit. Branch stacking has become endemic and as Fitzgerald says “The parties gift electorates to family connections, malleable party hacks and mediocre apparatchiks”.

  13. Douglas Evans

    Agree with Ted Mack’s sentiments expressed in Kaye Lee’s comment. But when Kaye Lee says that it is public funding that is driving the centralization of power in the two old parties and driving us down the path that the US has followed I am genuinely confused. In the US as far as I know there is no public funding and corporate money and insanely rich individuals have the system in the palm of their hand. It is certainly true that public funding on elections in Australia needs to be tightly controlled and independently monitored. However it seems to me that the Australian public has a legitimate interest in ensuring that election campaigns are adequately funded and, given the obvious risk of creeping corruption and rent seeking from un-elected private donors, a legitimate interest in eliminating private funding altogether. Greater transparency, independent monitoring, tighter controls and caps might be good in and of themselves (as Ad Astra appears to advocate) – and both Labor and the Greens are currently advocating different mixes of all this – but completely doing away with private funding would be a whole lot better (for the obvious reasons).

    The $43 million in public money that Ad Astra asserts will flow to political parties and candidates this election, provided they meet the relevant threshold requirements, seems a lot of money but is actually miniscule in comparison to the size of the budget overall which is reckoned in trillions. To completely fund election from public funds (as is done in other nations) is both affordable and would substantially reduce the political power of the rent seekers who increasingly fund our political parties to ensure their (the private donors’) interests are protected or enhanced by the governments we elect. This would be money well spent on a major step towards reclaiming our democracy.

    An article in The Conversation and Kaye Lee’s comment suggest that implementation of full public funding (as I gather Mike Baird is advocating) actually contributes to the hollowing out of the political parties more or less by insuring them against the loss of resource caused by their falling memberships. While the logic of this is easy to follow it doesn’t strike me as an either-or situation. An election funding regime that banned private funding and kept public funding at a level somewhat below what is required to run their election campaigns could remove the influence of the rent seekers and protect and even stimulate growth in Party membership and participation.

    Sounds pretty good (to me at least) but it probably ain’t going to happen because of course it requires a majority vote in the Reps (and the agreement of the Senate) for legislation to be put into action and why would the old parties vote to restrict their access to funds. It might happen but it probably won’t.

  14. Athena

    Agreed on all points, Doug.

  15. Matters Not

    While I am in general agreement with ‘public funding’ as a ‘concept’, I am disgusted that votes ‘cast’ simply triggers a flow of monies without any regard to monies expended in the campaign. For serial candidates such as Pauline Hanson, it’s become a regular and lucrative ‘earner’. That no expenditure proof is deemed necessary is hilarious.

    Then again, it’s another example of ‘cutting red tape’ which allows rorting on a grand scale.

  16. Douglas Evans

    For what it is worth. In Denmark there is an agreed ban on political advertising among all Parties in the Parliament. In itself this makes elections much cheaper and presumably saves a great deal of public money in between elections. By comparison in Australia a great deal of public money is spent right through the election cycle on Government ads (thinly disguised as public information).

  17. Steve Laing -

    In the electronic age, how much money do they actually need? Is political advertising an effective way of explaining policy, or is it just playing politics? Do we want voters making decisions based on details, or based on emotions?

    You just need to look at Brexit to recognise what the way our democratic processes are being gamed is not an acceptable way for highly important decisions to be made.

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