NOT Left or Right, Seriously NOT ALP, LIB or Green. Just a Punter... more

19 Jul 2017

Why We Should Publicly Fund Elections

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I was going to start with, “I love Australia”. Maybe I love the concept of loving Australia, maybe I love the Australia I used to know or maybe I just want to love Australia. One thing I do know is that I detest the current state of Australian politics, what it has done to our nation and where it appears to be leading us.

So how have we come to be so poorly represented? My answer:  Political donations and the potential conflict they present.

Here we are. a nation blessed with amazing and innovative business leaders, incredible agricultural opportunities, world renowned natural resources and having just undergone the biggest national wealth building opportunity in our history through the “Mining Boom”, but burdened with gross debt in excess of $500 000 000 000. It is simply inconceivable.

I believe political donations have done a great deal to destroy our once wonderful nation. I believe they are directly responsible for appalling public policy, for money being spent in areas where it never should be, for money not being spent where it actually should be and, of course, for the corruption of members of our political class.

Now here is where it gets a little tricky and I risk losing you. I believe this applies to both major Parties. No, not the Liberals and the Nationals, the Liberals and Labor (cue dramatic music).

I believe democracy is one of the most basic tenets of our nation. Further, I fear that very democracy is jeopardised by these donations as there is a risk of a policy being announced expressly to benefit a donor or even that there may be a public perception that such a thing might be done, a distrust of the system if you like.

Look at the state of politics in just very recent times.

While the media (don’t start me) beats up the disrupting influence of former Prime Minister Abbott and ponders when he will “make his move”, the current Prime Minister shuns him completely and defies apparent calls to at least throw him a bone with some Ministry or another. At the same time, Mr Turnbull creates the largest Ministry in Australian political history and hands it to a guy who many consider the worst Health Minister we have ever had (hey Pete, how’s that co-payment thing coming along?) and who, more recently, we decided to shell out $90 000 000 to settle a court case rather than face the intense scrutiny a court case would have brought.

We are considering donating (but we will call it a loan as it sounds so much better) ONE BILLION DOLLARS to an Indian company with a history of questionable dealings simply to guarantee 1460 jobs (oh, and the jobs of Federal Coalition and State Labor members – don’t forget them. They won’t). Now I know Mr Canavan says there are closer to 30 000 jobs……...He’s prone to hyperbole.

Even dismissing fears of the degradation of valuable agricultural land, or destroying one of the natural wonders of the world, or your concerns around carbon emissions (Sorry Matt, sending the coal to India does not negate the impact), this funding simply does not make sense from an economic standpoint. There is NO viable business case, ergo, they want us to lend them the money.

Whilst on economics, we have just recorded one of the highest ever levels of growth in company profits while at the same time, wages growth is flat at best and if you’re honest, likely declining in real terms. Pensioners and other lower income members of our society are under duress, under-employment and casualization of the workforce are growing and consumer confidence is far from great. This does not seem like an ideal time to cut penalty rates to some of the lowest income earners in our nation from where I sit.

How about a situation where a Senator who has lived in Australia for 40 years but, due to not renouncing a Canadian citizenship they apparently were, bizarrely, unaware they held, being ruled ineligible to sit under section 44(i)? Ok, I can see a potential conflict at the extreme. What about one who was born overseas, has only Australian citizenship, canvassing a donor to pay a personal expense prior to advocating something some consider to be in the benefit of said donor? No potential conflict there? Or a Minister, also born overseas but apparently having only Australian citizenship, who apparently grabs the property bargain of the century whilst somehow inappropriately using their Travel Expense entitlement? Should they have been deemed fit to represent their constituency? Is the concern some express warranted?

Can I add the sale of the Port of Darwin? Really? How did that happen?

These all happened within the past 12 months and there are many, many more examples of how broken our system has become. I can see why some might blame the current situation of political donations for every one of the above (other than someone being a Canadian citizen of course). Even if they are not directly related to donors, as most would hope they are not, the shadow of doubt is a cancer to our demand for a completely uncompromised electoral and political system.

Don’t worry, you might say, a Federal ICAC can go a long way to solving all of this and more. Yes, you’re probably right but I don’t hold that much hope of it happening anytime soon. Perhaps it is a case of those with the power to effect meaningful change having the most to lose. Maybe there are other reasons but can someone please explain to me why ALP, quite rightly, in my opinion, have a policy to legislate for same sex marriage within the first 100 days of their election but not a similar commitment to an ICAC?

I heard a comment recently that we spend over a billion dollars on an election cycle. My immediate thought was, “Here we go, more hyperbole” so I decided to investigate a little further. Let me tell you, it is not that simple (not that anyone would be hiding anything)

Using data available through the Australian Electoral Commission, it is reasonable to assume the 2016 election cost over $200 000 000. That’s just the cost of staging the election and nothing to do with how much the Parties themselves spend campaigning. Strangely, all Parties keep this information a very closely guarded secret.

An article in the Guardian written by Andrew Bragg (yes, I know) had some figures I found staggering in terms of just how much is actually donated. As far as I can determine these are declared amounts, which mean they do not take into account the massive amounts received through donations less than the $1000 mandatory reporting limit. From what I can see, the figure for the Liberal Party (Note: not Coalition) includes neither the monies “donated” by Parakeelia nor the $1.75 million by Mr Turnbull (which falls outside the relevant reporting time frame).

Simon Elvery also did a great piece for ABC. The numbers are mind-numbing.

So, what do Parties spend this on? Ok, obviously there is the backroom operation, travel, advertising and the like. How much do they spend? Well, I think the answer to that is, pretty much every bloody cent they can get their hands on. The fact that the Liberals ran out of money and had to auction off the Prime Ministership (OK, that might also be hyperbole but you get my drift) suggests spending is out of control.

I think, regardless of political persuasion, many would have questioned the veracity of claims made in political advertising pre-Election. The fact that such advertising is pretty much the only exception to Truth in Advertising legislation probably speaks volumes. There are some estimates I have seen that suggest up to 50% of election spending is on advertising. Really? Do we get value for money? Would that same message (or more importantly, one bespoke to local issues), not be better communicated at Town Hall meetings?

Personally, I find political advertising promoting, say, an IPA or Union agenda, offensive. I’d ban all advertising that did not expressly relate to specific policy commitment. Obviously, there is also absolutely no reason for such ads to meet the standards imposed on others.

How about travel? OK, I understand that the Leader, Deputy and maybe a finance portfolio representative need to travel to many electorates during a campaign but for the life of me, I cannot imagine why a Foreign Minister, for example, would need to visit Far North Queensland when her Electorate is 5000 kilometres away. If I have missed something here, don’t hesitate to let me know.

Both major parties have massive bureaucracies, much of which is dedicated to negotiating with lobbyists and donors. Policy formulation is frequently made here also. No donations results in far, far smaller requirement for support staff. A potentially better policy which is more aligned with local issues.

These are only a few areas where the spend has burgeoned out of control. Reigning it in makes sense, you know it does (apologies to Sam Kekovich).

I believe a far better system would be to totally fund all elections. I am not convinced on any particular model, happy to receive your suggestions but something along the lines of allocating an amount based on the number of constituents in an electorate and considering allowances for extended travel and the like in larger geographical areas could not be that difficult to formulate.

Added to that, jail terms for those guilty of breaching the rules.

In case you’re wondering, banning donations would likely require a referendum. I am not too sure it will be proposed any time soon by either Party but I would welcome your ideas.

 

by bill b
"Often wonders what happened
to the Australia he loves"
@giddyupbill

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