How green was my paper

The first of the federal government’s two green papers on electoral reform was released on Wednesday, this one dealing with disclosure, funding and expenditure issues. The paper was originally promised in June, but has been delayed pending consultation with state and territory governments. It might be hoped that this results in the unhelpful anomalies from one jurisdiction to the next being ironed out, potentially allowing for the establishment of a single authority to administer the system. You have until February 23 to make submissions in response to this paper or in anticipation of the next, which will deal with “a broader range of issues, aimed at strengthening our national electoral laws”. This paper’s concerns in turn:

Disclosure. State and territory party branches, associated entities (which include fundraising entities, affiliated trade unions and businesses with corporate party membership) and third parties (individuals or organisations that incur “political expenditure”, such as Your Rights at Work and GetUp!) are currently required to lodge annual returns disclosing details of campaign-related receipts, expenditure and debts. The Political Donations Bill currently before the Senate proposes to change reporting from annual to six monthly, but even this seems a bit lax. Voters would presumably want some idea of funding arrangements before they vote rather than after, and the practice in other countries shows how this could be done. In Britain, reporting is required weekly during election campaigns and quarterly at other times; in the United States, expenditures are disclosed daily during campaigns and donations monthly. This is made possible by mandatory electronic record keeping which is not required at this stage in Australia. Queensland’s and New Zealand’s practice of requiring disclosure of large donations within 10 or 14 days also sounds promising. Another issue is that itemised disclosure only applies to donations, which amounts to only a quarter of private funding – the rest coming from fundraising, investments and debt. Australia also uniquely requires “double disclosure” by both donors and recipients, which might be thought more trouble than it’s worth.

Funding. Australia is unusual in that it has neither caps on donations or bans on donations from particular sources. Canada allows donations only from private individuals; the United States does not allow donations from corporations, banks, unions and federal government contractors. Public funding arrangements such as our own are common internationally, but New Zealand interestingly uses measures of public support other than votes, including party membership, number of MPs and poll results in the lead-up to elections. This allows broadcasting time to be allocated ostensibly on the basis of current support, so that the system is “less vulnerable to criticisms of favouring major parties in comparison with minor parties and independent candidates”.

Expenditure. Expenditure caps apply in Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, with compensations of free air time provided in the latter two cases. They also existed here until 1980, when they were abolished on the basis that they “constrained campaigns” and were too hard to enforce. The US allows parties and candidates to agree to limit expenditure in exchange for public funding, which it settled for when set caps were ruled unconstitutional. Given that election campaigning is increasingly unconstrained by the formal campaign period, expenditure caps work best where there are fixed terms.

In other news, we’re probably entering a Yuletide opinion poll drought, but there’s plenty else going down:

• Antony Green’s dissection of the Queensland state redistribution has been published by the Queensland Parliamentary Library.

• The campaign for South Australia’s Frome by-election (the state’s first since 1994) is slowly coming to the boil – read all about it here.

• More action than you can poke a stick at from the good people at Democratic Audit of Australia.

• I missed an opinion poll last Saturday: Westpoll in The West Australian has the state’s new Liberal government leading 55-45, from a sample of 400. This sounds maybe a bit generous to Labor from primary votes of Liberal 45 per cent, Labor 34 per cent, Nationals 5 per cent and Greens 9 per cent. Labor’s Eric Ripper, viewed by all as a post-defeat stop-gap leader, has plunged seven points as preferred premier to 12 per cent, and even trails Colin Barnett 30 per cent to 26 per cent among Labor voters.

• The unstoppable Ben Raue at the Tally Room plays the dangerous game of anticipating prospects for the looming federal New South Wales redistribution that will reduce the state from 49 seats to 48. So for that matter does Malcolm Mackerras in Crikey:

Early this year I was quoted in The Australian as saying that the name Throsby would disappear. The Illawarra media quickly picked up on this and I heard Jennie George say on ABC radio that I was engaging in “pure speculation”. She is quite right, of course. Although the loss of a NSW seat has always been assured, it is pure speculation to say which one it will be.

Nevertheless my proposition actually is that the south coast seats of Gilmore (Joanna Gash, Liberal) and Throsby (Jenny George, Labor) will be merged into a seat bearing the name of Gilmore. Such a seat would, in practice, be reasonably safe for Labor so really it would be Gash to lose her seat. As to why the name Gilmore would be preferred to the name Throsby the explanation is simple. Dame Mary Gilmore (1865-1962) was a woman whereas Charles Throsby (1777-1828) was a man.

We have the precedent of 2006 to know that the MP who is the actual victim of a redistribution is not necessarily the one whose seat disappears. In 2006 and 2007 Peter Andren was the true victim but the name of his seat, Calare, was retained. That he died shortly before the 2007 general election is not the point. His seat of Calare became so hopeless for him he announced that he would stand for the Senate. Consequently there is no reason why Joanna Gash may not be the real victim in 2009 even though the name of her seat is retained.

If this is the way the commissioners decide to do it then the flow-on effect would be interesting to watch. My belief is that Batemans Bay (presently in Gilmore) would be restored to Eden-Monaro, in which division it voted in 2001 and 2004. Then the Tumut and Tumbarumba shires (presently in Eden-Monaro) would be restored to Farrer, in which division they voted in 2001 and 2004. Consequently it would be possible to retain all the rural seats by moving them into more urban areas. Bearing in mind that in 2006 the NSW commissioners abolished a rural seat but made the remaining seats more rural it would seem to me logical that in 2009 they would retain all the rural seats but make some of them less rural.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

578 comments on “How green was my paper”

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  1. Merry Xmas to one and all. This blog must be the most educational I have come across. I am so impressed to read breaking news here before it hits the papers and media. In the company of such learned people is such a privelage.
    So here comes 2009- year of the ox, hard work, shoulders to the grindstone as we plough the fields.
    2009- should also see the release of the Holden Zodiac, consolidation of the UPP party and possibly see the fielding of candidates in the next Election. i would like to get anthony green on board as minister for technology.

  2. Merry Christmas to William and all the ‘bludgers, especially the Amigos who were so graceful in defeat 😉 . Thanks for all the commentary and insights.

    For me, the political year belongs to Barack Obama. With all the disappointment about Rudd’s ETS, we should remember that ultimately the fate of climate change is going to be in Obama’s hands more than anyone. His environment and science picks are very promising but “Between the potency, And the existence, Falls the Shadow”. We’ll see if that “Change You Can Believe In” is believable.

  3. [Pope angers campaigners with speech seen as attack on homosexuality. Preservation of man no less important than tropical rainforests, says pontiff

    Gay rights groups and activists yesterday condemned passages in Pope Benedict XVI’s end-of-year address in which the pontiff spoke about gender and the important distinction between men and women.

    Speaking to the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration, the pope said that the church viewed the distinction as central to human nature, and “asks that this order, set down by creation, be respected”. The church, he said, “should protect man from the destruction of himself”. He said a sort of ecology of man was needed, adding: “The tropical forests do deserve our protection; but man, as a creature, does not deserve any less.” He attacked what he described as “gender” theories which “lead towards the self-emancipation of man from creation and the creator”.]

    Sorry, I was assuming that this is a season of good will to all men and women. It looks like this does not apply at all to this man. and what would he know about man and woman? he has excluded woman from his life completely. So please excuse me if i say that i really dont have any time for this kind of religion that he preaches. Amen.

  4. Just joining in with my best wishes for the festive season to all ‘bludgers and hosts, William and Crikey. I discovered this blog during those white-knuckled days before the election, and have been more or less hooked ever since. Special mention to Glen for his good-natured carrying of the flag for the conservative side in the face of outnumbering competition.

    Thanks for the educational posts everyone. It’s been great. Looking forward to more in the new year.

  5. [Former attorney-general Philip Ruddock says Mohamed Haneef is entitled to no apology for his detention over an alleged connection to a UK terrorist plot.]

    Hope Santa misses you Philip Ruddock, you miserable old has-been. 🙁 Happy Christmas to all the Pollbludgers, and thank you William.

    Thinking specially of you Gusface.

  6. [seen as attack on homosexuality. Preservation of man no less important than tropical rainforests, says pontiff]

    Right up there with the “paedophillia is a lesser sin than abortion”, forget global wraming we have to cure the homos.

    Best wishes of the season to all and spare a thought for the lib cheer squad journos, this is their first Xmas for along time without the customary thank you drinks at Kirribilli, they must be feeling sort of down and unwanted and unloved.

  7. Best wishes and thanks to William and all PBs. I have truly enjoyed reading this site everyday even tho, due to having to be free to take community phonecalls, I cannot contribute with comments as often as I would like.

    PBers – you have been interesting, informative, and very knowledgeable. I thanked my lucky stars for hearing about this site on RN a couple of years ago. It kept me sane during when some in the MSM have been maddening.

    Good luck Gusface – hope not to many PBers are ‘let go’. Safe trip across the Nullabor, JulieM.

  8. I’m with you Vera – and good wishes to Therese as well, who is quietly doing good things behind the scene. May we see them in the Lodge for many, many more years.

    My day started miserably this a.m. listening to Ruddock and Andrews trying to exonerate themselves.

    Switched to something else and heard that Kev was going to be singing carols today so that cheered the soul a bit and I took to the turkey cooking with gusto.

  9. I wish to take this opportunity to wish William and all poll bludgers! a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

    I have enjoyed the light hearted but sometimes serious debate we have here! I look forward to next year continuing the robust light-hearted banter!

    I’m sure PM Rudd and Turnbull will give us a few crumps to go over like seagulls!

    This year we covered a wide range of issues from Nuclear energy, pensioners, polls, ETS & GFC! at times the debate was informative and always interesting

    Cheers all!!

  10. have a nice xmas everyone and thankyou William for hosting this blog and putting up with our various foibles throughout the year, your a champ, Judy.

    by the way i spoke to Terry Hick’s wife a couple of days ago, David is doing well, maybe one day he can freely tell his story.

  11. Gary Morgan says
    [“The Rudd Government’s targets have disappointed many Climate Change activists but the significant drop in Greens support (down 4.5% to 6% – the lowest since May 2008) suggests that Australians are worried larger carbon emissions cuts may harm the Australian economy and potentially cost jobs.”]

  12. An email from Kev:

    [Dear friend,

    Summer is a wonderful time of celebration, rest and recuperation.

    For most of us it’s a opportunity to spend time with our families, friends and loved ones.

    And it’s a very special time for children, whose experiences of Christmas are among the happiest memories they carry throughout their lives.

    I wish you, your family and friends a safe and happy Christmas and New Year.

    The New Year will bring new challenges – but I hope you can take the opportunity now to relax and refresh.

    Kevin Rudd]

    My reply:

    Hi Mr. Lu Kewen,

    Thank you for your good wishes. You have done a great job for this country. keep it up.

    I notice PRC is giving Taiwan two pandas called Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, I hope the two shores can be united once again, Tuan Yuan indeed. Btw: When are we getting our Pandas from PRC?

    A very safe and happy Xmas and New Year to you and your family.

    – Finnigans

  13. Vera

    Gary Morgan “the significant drop in Greens support (down 4.5% to 6%”

    I’d like to wager Williams very expensive present that assume is in th mail to me , against Gary Morgon’s Greens’ vote being understated by 2-3%

  14. Best wishes to all PBers, particularly William. May Santa be exceedingly generous this year.

    And commiserations to all those who have, or are about to become Mammon’s latest casualties, especially Gusface and family. Don’t know why the fickle finger always seems to choose this time of year to unleash this scourge, but I hope something good comes from adversity, mate.

  15. Best of luck to you, Gusface in 2009. A peaceful and loving time for all PBers. You have been a tremendously informative and entertaining mob. Special thanks to William, you’re just the cat’s pyjamas.
    Just something to ponder though, William. Isn’t there a particular class of pollie, I’m thinking Ruddock here, for whom Python class insults, are deserved?

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