The Network

The Network
This blog is no longer updated. Please click the picture to hop across to The Network

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Subsidies for the political parties - and the rich and enticements for voters

Are you over it, dear Reader? Well and truly over it? Miss Eagle certainly is? Last Saturday - all day - she had one recurring thought: can I vote now, can I, can I? Yes, dear Reader, I know that pre-polling is open, but I wanted desperately for last Saturday to be The Day, Election Day, the day to vote and have my vote counted and, in the best of all possible worlds, John Howard to be chucked out.

In this world of eternal polling, do you notice how we have annual buy-your-vote exercises in each Budget? This has been ably assisted by the S for Services in the GST (Goods and Services Tax). You will recall, dear Reader, that services were never taxed prior to the introduction of the GST by John Howard. This is what gives the Federal Treasurer healthy budget surpluses through which he displays a fake largesse of buying/retaining your vote annually.

You know as well as I don't you, dear Reader, that there is an alternative: salting it away to spend on infrastructure and rainy days as Norway does. Under Howard - as well as some state Labor governments - infrastructure comes a bad last. Miss Eagle does not understand why.

Conservative governments - supposedly keen on free trade and market forces - bleat about lack of subsidies to business which patently is not true. Some years ago, price-fixer Pratt and his company, Visy, received a three million dollar subsidy by the Howard Government when threats were made to take its factory to Vietnam.

It is possible to provide even-handed no-picking-winners-or-champions business subsidy which benefits not only business but the whole community including consumers and workers. This can be done by infrastructure investment. High standard efficient infrastructure - particularly in relation to ports, communications, and education - brings benefits in the form of competitive pricing, quality products, speedy delivery of exports, and jobs.

But, dear Reader, show me where this has been a high priority of the Howard government - which has been hell bent on the politics of exclusion: exclusion of the other - whether they be refugees or the peoples of the First Nations of Australia; exclusion of the majority of workers from the benefits of highly profitable employers through draconian workplace legislation.

Now, we are immersed in what could prove to be the stupidest election campaign in Australia's history because the election has been hostage to the whims of an increasingly ineffective and unpopular Prime Minister who is, arguably, the meanest person ever to lead our nation.

It is time for the common sense of the Australian body politic to intervene and call a halt. How can it do this?

The election campaign begins in earnest when Parliament is prorogued. But then there is the set piece theatre of the the official election campaign launch by the political parties involved. And when do these happen? With less than a fortnight to go, the Liberals held their launch yesterday and Labor will hold theirs to-morrow. Meaningless. Nothing but photo and pork-barrelling opportunities.

This is where some sense is needed - and we can do that by hitting the hip pocket of political parties. We can enforce short, sharp election campaigns by hitting the political purse instead of the taxpayers.

You see, dear Reader, even though Parliament has been prorogued by the Governor-General for the purpose of a general election, taxpayers are funding the campaign. To put it more accurately, taxpayers are underwriting huge amounts of dollars for the two major parties to campaign. And, dear Reader, we are not just talk about printing and mail-outs. We are talking about charter flights and accommodation - not to mention government subsidised advertising. All big ticket items.

Some taxpayers money is going to the minor parties but if they don't have many members of Parliament they are not going to get much money. It is possible for minor party candidates and independent candidates who are not members of Parliament to get some reimbursement of expenditure if they obtain a minimum amount of support at the ballot box. But the political parties have set up campaign regulations so they can milk private contributors for all they are worth - and hide and disguise who contributes to whom - and milk taxpayers at the same time.

For the past month, sitting politicians have been able to campaign the length and breadth of the country - and use the resources of their electorate and ministerial offices and staff - at taxpayers expense. Once there is an official campaign launch, then the parties have to provide all funding themselves. So this is why official campaign launches bear no relationship in time to the real campaign launch after that final sitting of Parliament. Political parties have a vested interest in staging official campaign launches as late in the campaign as possible.

It protects their funds and expends ours.

So consider this, dear Reader. What if we organised a national petition to the Federal Parliament asking that, from the time when Parliament is prorogued for the purposes of a general election, all expenses are born by political parties and candidates?

Now I reckon that would focus the debate no end. Campaigns would be short and sharp and to the point. There would still be the carry on of the election campaign you have when you are not having an election campaign which has been going on all this year. Don't see how that can be avoided. And, from here, I can't see that my suggested changes would increase the effect of that dramatically - but maybe a politician will find a way.

In the best of all possible worlds, there would be no private donations to political parties whatsoever. In fact, donations by corporations and individuals would be illegal and deemed to be corrupt. All candidates would be funded individually on an equitable basis - giving first timers a better go. At the moment, you and I, dear Reader, are funding the entrenchment of the Liberal Party of Australia and the Australian Labor Party as our only end-choices. It is very difficult for independent voices to enter Federal Parliament. And don't the big guys like that!