ACT News

Cap on political spending signals start of ACT election year

A new $40,000-per-candidate cap on political spending took effect on January 1, signalling the start ot the election year.

Unions ACT took its wrap-around, pro-tram advertisements off the buses before the New Year to avoid running into the spending cap and will stop its regular polling.

Unions ACT has pulled its tram advertising off ACTION buses, signalling the start of the election year when all spending ...
Unions ACT has pulled its tram advertising off ACTION buses, signalling the start of the election year when all spending must be accounted for. Photo: Tom McIlroy

Political parties will also be working to strict budgets as the ACT Electoral Commission keeps a close eye on the spending of parties, candidates and the related groups.

The cap on spending has been reduced since the last election, when it was $60,000 per candidate.

It is a substantial reduction for minor parties and independents in the amount they can spend on advertising, brochures, postage, T-shirts and other campaign material - although none of the minor parties spent anywhere near the limit at the 2012 election.

For the major parties, the total they can spend on trying to win votes remains unchanged because of the increase in the number of parliamentarians this year.

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The ACT parliament increases in size from 17 members to 25 this year.

At the last election, with 17 members, parties fielding a full list of candidates could spend $60,000 for each candidate, totalling $1 million.

At 25 members, with the new cap of $40,000 each, the major parties can still spend $1 million on election-related material this year.

They also have the advantage that "associated entities" can spend their own $40,000. Associated entities' spending used to be included in the total, but the government moved in late 2014 to separate it.

Labor spent close to its limit on the 2012 election, declaring $919,191 of spending on the campaign, almost half of it on direct mailouts, T-shirts and similar. The party spent $280,000 on television and radio advertisements, $87,000 on print ads, and $75,000 on opinion polls.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the Community and Public Sector Union spent $26,000 and $47,000 helping Labor's campaign, most of it on broadcast advertising.

The Liberals had a much bigger focus on broadcast advertising. They spent $736,669 overall, $480,000 of it on broadcast ads, $5000 on print ads, $140,000 on direct mailouts, T-shirts and similar, and $33,000 on opinion polls.

The ACT Greens spent $226,581 in 2012, about half on broadcast advertising.

They are fielding 15 candidates, which allows them to spend up to $600,000 this year.

The major parties can count on a major funding boost after the October election this year to defray their costs. They will be paid a hefty $8 for each vote they secure, an amount increased four-fold from the last election in 2012 when the payment was $2 a vote. Labor and Liberal voted for the change in 2014, arguing it would help them reduce reliance on donations.

To get public funding, parties and independent candidates must secure at least 4 per cent of the first-preference vote. In 2012, most failed to make the threshold other than Labor, Liberal and the Greens, but two minor parties just tipped the 4 per cent mark - the Australian Motorist Party, which won 9179 votes, or 4.15 per cent, and the Bullet Train for Canberra Party, which won 8864 votes, 4.01 per cent.

Based on those numbers, the two parties would have been given about $18,000 each to help defray the costs of their campaigns, which in the case of the Bullet Train party would have neatly covered its spending. The Motorist Party spent almost three times as much for its 9000 votes, at $49,000.

Neither party is registered to stand this year, but any party or independent that manages to secure the minimum of something over 9000 votes this year will be in line for public funding of more than $72,000.

Labor and Liberal scored virtually the same first preference vote in 2012 (the Liberals pipped labor by 41 votes), and both got about $170,000 in public funding for their efforts. The same number of votes this year (about 86,000 each) would secure them $670,000 to replenish the bank account.

If the Greens win the same number of votes as last time, 24,000, they will get $190,000 in public funding, not far off their 2012 spend.

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