This is a sample of The Echidna newsletter sent out each weekday morning till the end of the election. To sign up for FREE, go to theechidna.com.au
Did you know it is possible to measure hot air - the most common substance discharged during a federal election campaign? It's a simple enough experiment. But like many outcomes in Australian politics you might be mortified by the answer.
By the time the election is held next month more than $500 million is expected to have been spent by candidates and parties trying to win your vote. That converts to a stack of dollar coins stretching 1400 kilometres into outer space - roughly the same distance you need to travel to escape the endless television commercials, glossy pamphlets, text messages, social media ads and automated calls to your phone.
It's a figure made even more extraordinary because voters, thanks to the deliberately vague and opaque rules that govern political funding, never quite learn where all that money comes from. Even more importantly, we don't know what sort of influence it buys and how much access to the halls of power it grants to wealthy donors.
The Grattan Institute, an independent think-tank, analysed data from the last election in 2019 and found that half of the private funding obtained by the major parties remained undisclosed. One of the loopholes preventing transparency is a declaration threshold of $14,000, which means rich donors simply make a series of donations below that figure to avoid being identified.
On top of that, the major parties are also significant recipients of taxpayer money. Under a rule introduced by the Hawke government in 1984, candidates or parties are eligible for funding if they obtain a minimum first-preference vote of four per cent. It's a formula that heavily favours the major parties - more than $69 million was dished out by the Australian Electoral Commission after the last election, with just $1 million given to independent candidates.
According to the Grattan Institute, which has called for a lowering of the donation threshold to $5000 and a spending cap imposed on political groups and candidates, the party boasting the largest coffers has won four out of the last five elections. Current rules allow parties and individuals to spend as much as they like, which is why billionaire Clive Palmer is promising to spend more than $100 million in this campaign for his United Australia Party.
Neither major party, naturally, shows any interest in reversing the current orgy of electoral spending. So don't hold your breath waiting for greater transparency. The day our politicians volunteer to open their books will be the moment we peer through all their hot air and discover a new creature has taken to the skies. Because pigs might fly.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Should political funding be capped? Should all donors be publicly identified? And is it fair that public funds are used to support political campaigning? Send us your views: firstname.lastname@example.org
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Two polls released yesterday showed slight gains by the coalition after last week's budget, although Labor continued to hold a strong lead on a two-party basis. Newspoll found Labor's primary vote dropping three points to 38 per cent, the government rising a point to 26 per cent while the Greens' primary vote climbed to 10 per cent. Labor led the coalition 54-46 per cent on a two-party basis. A Financial Review/Ipsos poll found Labor on 48 per cent and the Coalition on 37 per cent. But a large number of voters remain uncommitted as to whether Anthony Albanese was their preferred Prime Minister.
THEY SAID IT: "Political campaigns are the graveyard of real ideas and the birthplace of empty promises." - Teresa Heinz, American businesswoman.
YOU SAID IT: "As someone who has worked in Aged Care I am disgusted at the way residents are treated in many. I would rather die than ever be in one. We MUST have staff patient ratios and a qualified nurse on duty at all times." - Judi.
"Appalling food completely lacking any nutritional value and appetite stimulation. Insufficient staffing. Federal government incompetence. No accountability for spending of government funds. Inadequate oversight." - Barbara.
"As a registered nurse and midwife with 35 years working in health, I've never seen it as bad." - Kate.
"My late husband lived in five care homes. Staff were overworked. One chief nurse hated me because I stopped his anti-psychotics as they were dangerous for his type of dementia. One home assured me they had arranged his move to a hospital. No such call had been made. Food was awful - mainly sugar and white flour and no fresh food. - Karis.
"Any man and his dog can build an aged care facility of any size, call it an Aged Care Home and charge what they like. Staff numbers, and quality, have gone down." - Margaret.
"My greatest fear as I get older (65 this year) is having to enter the dark abyss of the aged care system. As a baby boomer we worked hard so as to not rely on Government handouts. But the aged care system is my greatest nightmare and something that I cannot control." - Mike.
"Hmm...'a better Australia with better living standards for all Australians.' That's what we had until the Economic Rationalists ate it." - Brad.
"Either Albanese is lying or he is blissfully incompetent and unaware of the issue. He is not going to be able to find all the age care nurses he claims he will after the election." - Mike.
"I still think Labor can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They've done it again and again. Short of someone boiling down Clive Palmer into whale oil their "protest" vote will just result in the LNP scraping back in." - Tim.
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