Advertising insert or community newslatter?  How do Liberal Party members get such good deal with News Ltd and Fairfax?
Twice a year John Howard’s local newspaper, the Northern District
Times, gets a tap on the shoulder from the PM’s Bennelong electoral
office and run a glossy insert from the PM to voters in his only
marginally safe electorate.

Known as a “newsletter” rather than an advertisement, the electoral
office pays Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd, the publisher of the Northern
District Times, to print and distribute the insert, but not for the
space it uses. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal.

In contrast other companies which use inserts, such as Mitre 10, have
quite different arrangements and must pay for the privilege in addition
to the printing and distribution costs of the insert.

Howard’s December insert newsletter entitled “John Howard’s Report –
Christmas Edition” began with a friendly and strongly Christian
Christmas message to Bennelong residents.

He wrote, “Christmas is traditionally a time of joy and goodwill as we
celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ,” and went on to acknowledge
Australia’s service men and women and their families in this time of
“terrorism and continued International uncertainty.”
 
But more than half of the insert’s four glossy pages were devoted to
the promotion of the MedicarePlus package complete with loads of bug
red ticks and smiling couples and families.

In a move aimed directly at Howard’s aging and conservative support
base, the newsletter also contained detailed instructions on how to
apply for letters of congratulations from the PM, the GG and the Queen,
for milestone birthdays and anniversaries – just in case you’re about
to turn 90 or 100.

There’s nothing for 18th or 21st birthdays as the PM continues to focus
on his grey support base as the Liberals help the Greens create a
generation of younger supporters with their boring, fuddy duddy image.

Howard will have to watch out if the Northern District Times readership
is anything to go by.  Their website says the paper “serves one of
Sydney’s most affluent and stable communities,” but adds that while the
area has traditionally been home to a middle class conservative
demographic, “an influx of home unit developments has brought an
increasing number of young couples to the area.”

But Howard isn’t the only Liberal MPs to utilise one of the 17 News Ltd
local newspapers which service Sydney and the Central Coast.

Apparently Ross Cameron, the Liberal Member for Parramatta also ran a
newsletter in his local rag the Parramatta Advertiser.  If you saw
it, let us know what you thought at [email protected]


More Liberal newsletters in newspapers

A Labor voter writes:

“Dear Crikey,

It appears that the Lib’s are doing it all over the place. The electors
of Casey have also been recipients of a “newsletter” in their local rag
(a Fairfax paper) that can only be described as sounding distinctly
familiar to that which hit the letterboxes in Bennelong – Christmas
message, double page spread about Medicare, congratulatory messages etc.

Question is whether it’s a stock-standard deal with all local News Ltd
and Fairfax papers in Lib’s electorates and if so who and how it was
paid for, remembering that there are regulations that stipulate the way
pollies can use their printing and postage entitlement. Did the Liberal
Party head office do a cosy deal with News Ltd and Fairfax?

Interestingly, Leader newspapers have a policy that all paid political
advertising (which is what this is) carries the word “advertisement” in
small type at the top of each page. The editor also requires a copy of
the ad prior to acceptance for publication.

What must also be kept in mind is that every MP gets $125,000 to spend
each calendar year on printed material. It was finally capped only
after what can be described as a blatant tax-payer funded spending
spree in the lead up to the 2001 election where some Coalition MPs
spent more than 10 times the average printing budget of all MPs.

According to the Auditor General’s 2001 report, the average MP printing
spend for 1999-2000 was $37,000. In the case of the Member for
Kalgoorlie, Barry Haase, his tax-payer funded printing expenditure for
2001 was a staggering $416,000! All in all, Government MPs occupied 24
out of the 28 highest spenders in 2001, including all but one of the 18
MPs with a printing bill in excess of $200,000.

Erica Betz capped printing expenditure at $125,000 (keep in mind the
average spend of $37,000) shortly after the 2001 election, perhaps in a
bid to keep his out-of-control collegaues in line only to last year try
to increase the limit to $150,00 AND put in place a provision whereby
unspent entitlement could be rolled over to the following year. That
was promptly knocked off in the Senate causing much embarrassment for
the Special Minister of State and resulting in several nasty circulars
to MPs.

Any link between this, the spending habits of Howard Government MPs and
any cosy deal relating to “newsletters”?? Some food for thought, anyway.

Labor Voter”

If the PM is getting a discount, should it be disclosed?

A well informed subscriber writes:

“Your article raises the question whether the “discount” offered to the
PM or other MPs by local papers is in truth a donation and disclosable
under the
Commonwealth Electoral Act’s disclosure provisions. This extract below
from
the current AEC handbook discusses these requirements. The issue I
suppose is

whether the “discount” offered to the candidate is in fact a “commercial
discount received in the normal course of business” or something else. Hard to
prove I imagine without some indication of the normal discounting practice of
the newspaper.

PART 5. ELECTION DONATIONS

All gifts and donations received during the disclosure period must be
disclosed.

Details of donors must also be disclosed depending on the value of the
donation
anonymous donations of $200 or more to a candidate or $1,000 or more to a
Senate group are unlawful
Disclosure.

All election donations received on behalf of a candidate or a Senate group
must be reported. Not only cash donations but “gifts-in-kind” must also be
disclosed.
Gifts-in-kind are goods, assets or services received for which no payment (in
cash or kind) or a payment less than the true value is made. These donations
need to be disclosed at the appropriate value – normally this would be the
commercial or sale value of the item or service.

Examples of in-kind donations
include:

  • services provided for free or at a discount which normally are charged for by
    that person (eg free legal advice by a lawyer);
  • rent free use of commercial premises;
  • work undertaken for a candidate by an employee during normal working hours
    where the employer continues to pay salary or wages (but not if the employee
    takes paid leave to work for the candidate); 
  • free use of a motor vehicle;
  • free or discounted time by a broadcaster (except that provided by the ABC or
    SBS specifically for political broadcasting);
  • free or discounted advertising space by a publisher;
  • free or discounted printing;
  • and
    If you are uncertain whether a particular good or service should be treated as
    a gift-in-kind, contact the AEC at the address listed in the introduction to
    this handbook.

Items that do not need to be reported as donations include:

  • personal gifts which have not been used to incur campaign expenditure;
  • commercial discounts received in the normal course of business;
  • loans (so long as they are evidenced as loans); 
  • volunteer labour, such as persons handing out how-to-vote cards (defined
    further in the Glossary at the back of this handbook); 
  • an offer by a broadcaster to interview a candidate; 
  • interviews and news items published in a newspaper; 
  • and
    gifts received on behalf of a political party or by the campaign committee of
    an endorsed candidate (these are required to be disclosed by the Party Agent
    in the party’s Return).
    Donations made to your own campaign, whether by direct cash deposit, use of
    your own car, paying bills personally, etc, do not normally need to be
    disclosed on the Return. Donations made by an endorsed candidate to their
    campaign committee must, however, be disclosed by the party as a donation
    received by it from the candidate.

Note: it is illegal for a candidate to receive donations from the same source
totalling $200 or more and for a Senate group to receive donations from the
same source totalling $1,000 or more where either the name or the address of
the donor is not known to the person receiving the gift at the time the gift
is made.


Not a pollitical advertising insert

By Hillary Bray

Poor pollies.  They just can’t win.  Everyone either
complains that they only ever hear from them at election time – or that
they spend too much money staying in touch with their constituents.

A Liberal in the know has taken exception to our reporting this week of
the electorate newsletters appearing as local paper insert the PM and
several of his colleagues seems to favour.  Here are their
comments:

CRIKEY:  It appears that the Lib’s are doing the John Howard style newspaper insert all over the place.

LIBERAL IN THE KNOW:  Labor does them too.

CRIKEY:  Question is whether it’s a stock-standard deal
with all local News Ltd and Fairfax papers in Lib’s electorates and if
so who and how it was paid for, remembering that there are regulations
that stipulate the way pollies can use their printing and postage
entitlement. Did the Liberal Party head office do a cosy deal with News
Ltd and Fairfax?

LITK:  Printing paid for out of the $125,000 Printing
Allowance, distribution is paid for out of the $27,500 Communications
Allowance. Both uses are completely legitimate.

CRIKEY:  Interestingly, Leader newspapers have a policy
that all paid political advertising (which is what this is) carries the
word “advertisement” in small type at the top of each page. The editor
also requires a copy of the ad prior to acceptance for publication.

LITK:  Yes, but that it a requirement under the
Commonwealth Electoral Act for advertisements which are component parts
of the newspaper. They do not apply to ‘stand-alone’ inserts, which
simply have to indicate who printed and authorised the material. These
differences are clearly spelt out in ss.328 and 331 of the Electoral
Act.

CRIKEY:  What must also be kept in mind is that every MP
gets $125,000 to spend each calendar year on printed material. It was
finally capped only after what can be described as a blatant tax-payer
funded spending spree in the lead up to the 2001 election where some
Coalition MPs spent more than 10 times the average printing budget of
all MPs.

LITK:  Note: the cap was announced BEFORE the Election. Why is that important? Read on MacDuff…

CRIKEY:  According to the Auditor General’s 2001 report,
the average MP printing spend for 1999-2000 was $37,000. In the case of
the Member for Kalgoorlie, Barry Haase, his taxpayer funded printing
expenditure for 2001 was a staggering $416,000! All in all, Government
MPs occupied 24 out of the 28 highest spenders in 2001, including all
but one of the 18 MPs with a printing bill in excess of $200,000.

LITK:  Ah, so the cap was announced BEFORE the Election,
but AFTER the Auditor-General’s Report. So capping the Printing
Allowance was done in response to the Auditor-General’s Report, which
highlighted that the biggest user of printing in 1999-2000 was, in
fact, a LABOR MP. Haase’s reported expenditure covered calendar year
2001, so could not have been known when the decision was made in August
2001.

CRIKEY:  Erica Betz capped printing expenditure at $125,000
(keep in mind the average spend of $37,000) shortly after the 2001
election, perhaps in a bid to keep his out-of-control colleagues in
line…

LITK:  Or perhaps not. See above.

CRIKEY:  … only to last year try to increase the limit to
$150,000 AND put in place a provision whereby unspent entitlement could
be rolled over to the following year.

LITK:  Actually, it was proposed that only 45% of the
Printing Allowance could be rolled over, and this would have brought it
into line with every other annual entitlement (including Communications
Allowance) which can have its unspent component rolled over to the
following financial year.

CRIKEY:  That was promptly knocked off in the Senate
causing much embarrassment for the Special Minister of State and
resulting in several nasty circulars to MPs.

LITK:  There were no ‘nasty circulars’ (plural). There was
one circular which simply stated that the Senate had disallowed the
Regulation which had increased the entitlement. But it is also worth
noting something that your Labor correspondent failed to point out,
namely, that Labor and the minor parties only knocked out the Printing
Allowance changes. These alleged ‘friends of the taxpayer’ kept the
following goodies for themselves:

  • Additional benefits for overseas travel by non-Government MPs;
  • The use of RAAF VIP aircraft for overseas travel by non-Government MPs;
  • Additional mobile telephones for Democrats and Greens’ staff;
  • Additional photographic services for the Labor Leader;
  • Additional mobile telephones for Labor staff;
  • Business class overseas travel for Labor and Democrats’ staff;
  • Domestic travel on charter aircraft by the spouse and staff of Labor office holders;
  • A 50% increase in the cap on domestic charter travel (including planes, hire cars and boats) for Democrat Leader;
  • Domestic travel on charter aircraft by the spouse and staff of Democrat Leader;
  • All medical costs, baggage insurance, equipment allowances and
    clothing allowances for Labor Leader and Deputy Leader when travelling
    overseas; and
  • A dedicated ‘data line’ for computer communications in the homes
    of Labor’s Leaders and Deputy Leaders in each House and the Democrat
    Leader.

CRIKEY:  Any link between this, the spending habits of
Howard Government MPs and any cosy deal relating to “newsletters”? Some
food for thought, anyway.

LITK:  Only in the minds of conspiracy-theorist Labor lackies.

CRIKEY: 
Crikey!