They’re
not as detailed as the political parties’ own statements of who gave
what when, but the release of the 2004 Election Financial Donation
Returns by the AEC yesterday gives the first glimpse of the money trails behind last year’s federal election.

“Election
financial disclosure returns are lodged by candidates and Senate
groups, broadcasters and publishers, and third parties (such as donors
to candidates),” the AEC’s media release explains. “Political parties
do not lodge election financial disclosure returns.” Most of the party
candidate spending is contained in the general party returns – but
there’s still scope for fun.

While everyone was busy looking
at how much got spent in Wentworth – it’s a pretty expensive seat to
live in, let alone run for – Misha Schubert in The Age had a good look at Pauline Hanson’s latest wheeze.

“Pauline
Hanson made a bumper profit from her bid for political resurrection,”
she found. “Documents released yesterday also reveal that defeated One
Nation senator Len Harris borrowed $100,000 for his failed campaign, on
which he spent $153,000, leaving him unemployed and in debt. By
contrast, his former leader, Ms Hanson, earned $199,886 from taxpayers
for winning more than 4% of the vote, and another $7,695 in donations.
She declared only $35,426 in campaign expenditure, potentially
pocketing as much as $170,000.” Does Dancing With The Stars pay that well?

Schubert
and others have also identified some of those public-spirited companies
and lobby groups who helped oil the wheels of democracy last year – not
out of any self-interest, naturally.

“The private health
insurance industry – which has cried poor when hiking insurance
premiums in recent years – spent more than $460,000 lobbying against
any change to their hefty subsidies. The forestry division of the
timber workers’ union spent almost $50,000 on election material. The
Forestry Industry Association of Tasmania spent more than $315,000. The
National Union of Students – under threat from new laws to outlaw
compulsory student union fees – spent $250,000,” she wrote.

Louise Dodson followed up the health angle in today’s SMH:
“When your health insurance premium goes up again, just remember some
of it has been used to pay for a campaign during the 2004 election. The
latest disclosure returns from the Australian Electoral Commission show
the Australian Health Insurance Association spent $168,642 on newspaper
and magazine advertisements during the election campaign and $22,000 on
opinion polling in the campaign… The chief executive of the
Australian Health Insurance Association [toecutter Reg Withers’ old
ADC], Russell Schneider, said the ads and polling were part of a longer
term promotional campaign and coincidentally occurred during the
election.”

Dodson also pointed out how Gunns spent up big,
too: “When the campaign opened the Coalition’s and Labor’s policies on
Tasmanian forests were unknown… Logging company Gunns spent $18,630 on
television and radio ads, while Timber Communities Australia spent
$66,175 on newspaper ads during the election campaign. The
Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, which also supported
continued logging, spent $93,699 on ads during the election.

The
Wilderness Society (Tasmania), which campaigned to reduce logging in
Tasmania, spent only $14,916 on newspaper ads and $1,041 on campaign
material.”

Peter Fray

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