Frightening the potential donors is an essential tactic for those who must take the hat around to finance election campaigns so the Liberal party’s federal secretary Brian Loughnane took the opportunity when chatting to Young Liberals at the weekend to pretend that his team would be at a sizeable disadvantage when the next election campaign comes.

Labor and its union allies, suggested Mr Loughnane, would spend a combined $50 million while the poor little Liberal Party would have less than $20 million.

Both figures should be taken with considerable scepticism but there is no doubt that things are looking better for Labor fundraising than for several campaigns. For the union movement this election is a last stand against the industrial relations changes of the Howard Government.

If the Coalition is returned for a further three years there will be little chance of stopping the spread of workplace agreements to the point where their future abolition becomes virtually impractical. It is a case of now or never if the remnants of trade union power are to be preserved, so this is the time to use any hidden reserves tucked away on union balance sheets. As well as the ACTU running its own advertising campaign, the Labor Party can expect substantially higher contributions.

From the business community, the share Labor gets depends very much on the assessments companies make as to the likely return on their investment. If Labor is seen as having little chance of winning, or of doing things business does not like if it does win, the money dries up. Under Mark Latham both these things applied and financing of the last campaign suffered accordingly.

With Kevin Rudd at the helm the expectation of a good Labor showing has increased and polls that six months ago were deemed unbelievable are now believed by many. That makes business leaders keener to understand what a Rudd Government might have in store for them and it is much easier for a donor to party funds to get a hearing than it is for a company that refuses to play the game of political donations at all and very much harder for one with a record of giving to the Coalition and not to Labor.

Brian Loughnane is well aware that Rudd has made a difference and that companies are likely to split their donations more evenly between his team and Labor than they have in the recent past.

We should not feel too sorry for him, though. The Coalition will still have the advantage of the mass of taxpayer-funded advertising which should ensure that this is a very profitable year for television companies.

Peter Fray

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