The Australian’s Sharri Markson produced an interesting story on Friday revealing that PM Malcolm Turnbull had personally donated $1 million to the Liberal campaign. However, like so much that comes out of News Corp, the spin around this one-fact story was all about pushing certain agendas. Rather than the general collapse in corporate donations that set in when Tony Abbott’s government ran off the rails and ICAC carved up some NSW property developers, Sharri reckoned the drop in donations was all about the government’s superannuation policies. Where’s the evidence that Frank Lowy and the gambling industry decided to give less due to superannuation concerns? Even better, Sharri managed to specifically identify what Malcolm’s $1 million contribution to a $70 million-plus campaign funded -- namely, some television ads. It would have been equally plausible to claim Malcolm’s $1 million helped fund this letter that he sent to help Tony Abbott in Warringah, or perhaps this prime ministerial letter to voters in the electorate of Menzies, where Abbott’s great conservative mate Kevin Andrews was panicking in the final days of the campaign. Even more surprising than Sharri’s spin was the decision of press gallery veteran Laurie Oakes to declare in his Saturday News Corp column that there was something wrong with Malcolm donating $1 million to his party. Having largely ignored Australia’s woeful campaign finance system for decades, Oakes now thinks there could be a conflict of interest in having one MP contribute less than 2% to the total cost of a campaign. Would he rather the money came from the pokies lobby or coal miners? There is nothing wrong with a self-financed campaign, provided it does not become the dominant source of campaign revenue for a broadly based party. Malcolm didn’t do a Clive Palmer and splurge $28 million, but his ilk should be encouraged to have some skin in the game by putting their money where their mouth is. Malcolm’s $1 million helped, in a small way, to keep the Liberal Party in office and, for this, Liberal MPs should be supportive and thankful, not carping anonymously to the likes of Sharri Markson and Laurie Oakes. As Fairfax reported on Friday, given that Malcolm is reportedly worth $200 million, a contribution of only $1 million is, if anything, a bit light on. Now that the AEC has counted more than 90% of the votes, the media should start focusing on the $60 million-plus, which is about to pour out of the AEC into the bank accounts of the major parties and some of the more successful independents and minor parties who topped 4% of the primary vote. The AEC is yet to provide any written explanation for the way it ordered my volunteers off 30 booths in Menzies shortly after 3pm on July 2, but the public funding department did promptly send this letter on the Monday after polling day, which included the following:
"A candidate is eligible for election funding if they obtain at least four percent of the first preference vote in the division or the state or territory they contested. Election funding is paid automatically as soon as possible after the 20th day following polling day. Any balance of entitlement will be paid following the conclusion of the count of votes. "For the 2016 federal election, eligible candidates are entitled to receive 262.784 cents per first preference vote received. "The preliminary vote count conducted for the 2016 federal election indicates that you may be eligible to receive election funding. The AEC requires advice of how you want your entitlements to be paid to you."
By creating a 4% threshold, the Lib-Lab duopoly have cynically denied public funding to the majority of start-up parties and independents who don’t receive support from more than one in 25 voters, but for some strange reason the media only seems to report on this issue when funding is going to minor parties. Before Markson claimed that the Liberal Party (presumably only the NSW division) was broke, she might have pointed out that the Coalition would be collecting about $30 million from the federal government before the end of the month. Crikey joined this game of picking on the independents on July 6 when it somewhat prematurely reported on the precise public funding to defeated independent candidates based on less than 80% of the vote counted. Tony Windsor’s 24,961 votes back then is now up to 26,683 but there are still another 5429 envelopes to be opened in New England so the final figure won’t be $65,397.82 as claimed on July 6, but instead something close to $80,000. Based on a 7.2% ordinary vote in Menzies, Crikey reported that I would “go home with $12,785.60”. It will actually be closer to $17,000 with about 6.7% of the vote but the final figure won’t be known until the last 3863 envelopes are opened. When combined with these 125 donations totalling $38,540, it is clear to see how our $55,000 Menzies campaign was funded. Why can’t other candidates and parties be this transparent? They are receiving lots of public money, after all. It’s pure guesswork but we reckon the Liberals would have spent close to $400,000 defending Menzies, but there are no obligations to tell anyone about this under Australia’s woeful campaign finance disclosure system. *Stephen Mayne stood as a pro-Turnbull independent candidate in Menzies at the federal election and was not paid for this item