Why NSW electoral rules don’t help teals in ‘Kmart election’

Early last year, leading up to the federal election campaign, a series of discreet dinners were held in harbourside mansions around Sydney. There, various wealthy people sipped on vintage wines, ate delicious morsels and donated five and six-figure sums to political candidates.

I’d hear about them after the event but, as a nosy, unbiddable journalist, never attended; would you invite someone who silently judges your bookshelves? I was corralled into the sort of carb-laden public events which form part of the Campaign 10 (insiders put on 10 pounds each poll). But the gourmet dinners were all perfectly legal; while federal laws require disclosure of individual and corporate donations over a certain level, there are no limits to the amount of money that campaigns can spend.

Iced VoVo anyone? Political fundraisers in NSW are not what they used to be, but that’s no bad thing.

Jennifer Soo

The impending NSW state election has different rules, however. The history of the NSW Labor Right “whatever it takes” faction has been problematic, but in 2011 it actually got something right. When Kristina Keneally as premier capped campaign expenditure by political parties, candidates and third parties, it went some way to levelling the playing field.

As a result, the NSW poll is very much the Kmart election: it looks and feels quite different from its upmarket federal counterpart. Overall, this is a good outcome – for too long Australian politics has been subject to the rule that the “loudest voice is the person with the deepest pockets”. But the problem is that it entrenches the advantages of incumbency.

The current spending cap for independent candidates is $198,700 per campaign. To put this in perspective, financial returns for non-party backed federal candidates released last November showed that the three winning “teal” candidates in NSW spent $4.6 million in total; Wentworth’s Allegra Spender alone spent $2.1 million. They were not alone; political party spending figures, to be released on Wednesday, are predicted to show that the Coalition spent comparable amounts defending those seats.

Big spender: Teal independent Allegra Spender spent .1 million on her successful election campaign in Wentworth. But independents can only spend almost 0,000 on their campaigns in the forthcoming NSW election.

Flavio Brancaleone

The NSW spending cap includes donations “in kind” like office space for campaign headquarters, staff, cars and even the cost of catering at a fundraising event. One campaigner told me that to stay under the limit, most dry events now asked people to “bring a plate” – tea and Iced VoVos, anyone? It’s also much harder for campaigns to hire costly pollsters and advisers – as a result, they’ve been doing much of that work themselves.

Unfortunately, these rules make it much harder for new parties and candidates. Compounding the inequity is the significant public funding available to incumbent parliamentarians and their respective parties.

An analysis of similar electoral funding rules in Victoria found there was a $100 million “wall” that protected those already in power from the people trying to get in.

One group negatively affected by spending caps is third-party campaigners like Climate 200, which supported seven winning candidates in the federal poll.

Founder Simon Holmes a Court said on Sunday that the situation in NSW was even worse than in Victoria, where the incumbent parties had received $50.6 million in direct electoral and political funding and $48.1 million in allowances that helped boost the profile of their MPs.

Since the 2019 NSW state election, incumbents had received $179 million in public funding, he said. Climate 200 analysts obtained the figures by combing through the returns lodged with the Parliamentary Remuneration Tribunal. From these, they were able to calculate that incumbent politicians had received $54.3 million from an administrative fund – reimbursement of administrative expenditure – and $42.3 million in election payments.

This figure includes $13 million paid in advance of an upcoming election, based on the votes the party received last time. In addition, NSW parliamentarians received a total of $40.5 million in communications allowances and $42.3 million in electoral allowances – meaning that NSW politicians were able to boost their profiles with $82.8 million of our money.

The businessman said that “meanwhile, independent challengers have no such access to funding … and must fundraise from the public – no more than $3300 from each donor – to build a ladder and climb over that wall”.

While political parties are also subject to a spending cap, it is averaged across all 93 NSW lower house seats, he pointed out.

“Because parties spend very little in seats they can’t win and seats they won’t lose, it’s perfectly legal to outspend an independent challenger by five-to-one or more, so long as the total across all seats stays within the limit for a party,” Holmes a Court told me.

“It’s not remotely a level playing field.”

( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )

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