In his speech to the National Press Club yesterday, Liberal Party federal director Brian Loughnane said this about the role of the ACTU and GetUp! in the campaign:
The ACTU spent over $14 million on television advertising in the twelve months before election day. This was more than either of the two major parties spent on television in the campaign…
For the first time in our history, a third external force has intervened in our political process with resources greater than either of the major political parties. I believe this is an extremely unhealthy development. If disclosure of campaign spending is to mean anything in this country, the ACTU should be required to publish a report setting out details of how the $30 million it allocated to the campaign was spent.
…The intervention of GetUp! in the campaign is another example of this phenomenon. GetUp! was well resourced and has strong international connections. It is perfectly entitled to play in the game, but it should also be subject to proper levels of scrutiny.
Actually, direct election campaign spending by the ACTU and GetUp! will have to be disclosed, and GetUp! also warns donors that their identities may be disclosed. Loughnane seems to be suggesting that these rules go even further and apply to spending outside of election campaigns.
This would be a highly undesirable development. As I argued in defence of undisclosed political donations, when government has at least partly politicised so many spheres of life some people feel that that they do not want their names attached to political activity. Donations are a way they can get involved politically without fearing repercussions from those in power.
I am prepared to accept disclosure on big donations to political parties because of the potential for bribery, but it is hard to see how this consideration could apply to organisations that lack any direct control over government decision-making.
As for itemising and publishing campaign expenditure, it is hard to see why there is any genuine public interest consideration justifying its forced reporting to the AEC. While not as bad as donations disclosure, it seems like just another unncessary bureaucratic impost, creating added compliance costs for political organisations and requiring more public servants to administer. It also risks raising the barriers to entry into the political market, favouring existing players with the capacity to deal with complex bureaucratic requirements.
For the Liberals, Loughnane’s suggestions seem particularly ill-timed. As we settle into a likely long era of Labor rule, it is Liberal and potential Liberal supporters who would be most adversely affected by further regulation of political activity.