The Coalition’s self-defeating political expenditure laws

If I am put in the dock for failing to disclose ‘political expenditure’ to the Australian Electoral Commission, it is comforting to know that every other editor in the country who published an article on the 2007 election will be there with me.

On Friday the AEC published the political expenditure returns (here, and a larger number here who submitted too late to be included in the database), and not a single newspaper or magazine has sent in its accounts. They must be banking on the AEC guidelines, rather than the strict letter of the law, applying to their ‘political expenditure’.

This legislation was set up as bureaucratic harassment of left-wing groups, and on that it has succeeded. Of the 49 political groups who have dislosed expenditure, 48 are left-wing. The one exception was ‘Friends of Indi’, a Liberal group that reported $14,263.42 in expenditure (pdf). Two pollsters also put in returns.

While I still believe that this provision of the Electoral Act should be repealed, the disclosures did generate media, and presumably public, interest (to be distinguished from the public interest, of course.) Melbourne’s ABC TV news led on Friday night with $20 million worth of union expenditure on their WorkChoices campaign. But of course the fact that unions spent huge amounts of money advertising against WorkChoices could only be news to people who exclusively watch the ABC, since it was unavoidable on all the commercial stations. (It’s a nice irony; right-wingers should have taken refuge from left-wing propaganda by switching to the ABC.)
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