Editorial: Money rules
In these times of growing antipathy to the major political parties, some emergency measures are being taken by those with an interest in keeping power where it presently resides.
After intense lobbying from Labor, the Liberals, the Nationals and the Democrats, Cabinet has recommended a doubling of the present $15 million election campaign handout. Thirty million dollars of taxpayers' money is set to be allocated to the election campaign expenses of these four parties.
Blame has been levelled at the government's new disclosure laws on electoral funding. However, this is only a small part of their problem.
Once upon a time, the union movement loyally donated millions of dollars to the campaign coffers of the ALP. These days, there is increasing talk among unionists, demoralised with Labor's neo-liberal, anti-worker agenda, about whether or not to sever the ties. And if it weren't for the plentiful supply of union bureaucrats whose careers in the ALP hinge on making workers' funds available at election time, there would be far fewer dollars forthcoming.
Not that Labor's survival is fundamentally at risk. Big business is a major contributor to Labor's electoral campaigns in the knowledge that it will be repaid — with interest — for its generosity.
As for the Liberals, the once plentiful supply of money from their traditional base, big business, has slowed to a trickle as Labor proves, for the moment, to be a more effective manager for capital. The Nationals, who received just 7.17% of the vote at the last federal election, no longer have undivided support from the rural sector.
The Democrats, whose strategy is to woo both the disaffected Labor and Liberal voters, seem to have abandoned their self-proclaimed role as "parliamentary watch-dog" and voice for the social movements. "Keeping the bastards honest" isn't nearly as tempting as joining them at the trough.
Subsidies to the parties which pass a minimum threshold of parliamentary numbers is simply a way of using public funds to ensure that those now in parliament stay there.
If public funds are to be used to reduce dependence on big business handouts, they should be given in a way that gives voters the maximum of information and thus of real choice. For example, imagine if all candidates from all parties received free TV and radio time to explain and argue their policies, instead of the farcical "great debates" between Labor and Liberal leaders. Imagine if all candidates were given the opportunity to present their views on the major social and economic issues of the day in the public arena (which the establishment parties, in cahoots with the establishment media, very consciously prevent from happening). Green and socialist politics would surely win a much greater hearing, putting the major parties under even greater pressure.
Money has always ruled politics in this country, and the mainstream parties, despite their dwindling support, have fine-tuned a way of entrenching their power. Handouts of public money to parties from which people feel increasingly alienated is undemocratic and little more than legalised theft.