IN AN OUTRAGEOUS DISPLAY of hubris, Victoria’s ALP opposition has been billing taxpayers for polling, political consultants, election brochures and other political material ahead of next month’s state election; it underscores the reality that Labor cares about power, not people, as it thumbs its nose at decent standards of behaviour. The fact it isn’t in government at all belies its excuse that the spending facilitated “community consultation.”
As my article on preferences yesterday probably signalled, quite a bit more time is likely to be taken up over the next few months by the discussion of state election issues in this column; even so, I’m a little surprised to be heading in this direction so quickly, although when it comes to the Labor Party and its willingness to quite literally say or do anything to get itself into office, there are always unforeseen surprises just waiting to be uncovered.
So it is this morning, with Melbourne’s Herald Sun running an exclusive based on the results of a productive Freedom of Information request, that show the Victorian ALP has been using what was allocated as a work-related expenses allowance from the Department of Premier and Cabinet to pay for phone polls, political advertising, banners and brochures, and — most damningly — a bill of more than $50,000 for a US-based political campaign firm to advise Labor on social media strategy and Facebook marketing.
Needless to say, this breathtaking contempt for public money reeks of Labor being just a bit too clever for its own good.
I think all readers understand that governments (and especially those nearing elections) engage in a fair amount of advertising that could, depending on your political perspective, be construed as politically motivated; the current series of advertisements in Melbourne by Moving Victoria — an example of which can be seen here — is just the kind of thing, booked in the name of “public information,” that every opposition rails furiously against but nevertheless never seems to get cancelled once that opposition party finds its way into government.
They are also grudgingly tolerated by a propaganda-weary public.
But for an opposition party to use public monies to do it represents a new low in Australian politics as far as I am concerned: for government agencies to advertise their activities is one thing, but for a party in opposition to bill the taxpayer for its election campaign activities is disgraceful.
“Victoria Deserves Better” is apparently the slogan (cooked up by some idiot in PR who was doubtless paid handsomely for the stunning originality of those three words) that runs through the ALP campaign material in question, and I would have to say Labor’s PR hacks have absolutely nailed it: Victoria does deserve better. It deserves better than the present Labor alternative that is being offered.
I’d like to know how a work-related expenses allowance can be legitimately manipulated, within parliamentary guidelines, to lawfully cover the kind of expenditure the ALP has incurred here.
If what Labor has spent the money on actually complies with those guidelines, then the first order of business for the relevant Coalition minister this morning should be to draft urgent amendments to those guidelines, and to ensure they take effect before the caretaker period prior to the election soon commences, by which time it will be too late to stop further similar abuses of the taxpayer purse by the ALP.
The financial details of some of what Labor has spent was not disclosed to the Herald Sun in its FOI grant to protect the commercial interests of the companies who acted as suppliers, which is fair enough; after all, those businesses — even if aligned to the ALP — have the right to certain commercially sensitive aspects of their dealings with a client respected for valid commercial reasons.
The ALP, however, has no right to try to pass this off as the legitimate use of public money.
And the revelation that $51,011 was spent with Washington political consultancy firm Chlopak Leonard Schechter and Associates on “digital strategy and management fees” is unforgivable.
The Hun quotes a spokesman for opposition leader Daniel Andrews as saying that the polling was part of MPs regularly surveying their constituents about issues that matter to them, which raises two key points.
One, that such “research” is the kind of things MPs should be doing by door knocking, standing on train stations meeting voters in peak hour, visiting local businesses and so forth — not by billing the taxpayer for a ticket to easy street.
And two, if the expenditure was all about “research,” then why are brochures trumpeting the assertion that “Victoria Deserves Better” and other campaign materials to market ALP policies and settle its “social media strategy” already being produced? These are things that come after, not during, the research.
Either way, “focus group sessions” are not the kind of thing MPs of any stripe undertake in the course of stump campaigning, and the fact the Herald Sun links them to telephone polling and to issues including jobs, health and TAFE — Labor’s issues of choice for the past four years — and in the context of the production of campaign-ready materials suggests there is no basic constituent research involved in this sham at all.
Of the 16 years since I came to Melbourne (which will be 17 in January) I have lived for 13 of them, in two stints, in the Liberal-held state seat of Brighton; in that time I have seen my local MP Louise Asher in shopping strips and at railway stations countless times, but I have never received commissioned research enquiries on behalf of the local division of the Liberal Party.
The remainder of those years (again in two stints) saw me resident in the adjacent Labor seat of Albert Park, and to be perfectly honest I never saw the local MP at all, although when he quit Parliament in the wake of an uproar over a taxpayer-funded jaunt to the ski fields, he turned up at a polling booth on the day of the resultant by-election with the latest union hack endorsed by the Victorian ALP for a parliamentary sinecure.
Yet in both seats, printed research material was distributed to households (on the “fill it in and return it” system) that I had little doubt had been produced at taxpayers’ expense; before the state election in 2006 I even took one of these pamphlets to the state’s Electoral Commissioner and made a complaint, which was dismissed: not because there was nothing wrong with it, but on the basis it had been distributed before the caretaker period before the election had commenced — a convenient loophole indeed when it comes to legitimising amoral Labor Party campaign methods.
Apparently, less probity is acceptable a bit further out from an election. It’s not hard to see where the regulations here need tightening.
But to come back to the money, that bill for more than $50,000 is just the start of it; the Hun reports that taxpayers also footed the bill for Andrews and two of his frontbenchers (and God knows who else) to take return flights to New York to meet the consultancy firm; add in the price of printing, producing banners, telephone polling and whatever else has been written off as “work-related expenses” and we’re probably talking about several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of taxpayer money being wilfully used to bankroll the costs of Victorian Labor’s state election campaign.
And whilst some might think I’m splitting hairs for making the distinction, this is a party in opposition; there isn’t even the “public information” defence open to Labor that might justify some publicity if it were a government agency such as Moving Victoria initiating it.
The obscenity of Labor fingers in the taxpayer till is compounded by the fact that unlike its opponents, the ALP receives a torrent of money from the union movement, and it receives the proceeds of those political levies and union donations irrespective of whether the individual union members in question actually sanction the support of the ALP or not.
Coming as this does in the wake of the scandal in July when the dictaphone of a Fairfax journalist, containing a sensitive off-the-record conversation with former Premier Ted Baillieu was obtained by the ALP and subsequently distributed to Liberal Party members — which may yet blow up in ALP faces — and the decision by Daniel Andrews to do a U-turn over the East West Link and rip up the contract to build it, a familiar pattern of ALP conduct becomes clear, and reinforced, by its blatant penchant for wasting public money on things that simply cannot be justified.
And that — as I often say in this column — is that Labor cares about power, not people; it will say and do literally anything to enable it to access the green leather of ministerial office and the perks, prestige and patronage that can be dispensed from it; and it doesn’t give a rat’s rectum whether using other people’s money is appropriate or not, so long as the intended objective is achieved by any means possible.
Readers enrolled to vote in the other eastern seaboard states should be vigilant: after all, if Victorian Labor gets away scot-free with this kind of thing here, the Labor oppositions in your own states will try exactly the same stunt — just because they think they can.
I think the Herald Sun has blown the whistle on a disgusting contempt for Victorian voters this morning; add it to the very long (and lengthening) list of valid reasons why Labor is not fit to govern in the state of Victoria, and wait for the next to become public.
As sure as night follows day, there will be a lot more of this kind of thing between now and 29 November. If nothing else, the least one can say about the Labor Party is that it is consistent.