21 April 2016
by Kate M
The LNP: Keep your voters close. Keep your Big Donors closer.
As the campaign for a Australia’s Federal election on July 2nd kicked off in earnest this week, we’ve been hearing two key messages from the LNP:
Message one: We need to save the Construction sector
Message two: Leave the Banking and Financial Services sector alone
Both these messages are unpopular with around two thirds of Australians – making them strange choices to open a campaign with. But are they?
I guess it depends on exactly who these messages are aimed at…
Message one: We need to save the construction sector
Australia is heading to the polls early to save the construction sector. At least that’s what we’ve been told by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who, despite having had the option to call an early election prior to now has only just done so.
Turnbull’s stated reason: the Senate’s failure to pass legislation which would re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).
Why is the ABCC so important that it warrants the calling of an early election?
According to Turnbull, it’s to save the construction sector by bringing back “the rule of law to the construction industry“. An issue that is apparently so pressing, that it is worth spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to call a special sitting of both Houses of Parliament and to take us all to an early election.
I don’t know about you, but I was not aware that the construction sector needed saving. So I took a quick look at the sector’s health. Turns out, that the Australian Constructors Association are actually projecting an increase in major construction work of 4.7% for 2016/17, including an increase in jobs. It’s hardly a sector that’s falling apart.
And I’m not the only one who is wondering why the government is focusing on this sector. A recent Essential poll indicated that only a third of Australians think the ABCC is important – with 41% of Australians saying they believe the Government should be focused on more important things.
According to Labor, the Greens and many Independents, the ABCC legislation is in no fit state to be passed. Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie tweeted on Monday that the legislation was “drafted by a room full of monkeys“, and in the words of Greens’ Leader Richard Di Natalie:
“These bills, the ABCC bills, are not aimed at ending corruption; they are not essential to our economic future as the government suggests; they are just a good old-fashioned attack on the rights of ordinary working people.”
(Richard Di Natalie, Senate, 18 April 2016)
Message Two: Leave the Banking and Finance Services Sector alone.
The Labor Party this week announced further details of their proposal for a Banking and Financial Services Royal Commission – a move which has significant public support. Despite having just used the Trade Union Royal Commission findings as part of his justification for pushing through the ABCC legislation, Turnbull’s response to this announcement was to ridicule Royal Commissions:
(Malcolm Turnbull in Question Time on 18 Apri, 2016)
According to Turnbull and Morrison, a Royal Commission is a waste of money. All that is needed – according to them – is to restore ASIC’s funding levels to what they were prior to the LNP’s 2014 budget cuts. Then presto! Problem solved – move along – nothing more to see here.
Of course the LNP’s move conveniently ignores the fact that at least some of the recently reported transgressions in the financial services sector happened prior to the 2014 cuts. If the transgressions weren’t picked up by ASIC then, there’s nothing to suggest that simply restoring funding to it’s pre-LNP-cuts level will actually solve the problem.
Whose votes are the LNP actually courting with these messages?
To recap – so far this week we’ve seen the LNP fighting to ‘save’ a sector that most Australians don’t believe needs saving and protecting another sector from a Royal Commission that two thirds of Australians actually do want. All in a week where they are setting the scene for an election to be decided in just over two month’s time.
Given the unpopularity of these messages with the Australian public – exactly who are they aimed at?
I guess it depends on whose votes they are trying to win…
Two kinds of votes
As I wrote a few weeks back, political advertising can mean the difference between winning and losing an election. While the only votes that count on election day are the ones made in the polling booths, it’s arguably what happens in the days, weeks – and in this case months – before that moment in the booth that determines how the majority of people will vote once they get there.
While companies may not get a vote on election day, they do get to vote for their preferred political party through the financial support they provide prior to the election. And according to the DemocracyForSale website, 75% of donations to political parties between 2012 and 2015 (where the source can be identified) come from companies.
The practical outcome of this is that there are effectively two kinds of votes being cast in the coming months that will decide the election’s outcome:
The ‘democratic votes’ that the average Aussie punter makes on election day; and
The ‘financial votes’ that companies make with their cheque books leading up to election day.
Roll back the clock to 2013…
We saw this in the 2013 election with the battle fought around the Mining and Carbon taxes. Both taxes – introduced by the Labor party – had hit Mining and Resource companies hard. As Bernard Keane wrote in Crikey in 2012 (and shown in the graph below), this led to a tremendous increase in donations from Mining and Resource companies to the LNP – who promised to repeal both taxes if elected.
The Mining companies cast their financial vote in favour of the LNP in 2013 – and through their considerable financial support, helped the LNP to win the election. Within less than 12 months, the Mining and Carbon taxes were dead – a boon for the Mining and Resources sector, but a savage cut in budget revenue for the Australian public.
Back to the future…
It’s now three years later – and with the next election fast approaching, votes are already being cast. But it’s not the type of votes that you and I cast on election day – it’s the ‘financial votes’ that corporates and other big donors cast with their hefty financial donations.
And just as we – the democratic voters – are courted by the politicians, it stands to reason that ‘financial voters’ may also be courted by them as well.
Which brings us back to….
Big Financial Voters: The Construction and Banking & Financial services sectors
As I mentioned above, three quarters of the identifiable donations to political parties between 2012 and 2015 were from companies. If you drill down deeper and divvy these donations up into sectors, the two corporate sectors which were responsible for the largest donations to the LNP between 2012 and 2015 were – you guessed it – the Construction sector and the Banking and Financial services sector.
Perhaps the LNP’s two key messages this week have not been aimed at the democratic voter after all – but at attracting the financial votes of the two corporate sectors that have been their strongest supporters in the past.
Perhaps, rather than targeting their messages at us right now, their focus is on convincing these sectors that it would be in their best interests to get behind the LNP.
Only time – and the Australian Electoral Commission’s Donation lists that won’t come out for another 12 months – will tell…