22/11/2005 - 21:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - Pollies eye-off new tax take

22/11/2005 - 21:00

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That dreaded M-word has reappeared within Liberal Party ranks.

That dreaded M-word has reappeared within Liberal Party ranks.

And this time, just like the last, it is ultimately about that party – and the state’s other parties, for that matter – getting their hands not simply on to M, but on to TM.

M stands for money; TM signifies taxpayers’ money.

Although the party, like the state’s other parties, will understandably accept either, those involved in the latest bid to boost the Liberals’ dwindling coffers would like to get ongoing access to some taxpayers’ money.

In other words eyes have been firmly fixed upon a slice of your and my compulsorily paid taxation.

What is being considered, though at this stage in a somewhat roundabout way, is the funding of all state-based political parties on the basis of how many votes each attracts at upper and lower house contests.

We already have such party funding at federal elections, so the idea is far from new. It is, in fact, tried and tested, with parties currently qualifying for $1.94397 per vote attracted at national polls.

The problem WA’s Liberals are grappling with is the fact that, to date, they have not tapped into the state’s coffers with a similar topping-up formula after each state poll.

The last time they attempted to pave the way for such funding to become part of the local political landscape their then leader, Colin Barnett, botched it by failing to properly communicate with all party colleagues.

He instead sparked an acrimonious party room imbroglio, after which getting the party’s hands on to taxpayers’ money was put on the back burner.

Interestingly, the Australian Electoral Commission has just disclosed details of payouts it has made to parties following the October 2004 national election.

Nationally the Liberals qualified for a whopping $17.96 million.

Labor gained $16.51 million, while the Greens got a respectable $3.32 million, and the Nationals $2.97 million.

WA’s Liberals, under that disbursement, qualify for about 10 per cent of the party’s national take, suggesting they can expect in the order of $1.8 million from Canberra.

Unfortunately, the way the Liberals nationally disburse their AEC cheque remains confidential so we cannot be certain if their bank balance will be boosted by about $600,000 annually or by a markedly or even marginally smaller amount.

State Scene suspects that the party’s Canberra office will take a sizeable slice of the $17.96 million, meaning WA’s division is likely to get about $500,000 annually, or perhaps less.

But those who have now unobtrusively returned the party to a path to state public funding have this time done it with an element of circumspection, since they don’t want to see another party room row.

They’ve consequently introduced a “strong disincentive” against such an eventuality.

The Liberals’ mid-November state council meeting adopted a double-barrelled policy designed not only to marginally boost the party’s income in the interim but to also give all its state and federal MPs a big broad  hint that taxpayers’ money is needed, and desperately.

Furthermore, if its state MPs fail to arrive at an arrangement with Labor’s powerful mover and shaker, Electoral Affairs Minister Jim McGinty, then each should become accustomed to feeling the sting on their hip pocket nerves, perhaps indefinitely.

What state council did was move on two fronts that are set to ensure that this time around the party ultimately gets taxpayers’ money.

The first called for all rank-and-file members to be asked for a minimum voluntary gift of $50 to help out.

Now, if one is kind and believes that WA’s Liberal Party currently has5,000 active members, this could possibly bring in up to $250,000.

But let’s be realistic and say one in two members agrees to the new voluntary impost, which would mean about $125,000 may come in by snail mail during the next few months.

That would, to use an old Goldfields term that party leader Matt Birney, who enjoys the occasional beer, would identify with, ‘hardly touch the sides’.

The other leg of this move has been that all state and federal MPs must pay a compulsory $3,000 annual levy into party coffers.

With WA having 33 state and 16 federal MPs, that will boost party coffers by nearly $150,000.

In other words the new measures, with some luck, could boost party coffers by about $375,000. Not peanuts, but hardly big bickies.

Put into context, that only covers the salary of the party’s new state director for just more than two years.

But all those other inevitable extras – costly debt servicing, telephones, faxes, stationary, cleaners, power, water, and so on – must be met from the annual $500,000 from Canberra, which is judged as being hardly enough.

If Mr Barnett hadn’t failed to have public party funding instituted the WA Electoral Commission would have outlaid around $4.25 million to all parties from last February’s state election, with the Liberals having qualified for around $1.7 million.

That’s close to what party boffins see as being needed to put the party back on to a firmer financial basis.

True, the business sector occasionally donates, but that’s a tough source to tap, especially when Labor controls Treasury benches, as it has been doing since February 2001.

With the harsh dollars and cents facts of political life in front of the Liberal parliamentary and lay party powerbrokers and boffins it’s little wonder public funding – the tapping into taxpayers’ money – has been quietly judged as the way ahead.

Sources have told State Scene not to be surprised if, soon after the New Year, we wake up and discover a party public funding bill has been rushed through both chambers of parliament by Mr McGinty.

But this time a cast-iron guarantee will have been given by the Liberals that there will be no repetition of the Barnett handling of this issue.

Finally, don’t feel any anxiety over the $3,000 annual levy each state Liberal MP now needs to find.

There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, it is MPs who are the primary or major beneficiaries since they sit in parliament, so whether the Liberals are in government or opposition, their earnings are assured.

And secondly, State Scene has been assured that MPs won’t be digging into their $110,000 or so annual gross salaries to come up with that amount.

It will, instead, be coming out of their annual $30,000 electoral allowance. 

In other words out of what’s already taxpayers’ money.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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