After Clive Palmer’s $60 million campaign, limits on political advertising are more important than ever



Clive Palmer didn’t win any seats for his party in the election, but he says his massive advertising spend was “worth it” to prevent Bill Shorten from becoming prime minister.
Darren England/AAP

Marian Sawer, Australian National University

Can billionaires buy elections in Australia? In the 2019 election, Clive Palmer demonstrated they can certainly flood the print media, airwaves, social media and billboards with advertising and have an impact on the results through their preferences and negative advertising.

Apart from United Australia Party hype about how it was going to win government, most of the high-profile advertising in the 2019 campaign was negative. There is a longstanding 48-hour ban on political advertising in radio and broadcast media prior to polling day, but advertising on social media is not covered. The very useful Facebook Ad Library showed the kind of horrors being broadcast during the 48-hour blackout.




Read more:
Now for the $55 million question: what does Clive Palmer actually want?


The Coalition was running many “death tax” ads on the Thursday and Friday. These were ads cut to show one Labor frontbencher after another saying the words “death tax”, when in fact they were denying a rumour about such a tax. Negativity, or even sheer invention, proved very effective.

One of the Coalition’s many “death tax” campaign ads.

By comparison, Labor ads on issues such as childcare or the gender pay gap – as well as its own negative ads aimed at the Coalition’s disunity and climate change policies – appeared to have little impact.

Labor’s final online advertising push didn’t resonate with voters.

Lack of regulations at federal level

How have we arrived at a place where our elections are awash with paid advertising? Believe it or not, this has been a relatively recent phenomenon.

In 1903, the Labor Party’s manifesto proudly promoted the restrictions that had been placed on campaign expenditure in the Commonwealth Electoral Act the year before:

Elaborate precautions exist to prevent wealthy men practically purchasing seats: the expenditure of a senatorial candidate is limited to £250 and of a candidate for the other House to £100.

These expenditure limits became increasingly obsolete and were not enforced. They were discarded at the federal level after 1980, following a successful challenge to the election of three candidates in the Tasmanian seat of Denison for each having spent more than A$1,500 in the 1979 state election.

From that time, Australia has been notable for the laxity of its regulation of political finance. At the federal level, there are no restrictions on the size or source of donations to political parties, apart from the recent ban on foreign donations. And there are no limits on campaign expenditure or paid advertising, apart from the requirement for authorisation.




Read more:
Election explainer: what are the rules governing political advertising?


As a result, industry bodies wishing to fend off government regulation of guns or poker machines or financial advice are free to spend as much as they like on political donations and advertising.

There is also no “truth in advertising” requirement at the federal level, and the Australian Electoral Commission does not have the authority to approve electoral communications for publication. The only requirement in the Commonwealth Electoral Act is for authorisation, including of electronic advertising. Ultimately, it is up to the courts to enforce this, on a case by case basis.

This differs greatly from many countries in Europe, including the UK, Ireland and the Scandinavian countries, which have never allowed such paid political advertising. Two-thirds of European countries limit the amount a candidate can spend on a campaign, including advertising, and 43% limit the amount a party can spend.

When the House of Lords upheld the UK prohibition on political advertising in 2008, it argued the ban was necessary to maintain a level playing field, preventing “well-endowed interests” from using “the power of the purse to give enhanced prominence to their views.”




Read more:
Australia trails way behind other nations in regulating political donations


In Australia, the Hawke government tried to stop the arms race over paid political advertising by banning it in 1991 and replacing it with free broadcast time (Political Broadcasts and Political Disclosures Act 1991). But the following year, the High Court in Australian Capital Television Pty Ltd v Commonwealth found that this ban contravened an implied freedom of political communication in the constitution.

This decision put a dampener on reform at the federal level. It is only recently the High Court has changed course to find that burdens on free speech can be legitimate if they serve another democratic purpose, such as political equality.

In the McCloy v NSW case in 2015, the High Court upheld a cap on political donations and a total ban on political donations by property developers, finding the restrictions on freedom of political communication were more than balanced by the benefits of ensuring the integrity of the political system and “equality of opportunity to participate in the exercise of political sovereignty.”

The constitutionality of regulating political donations was reaffirmed by the High Court in April 2019.

The government had passed amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act to enable Commonwealth law to override the tighter regulation of political donations at the state or territory level. This provision was overturned by the High Court and Queensland’s ban on developer donations was upheld. This was despite an attempt by the plaintiff, former LNP Queensland President Gary Spence, to argue it restricted freedom of political communication.

These High Court decisions open the way to possible future caps on expenditure and donations at the federal level, which could reduce the torrent of negative political advertising democracy is currently drowning in.

Clive Palmer’s advertising was largely aimed at Labor’s policies. This ad was viewed more than 800,000 times on YouTube.

Impacts of unlimited spending on democracy

The lack of restrictions on political expenditure or donations at the federal level has contributed to perceptions that government is run primarily for the benefit of the big end of town. In 2016, 56% of respondents to the Australian Election Study believed this.

In addition, negative advertising further erodes the public’s faith in government. American political scientist Joseph Nye observed more than 20 years ago a relationship between negative advertising and loss of trust in political parties and government. In the Democracy 2025 survey conducted in Australia last year, respondents were asked about possible reforms to rebuild trust in government. It revealed strongest support for limits on political donations and campaign expenditure.




Read more:
Facebook videos, targeted texts and Clive Palmer memes: how digital advertising is shaping this election campaign


The laxity of political finance regulation at the federal level also creates loopholes at the state or territory level, where genuine progress has been made in limiting political expenditure by parties, candidates and lobbying groups.

It is equally important that allowing paid political advertising in electronic media drives up the costs of political campaigns and increases dependence on wealthy donors.

Australia could rein in the ever-increasing role of private money in its federal elections. Labor and the Greens are committed to greater transparency for political donations and spending caps on federal campaign expenditure, while the High Court has shown it is now unlikely to strike down reasonable (“proportionate”) regulation of political finance.

Democracy should be about political equality, not about the deep pockets of billionaires.The Conversation

Marian Sawer, Emeritus Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Facebook videos, targeted texts and Clive Palmer memes: how digital advertising is shaping this election campaign


Andrew Hughes, Australian National University

This year’s election will be the first in Australia where the parties will be advertising more on social and digital platforms than traditional media (TV, radio, newspapers and magazines).

There are a few key reasons for this. First, cost-wise, social media is far cheaper, sometimes as low as a few cents per click. Unlike heritage media, digital and social is extremely targeted, and can be done in the “dark,” so your opponents may not even be aware of the message you are pushing out.

Digital and social advertising can also be shared or even created by users themselves, further increasing the reach of a party’s messaging. This gets around the Australian Electoral Commission rules on advertising – technically they are not ads since no party is paying for them to be shared on people’s feeds.

Throw into the mix laws on political advertising – which allow parties to advertise up to and on election day on social media, but not traditional media – and we are likely seeing the first largely digitally driven election campaign in Australian political history.




Read more:
Election explainer: what are the rules governing political advertising?


Here are a few ways the parties are using advertising in the campaign so far and what makes this election unique:

What you can do with A$30 million

Among all the candidates running this year, perhaps no one has used political advertising as prolifically as Clive Palmer. This shows what money can buy.

The most recent Nielsen figures put the cost of Palmer’s ads since September at around A$30 million, though Palmer says himself he’s spent at least A$50 million. This compares to just A$16 million spent in total advertising during the last federal election, with Labor and the Coalition accounting for more than 90% of that.

From a campaign perspective, Palmer is ticking many of the right boxes: a mix of different platforms on digital and social; heritage media ads for mass market awareness featuring candidates selected from the middle; the use of memes and user-generated content; and even text messaging.

This United Australia Party ad has over 2.4 million views on YouTube thus far, making it the most viewed election ad on the platform.

Despite the ubiquity of his ads, though, Palmer is still struggling to connect with most voters. This demonstrates a very important aspect to any advertising campaign: the actual brand still needs to be seen as offering real value to voters.

The UAP has used text messaging like this one below, for example, to try to change its negative perception with voters by delivering positive campaign promises.

UAP text message advertisement.
ABC

The ‘Grim Reaper’ strategy and micro-targeting

One of the most effective ads ever done in Australia was the “Grim Reaper” AIDS awareness campaign in 1987, which showed how well “scare campaigns” and negative messaging can work, given the right context and framing. The ad’s micro-messaging was another aspect that worked so well: it personalised the issue and made it tangible to anyone sexually active.

Basically, negative messaging works on the theory that what you fear, you will avoid – or the “fight or flight response”. Negative political ads highlight the level of risk and consequence of a certain party’s policies – and then emphasise how to avoid this by not voting for them.




Read more:
Why scare campaigns like ‘Mediscare’ work – even if voters hate them


Trouble is, most ads on TV are losing their potency. As attitudes towards political messaging and brands become increasingly negative, voters are less likely to watch ads in their entirety. Many people also don’t see them as being personally relevant.

Social media, though, provides an excellent delivery mechanism for these types of messages. Digital ads can be personalised and focused on issues that voters have already expressed an interest in and therefore find relevant to their lives.

Personalised messaging from the LNP on Facebook, targeting voters in the seat of Ryan in western Brisbane.
Facebook Ad Library

Social media ads can also be altered to be even more targeted as the campaign goes on, based on voter responses. And their speed of production – only taking a matter of hours to produce and place online – allows digital advertising to do what heritage no longer can and provide a more fluid, grassroots dynamic to campaigning.

This ad by Labor featuring Prime Minister Scott Morrison in bed with Palmer, for example, was released on social media within 24 hours of the preference deal struck between the Coalition and Palmer’s UAP.

Labor’s Facebook ad depicting Scott Morrison in bed with the UAP’s Clive Palmer over their preference dealing.
Facebook/Click here to watch the video

That said, even on social media, negative advertising is not as effective if it just comes from the party itself. But when combined with information from third-party sources, such as from the media, this can increase the effectiveness. For example, the Liberal Party used the 10 Network image in this ad to support its claims on Labor’s tax policies.


Facebook Ad Library

Youth engagement

Youth voter enrolment is at an all-time high in Australia, driven, in part, by engagement and participation in the marriage equality plebiscite in 2017.

The major parties are aware of this and are creating ads specifically targeting this demographic on Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram. Some of these are “dark social” ads (meaning they can only be seen by the target market) or are user-made so not to be subject to disclosure rules.

For more general audiences, Labor has created ads like this one on Facebook that highlight issues young voters are concerned about, such as wage increases and penalty rates. Ads like this also attempt to engage with these voters by asking them to sign petitions – a form of experiential marketing that’s proved highly effective with young audiences, as seen through platforms such as Change.org.

Labor Facebook ad inviting voters to sign a petition demanding a higher wage.
Facebook Ad Library

Groups like the Australian Youth Climate Coalition are tapping into experiential marketing by combining online advertising with a call for offline action on issues that appeal to young voters, such as climate change. Part-rock concert, part-protest, these events might remind some of the rallies that proved so popular during the Gough Whitlam era.

The AYCC is using a combination of online and offline strategies to engage with young voters.
Facebook Ad Library

The increasing influence of lobbying groups

One of the more interesting developments of this election so far is the increasing sophistication, knowledge and strategies of political lobbying groups, or Australia’s equivalent to America’s PACs.

GetUp! is one such group, collecting A$12.8 million in donations in the last 12 months alone. Among the group’s tactics are direct phone calls to voters, partly achieved through “phone parties” where volunteers freely offer their time, phones and other resources to call people in targeted electorates. GetUp! has a goal of making 1 million phone calls in the lead-up to the election.

A GetUp! video ad encouraging voters to host ‘calling parties’

Other well-funded groups, such as the right-aligned Advance Australia, are also seeking to influence the narrative in the election, particularly in electorates like Warringah, where it has released ads against Tony Abbott’s challenger, Zali Steggall.

In part to counter the influence of lobbying groups, the Australian Council of Trade Unions has launched its own advertising campaign featuring working Australians describing how hard it is to make ends meet.

The ACTU’s “Change the Government, Change the Rules” campaign.

The rise of these groups in Australian politics opens a Pandora’s Box on just who can influence elections without even standing a single candidate – an issue that’s becoming part of politics now in many Western democracies. As many in politics would know, where there is money, there is power, and where there is power, there are those who are seeking to influence it.The Conversation

Andrew Hughes, Lecturer, Research School of Management, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Government advertising may be legal, but it’s corrupting our electoral process


Joo-Cheong Tham, University of Melbourne

The Coalition government’s use of taxpayer money for political advertising – as much as A$136 million since January, according to Labor figures – is far from an aberration in Australia. It is part of a sordid history in which public resources have routinely been abused for electoral advantage.

For example, the Coalition governments of Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull spent at least A$84.5 million on four major advertising campaigns to promote their policies and initiatives with voters. The ALP governments of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard spent A$20 million on advertising to promote the Gonski school funding changes and another A$70 million on a carbon tax campaign. Going further back, the Coalition government under John Howard spent A$100 million on its WorkChoices and GST campaigns.




Read more:
The difference between government advertising and political advertising


This is also a history in which hypocrisy is not hard to find.

When in opposition, Rudd condemned partisan government advertising as “a cancer on our democracy”. His government, however, exempted its A$38 million ad campaign on the mining super profits tax from the government guidelines put in place two years earlier.

In 2010, while an opposition MP, Scott Morrison decried such spending as “outrageous”. In 2019, his government may be presiding over the most expensive pre-election government advertising blitz in recent history.

Few restrictions on government advertising

All of this is perfectly legal.

The High Court in Combet v Commonwealth made clear that legislation authorising government spending (appropriation statutes) imposes virtually no legal control over spending for government advertising, because of its broad wording.

In the absence of effective statutory regulations, there are government guidelines that prohibit overtly partisan advertising with government funds, such as “negative” ads and advertising that mentions party slogans and names of political parties, candidates, ministers and parliamentarians.

These guidelines nevertheless provide ample room for promotion of government policies under the guise of information campaigns – what Justice Michael McHugh in Combet described as “feelgood” advertisements. They permit advertising campaigns such as the Coalition government’s “Building a better tax system for hardworking Australians” (which essentially promotes the government’s tax cuts) and “Small business, big future” (which burnishes its “small business” credentials).

The government advertising campaign spruiking its tax reform measures.

Crucially, the guidelines fail to address the proximity of such taxpayer-funded advertising campaigns to federal elections. They fail to recognise what is obvious – the closer we get to the elections, the stronger the governing party’s impulse to seek re-election, the greater the likelihood that “information” campaigns become the vehicle for reinforcing positive images of the incumbent party.

This risk is clearly recognised by the caretaker conventions, which mandate that once the “caretaker” period begins with the dissolution of the House of Representatives:

…campaigns that highlight the role of particular Ministers or address issues that are a matter of contention between the parties are normally discontinued, to avoid the use of Commonwealth resources in a manner to advantage a particular party

The conventions further state:

Agencies should avoid active distribution of material during the caretaker period if it promotes Government policies or emphasises the achievements of the Government or a Minister

The problem with these conventions, however, is that they kick in too late. By the time the House of Representatives is dissolved prior to an election, the major parties’ campaigns have usually been in high gear for months.




Read more:
Eight ways to clean up money in Australian politics


A form of institutional corruption

A pseudo-notion of fairness tends to operate in the minds of incumbent political parties when it comes to taxpayer-funded advertising.

When she was prime minister, Gillard defended her use of government advertising by pointing that the Howard government had spent more. And now, the Morrison government has sought to deflect criticisms of its current campaign by drawing attention to ALP’s use of government advertising when it was last in power.

Our children are taught to be better than this – two wrongs do not make a right.

Indeed, government advertising for electioneering is a form of corruption. Corruption can be understood as the use of power for improper gain. It includes individual corruption where the improper gain is personal (for instance, bribery) but also what philosopher, Dennis Thompson, has described as institutional corruption, where the use of power results in a political gain.

Government advertising to reinforce positive impressions of the incumbent party is a form of institutional corruption – it is the use of public funds for the illegitimate purpose of electioneering. Its illegitimacy stems from the fact that it undermines the democratic ideal of fair elections by providing the incumbent party with an undue advantage.




Read more:
Election explainer: what are the rules governing political advertising?


It is an instance of what the High Court in McCloy v NSW considered “war-chest” corruption – a form of corruption that arises when “the power of money … pose(s) a threat to the electoral process itself”.

A longer government advertising ban?

I propose a ban on federal government advertising in the period leading up to federal elections.

Such bans are already in place in NSW, which prohibits government advertising during roughly two months before state elections, and the ACT, which bans government advertising 37 days before territory elections. To take into account the longer campaign period at the federal level, a federal ban should operate for at least three months before each federal election.

The absence of fixed terms in the federal parliament is not a barrier to adopting such a ban. With an average of two and a half years between federal elections, a three-month ban of sorts could take effect from two years and three months after the previous election until polling day of the next election.

By dealing with government advertising for electioneering, this ban will improve the integrity of federal elections.The Conversation

Joo-Cheong Tham, Professor, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Church in China to Risk Worshipping in Park


Evicted from one site and denied others, unregistered congregation resorts to open air.

LOS ANGELES, April 7 (CDN) — One of the largest unregistered Protestant churches in Beijing plans to risk arrest by worshipping in the open air this Sunday (April 10) after eviction from the restaurant where they have met for the past year.

The owner of the Old Story Club restaurant issued repeated requests for the Shouwang Church to find another worship venue, and authorities have pressured other prospective landlords to close their facilities to the 1,000-member congregation, sources said. Unwilling to subject themselves to the controls and restrictions of the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the congregation has held three services each Sunday in the restaurant for more than a year.

Church members have said they are not opposed to the government and are not politically active, but they fear authorities could find their open-air worship threatening.

“Normal” (state-sanctioned) religious assembly outdoors is legal in China, and even unregistered church activity is usually tolerated if no more than 50 people gather, especially if the people are related and can cite the gathering as a family get-together, said a source in China who requested anonymity. Although the congregation technically risks arrest as an unregistered church, the primary danger is being viewed as politically active, the source said.

“For a larger group of Christians to meet in any ‘unregistered’ location led by an ‘unregistered’ leader is illegal,” he said. “The sensitivity of meeting in a park is not being illegal, but being so highly visible. Being ‘visible’ ends up giving an impression of being a political ‘protest.’”

The congregation believes China’s Department of Religious Affairs has overstepped its jurisdiction in issuing regulations limiting unregistered church activity, according to a statement church leaders issued this week.

“Out of respect for both the Chinese Constitution [whose Article 36 stipulates freedom of worship] and Christian conscience, we cannot actively endorse and submit to the regulations which bid us to cease all Sunday worship activities outside of [the] ‘Three-Self Patriotic Movement’ – the only state-sanctioned church,” according to the statement. “Of course, we still must follow the teachings of the Bible, which is for everyone to submit to and respect the governing authorities. We are willing to submit to the regulations with passivity and all the while shoulder all the consequences which . . . continuing to worship outside of what is sanctioned by these regulations will bring us.”

The church decided to resort to open-air worship after a prospective landlord backed out of a contractual agreement to allow the congregation to meet at the Xihua Business Hotel, the church said in its statement.

“They had signed another rental contract with another property facility and announced during the March 22 service that they were to move in two weeks,” the source said. “In spite of the fact that they had signed a formal contract, the new landlord suddenly called them on March 22 and refused to let them use the facility.”

The landlord offered various excuses for reneging on the contract, according to church leaders, and that disappointment came after 15 months of trying to obtain the key to another property the church had purchased.

“The space in Daheng New Epoch Technology building, which the church had spent over 27.5 million RMB [US$4.2 million] to purchase, has failed to hand the key over to the church for the past year and three months because of government intervention,” the church said in its statement. “For the past year, our church has not had a settled meeting place.”

Beginning as a house church in 1993, the Shouwang Church has been evicted from several rented locations. It also met outside after its last displacement in 2009. The congregation does not believe its calling is to split up into smaller units.

“For the past several years the church has been given a vision from God to be ‘the city on a hill,’” the source said. “Especially since 2009, when they officially began the church building purchase, they have been trying to become a more officially established status. At this point, they feel that they have not completed the journey in obedience to God.”

The number of Protestant house church Christians is estimated at between 45 and 60 million, according to Yu Jianrong, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Rural Development Institute. Yu and others have concluded that house churches are a positive influence on society, but the government is wary of such influence.

Yu estimated another 18 to 30 million people attend government-approved churches – potentially putting the number of Christians higher than that of Communist Party members, which number around 74 million.

The government-commissioned study by Yu and associates suggested that officials should seek to integrate house churches and no longer regard them as enemies of the state. The study employed a combination of interviews, field surveys and policy reviews to gather information on house churches in several provinces from October 2007 to November 2008.

Yu’s team found that most house or “family” churches fit into one of three broad categories: traditional house churches, open house churches or urban emerging churches. Traditional house churches were generally smaller, family-based churches, meeting in relative secrecy. Though not a Christian himself, Yu attended some of these meetings and noted that the focus was not on democracy or human rights but rather on spiritual life and community.

The “open” house churches were less secretive and had more members, sometimes advertising their services and holding public gatherings, he found. Urban emerging churches functioned openly but independently of TSPM churches. In some provinces such as Wenzhou, these churches had constructed their own buildings and operated without interference from local officials.

While some house churches actively seek registration with authorities to avoid arrests and harassment, they would like the option of registering outside the government-approved TSPM structure, as they disagree with TSPM beliefs and controls. Many unregistered evangelical Protestant groups refuse to register with TSPM due to theological differences, fear of adverse consequences if they reveal names and addresses of church leaders or members or fear that it will control sermon content.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Belarus: Church fined for activity "not according to its statute"


A registered Protestant congregation in western Belarus has been fined for activity which officials claim was “not according to its statute,” local Protestants told Forum 18 News Service.

The church held a special prayer service in its registered building, which church members insist was within its statute. Trouble for the New Generation Church began when Baranovichi local Ideology Department officials saw posters in the town advertising the service.

One official and two “witnesses” arrived at the church 30 minutes before the service, but left 10 minutes before it began without witnessing it. The official, Sergei Puzikov of the Ideology Department, refused to explain to Forum 18 what activity was outside the church’s statute, as did the Department’s head.

In defiance of international human rights standards, Belarus bans all unregistered religious activity – including both unregistered communities and unregistered activity by registered communities. Religious activity is kept under close surveillance by the KGB secret police, and officials often issue warnings for activity they claim is illegal. Two such warnings can lead to a religious organisation being closed down.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

THIS WEEK’S FUNNY COMMERCIAL BREAK – John West


I thought I’d lighten up a little from time to time and bring you something to laugh at. So for a little bit I thought I might post a commercial or two a week to give you a bit of a laugh.

This week I’m posting a number of commercials advertising John West products. Here they are below:

 

A Current Affair – Hypocrites


Here in Australia we have a TV show known as ‘The Chaser’s War on Everything.’ It is a satirical look at events from an Australian perspective. It can often be quite crude and more than a little bit silly. Still, it is certainly an ‘Australian’ type show.

In a recent episode, one of the boys followed a mobile advertising bill board on the back of a truck while in their own truck having a go at mobile advertising bill boards. In this ‘skit’ they followed the mobile billboard around Sydney.

A couple of days later another Australian show on a rival network, ‘A Current Affair,’ took a pot shot at ‘The Chaser’s War on Everything’ for dangerous driving, stalking, harassing the drivers, etc.

Now interestingly, ‘A Current Affair’ has just run a story on council members on a junket, spending tax payers money to have a junket. In doing the story, the reporter for the show followed council members around for several days, including some while they were driving – now call be a few sandwiches short of a picnic if you like, but isn’t that the same thing that they had a go at ‘The Chaser’s War on Everything?’ Isn’t this known as hypocrisy?

Maybe this particular TV network is jealous of ‘The Chaser’s War on Everything’ because their own show, ‘The Nation,’ is so very, very lame and is failing? Could this be the reason – they have tried to cash in on ‘The Chaser’s War on Everything’ and their success, by doing a bit of ‘similar’ comedy and satire – sadly for them the show stinks and is really quite useless.

Perhaps ‘A Current Affair’ should just concentrate on its own poor performance and return to real news and current affairs, rather than reporting on stories like women who buy three shoes a week, men who wear hats, etc… OK, not quite that useless, but not far off it.