The Million Dollar Campaign That Failed to Land A Seat

The controversial No Land Tax Coalition party committed over a million dollars and out spent Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party and the Shooters and Fishers Party by hundreds of thousands of dollars in its ill-fated effort to win a seat in the NSW Legislative Council at the March 2015 election.

Despite declared party and candidate election expenses of $1.063 million, including nearly $645,000 allocated for election day workers, and drawing the coveted first box on the ballot paper, No Land Tax narrowly lost to the Animal Justice Party in the contest for the last remaining seat in the Upper House. The Animal Justice Party spent $4865 on its election campaign.

Had No Land Tax secured the Upper House seat or at least 4% of the primary vote (it got 1.9% of the vote), it would have been able to obtain some public funding for its election expenditure.

(Interestingly, based on its respective vote in the Upper and Lower Houses, even if it had won the Upper House seat and been eligible, No Land Tax might have secured “only” $600,000 in public funding towards its million dollar bill; not even meeting the designated cost of the election day workers.)

According to returns lodged with the NSW Electoral Commission, The Shooters and Fishers Party spent just over $785,000 on its election campaign, while the Christian Democratic Party spent $746,000. Each of these parties are well established in the Upper House, and had an MP up for re-election. Each would have been confident of meeting the threshold for public funding, thereby recovering a large part of their election expenditure.

The No Land Tax strategy of engaging thousands of casual workers on the promise of $30 an hour to hand out How-to-Votes at pre-polling venues and for up to 10 hours on election day proved controversial.

In May, the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) reported that it had received almost 1000 requests for assistance in securing payment of outstanding wages and entitlements. It said that up to 3600 workers might be affected.

In August, the FWO announced that it had commenced legal action against the party, and its convenor and lead Legislative Council candidate, Peter Jones, for breaches of the Fair Work Act.

On 17 December, proceedings were adjourned in the Federal Circuit Court for mention in March 2016. The court noted that the parties expected to engage in mediation in February 2016. The FWO had commenced alternative dispute resolution proceedings in the court in September.

[Update: On February 29, the matter was subject to an administrative listing which vacated the mention due in March. Instead, the matter was set down for mediation on 3 May 2016, with a further mention on 16 May.]

[Further Update: On 3 May, according to Federal Court orders, the Court noted that “the Mediation was held and the matter was not resolved at the mediation conference, the mediation is now concluded.” There is no advice online as to what occurred at or arose from the mention on 16 May.]

[Update – 31 May 2016: On 13 May, Federal Circuit Court Judge Tom Altobelli issued consent orders to the effect that FWO is to file and serve affidavits on which it intends to rely by 29 July 2016; the respondents (No Land Tax Campaign Inc. and Peter Jones) are to  file and serve their affidavits by 30 September; and FWO are to serve any reply by 28 October. The matter is next listed for mention on 2 November.]

[Update – 5 December 2016: On 1 August, Judge Altobelli issued new consent orders, which vacated the 13 May orders. The new orders provided that the FWO was to file and serve its affidavits by 19 August; the respondents were to file their reply by 21 October, and the FWO was to file its reply by 18 November. The case was listed for mention again on 2 December.

A three day final hearing is set down to determine the matter over 15-17 May 2017. So 2 years and two months after the state election, the matter reaches hearing stage.]

In returns lodged with the NSW Electoral Commission, No Land Tax reported $860,137 in campaign expenditure, while the second candidate on the ticket, Pasquale (Pat) Carbone separately reported just over $178,000 of expenditure, largely on printing, postage and flyer distribution.

No Land Tax reported funds raised of $196,284, made up of $106,434 in donations and subscriptions and nearly $90,000 in loans in 2014 and 2015, including loans from Jones and Carbone.

One declared donation of $2000 appears to have been made by a property developer, CRO Developments Pty Ltd, in contravention of funding laws which prohibit donations from such sources.

(With respect to prohibited donors, the definition of “property developer” is limited to corporations that regularly submit development applications, and persons closely associated with them.)

Other donations were made by a range of property ownership, real estate and construction interests.

In his separate return, Carbone reported putting $177,000 into his own campaign during March 2015. Another candidate, Agostino (Gus) Macri, reported putting $25,000 into his own campaign, spending it on the printing of flyers. Macri was reported to have had a falling out with Jones in the days before the election.

After employment expenses, No Land Tax’ largest single expense was $67,209 for the development of its website in September 2014. Nearly $21,000 was spent on the development of an election worker database. On the Monday after the election, it spent $8,800 on an election worker call centre.

No Land Tax is no longer listed on the NSW Electoral Commission’s register of political parties. It had featured on the register as recently as 4 July 2015. Parties are required to submit an annual return by June 30 each year to establish their continuing eligibility for registration. Registration as a party to contest state elections requires a membership of at least 750. In their election return, No Land Tax reported that they had 5 members paying $99 subscriptions.

 

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