BENDIGO voters will have a slimmer spread of candidates from Monday, and the major parties have been criticised for contributing to a difficult climate for raising campaign funds.
But Australian Greens Leader Richard Di Natale yesterday rejected claims Labor’s election donation reforms have crippled the ability of smaller parties to raise money.
If a political party was depending on large donations from a limited number of donors, it was a sign of “an unhealthy party structure”, he said.
Speaking to the Bendigo Weekly ahead of last night’s forum at the Bridge Hotel, Dr Di Natale said the Greens attracted small amounts from lots of donors, as well as volunteer hours in campaigns that were “people powered”.
Early voting opens on Monday, but the seat of Bendigo West has attracted only two thirds of the candidates it did in 2014, and at least two parties appeared to have foregone running candidates in either seat.
Rise Up Australia was unable to confirm by deadline any candidates.
The Australian Country Party also ran candidates in both electorates in 2014 but chairman Robert Danieli said the Victorian election reforms put donors off donating to its campaign, causing the party to stand in seven of the eight Upper House seats, but in only two lower house electorates, neither in central Victoria.
Mr Danieli said the $1000 limit over which donors must disclose, as well as $4000 limit per donor, had dampened fundraising.
“You can’t run much of a campaign on $4000,” he said.
The $4000 limit comes into force after the November 24 election, but Liberal Bendigo East candidate Ian Ellis said it was likely potential donors could lump all reforms in with the current poll.
He said political leadership changes in Canberra had contributed to what had been a campaign characterised by restrained donations.
“After what has been happening federally, the feedback I am getting is that people don’t want to have anything to do with politics,” Mr Ellis said.
He said businesses were reluctant to show any allegiance at the risk of missing out on business after the election, even if there was no evidence to support the perception.
The one minor party which has put a candidate in a Bendigo electorate, the Democratic Labour Party, agreed with the Greens that large donors had no place funding election campaigns.
DLP secretary Steve Campbell said his party, if successful, would seek to amend the reforms and reduce the costs paid to elected MPs.
From $1.65 for every first preference vote, the new legislation awards parties $6 per lower house vote and $3 per upper house vote.
Mr Campbell agreed with Mr Danieli that the increased funding would cripple smaller parties.
Introducing the changes earlier this year, the government said they were about increasing transparency.
The opposition opposed the changes because they will increase the cost to taxpayers.
Nominations for party candidates closed yesterday and independents today, and the ballot draw will get under way at 1pm to determine places on ballot papers. .
Late yesterday, six candidates including Labor’s Jacinta Allan, Mr Ellis, Nationals’ Gaelle Broad, Greens’ Nakita Thomson, DLP’s Helen Leach and independent Michael Belardinelli were running in Bendigo East.
Labor incumbent Maree Edwards, Liberal Kevin Finn, Greens’ Laurie Whelan and Animal Justice Party candidate Marilyn Nuske will run in Bendigo West.
– Sharon Kemp