Major parties spend big on social media ads

Labor and the Coalition, backed by big business, mining companies and billionaires, spent millions of dollars on political advertisements to win votes, according to a new report by The Australia Institute (TAI). Despite receiving their lowest percentage vote in decades, the major parties still received 68.5% of first preference votes in the May 21 federal election. 

The report found that the major parties spent $12.5 million on social media ads in the lead-up to the election. Labor spent the most — at least $5 million — and the Liberal party spent about $3 million.

The highest spend by a single candidate’s social media page was for United Australia Party (UAP) senate candidate and billionaire Clive Palmer at $462,500. The UAP spent $11.8 million on Google ads, such as those shown on YouTube — five times more than Labor, the second-highest spender.

The UAP also spent the most on a single ad — $162,500 between May 14 and May 18, or $32,500 per day. The most expensive Coalition ad cost $42,500, while Labor and the Greens’ most expensive ads cost $22,500 and $8,500, respectively.

The most expensive ad by an independent candidate was $6,500 for Monique Ryan, who ousted former Coalition treasurer Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong.

Kooyong was the electorate with the most spending on social media ads: Frydenberg spent $219,400 and Ryan spent $115,100.

Other high spending candidates included new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese ($197,450), former Senator Amanda Stoker ($130,600), former PM Scott Morrison ($94,450) and former Wentworth MP Dave Sharma ($92,000), who was ousted by independent Allegra Spender ($68,000).

In Brisbane, Liberal National Party and Labor candidates spent four times more than winning Greens candidate Stephen Bates, showing the value of the Brisbane Greens’ grassroots campaign strategy.

Parties and candidates ran nearly 27,000 political ads on Facebook and Instagram between March 21 and May 20.

Exit polls conducted by TAI found that 73% of voters saw political ads they “knew to be misleading”, highlighting the need for political advertising laws that mandate telling the truth.

The report did not examine the millions spent by political parties on other media, such as TV and radio, but the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that the UAP spent $31 million on ads between August and February, before the election had officially begun.

Palmer bragged that the UAP’s election campaign would be “the most expensive in history” and claimed he would spend about $100 million. Fortunately, the countless TV and radio ads, as well as yellow billboards dotted across the country, resulted in no lower house seats for the UAP and only one upper house seat in Victoria.

The major parties can afford to spend big bucks on ads because they receive millions in political donations every year. The SMH reported in April that the Coalition received almost $83 million in donations in the 2020–21 financial year, while Labor received $67 million and the Greens nearly $16 million.

According to the Centre for Public Inquiry, more than 25% of political donations came from just 10 donors — big businesses such as ANZ Bank, Meriton and PricewaterhouseCoopers. The biggest donations came from billionaire Anthony Pratt, who donated $1.3 million to the Liberal Party and $10,000 to Labor.

The ability of corporations and the rich to provide significant funding to political parties explains the regressive, warmongering, anti-worker and environmentally-destructive policy consensus between the two main parties of capital.

While there is a strong need for political donations reform, including more transparency and restrictions on donations from certain industries, what we really need is a fundamental restructuring of society that puts people and the planet before profit.

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