Posts Tagged ‘election’

  • Vote 1 for print – Print21 Magazine feature

    It’s election time again, which is good news for printers. In the immediate aftermath, there’s a good chance that investment plans and consumer spending which have been on hold in the lead-up to a potential change of government will be activated, boosting demand for print collateral. At the same time, election campaigns are themselves significant generators of print from both politicians and government. Best of all though, it is an opportunity to witness print in all its myriad magnificent forms. Simon Enticknap gets ready to enjoy the spectacle.

    I had my first electioneering door knock back in July, well before anybody knew officially when the federal election was due to be held. At the same time, I received my first piece of election print – a four-page A5 brochure very nicely printed on uncoated stock by Canprint – in what will no doubt prove to be a steady stream of mail-outs and letter drops right up until polling day. And I don’t even live in a marginal electorate.

    There’s been a lot written about the new dynamics of electioneering using social media tools to engage with voters via cyberspace. No doubt this campaign will see social media used in ways which are new to Australian politics, following the trend set by recent US presidential elections. For many candidates though, when it comes to communicating with the electorate, print still delivers. Nothing quite beats physically putting your message in the hands of the people whose support you are seeking.

    Equally, there’s nothing quite like an election for highlighting the versatility and effectiveness of print as a communications media. There are the mail-outs – letters, brochures, pamphlets and pre-poll info – stickers, banners, badges, those ubiquitous corflute placards attached to every power pole in sight, not forgetting the millions of how-to-vote cards printed by each political party and then promptly discarded or recycled within seconds of being handed over.

    And that’s just the printing done by the contestants. There’s also the vast printing operation undertaken by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to print the millions of green and white ballot papers – totalling 43 million at the last election – as well as the ballot boxes (50,000) and polling booths (150,000), the polling officials’ manuals, the scrutineers handbooks and so on. Approximately 8 million households also receive the AEC official guide to the election in what is one of the biggest print and mail-out campaigns in the country.

    All in all, the federal election is a huge printing and distribution operation that will pump millions of dollars into the local print industry – and if you miss out, you may have to wait another three years for the next one.

    Printing pollies

    Politicians love to print – especially when they are using taxpayers money to pay for it. Traditionally, sitting MPs and Senators are granted an annual allowance towards the cost of printing and distribution of information for “parliamentary or electorate purposes”. Spread across the 150 seats of the House of Representatives plus 76 Senators in the upper chamber, the allowance represents an unofficial industry assistance package, especially useful in regional parts of Australia.

    Under the previous Howard government, the allowance was increased to $150,000 per annum for lower house MPS ($30,000 for Senators) with the additional proviso that up to 45 per cent of this amount could be rolled over into the following year, enabling members to build-up a very handy war-chest come election time. The annual postage or communications allowance was also increased to $45,000 and any unused portion could also be rolled over to the following year.

    Inevitably, this led to accusations of rorting and misuse of the allowance system for party political purposes. Critics argued that it gave sitting MPs an unfair advantage over other candidates, enabling them to bombard voters with campaign material during an election. There were also allegations of misuse. As part of a federal police probe (which earned the predictable moniker of ‘Printgate’), three Queensland Liberal MPs were investigated and their offices searched for evidence of misuse of entitlements, although the three were subsequently cleared of any wrong-doing.

    From a print perspective though, it was not a good look and helped to reinforce the view that the allowance was an unnecessary extravagance. Nobody wants to pay for print they don’t need, least of all taxpayers.

    When Kevin Rudd first became PM, he quickly followed through on a pre-election promise to cut the printing allowance to $100,000. Then in 2009, in the wake of a damming Auditor-General’s report which found that nearly 75 per cent of printed material was in breach of Parliamentary guidelines, the allowance was slashed to a miserly $75,000. The move earned Rudd the ire of his own backbenchers and he was forced to stare down a revolt from within the ranks. A few moths later he was gone, ousted by the same caucus members.

    The moral is: don’t mess with a pollie’s print.

    A bigger pie

    So does the limit of $75,000 still apply? Well, yes and no. According to the Department of Finance and Deregulation, the current parliamentary printing and communications entitlements for MPs include:

    • Cost of commercial services for printing and production of e-material (including design, artwork, photography and translation) for parliamentary or electorate purposes, distribution of printed and e-material, and the establishment and maintenance of websites to the value of the standard rate of postage ($0.60) multiplied by the number of enrolled voters in the Member’s electorate plus $75,000 per year.

    The 60 cents per voter is supposed to cover the cost of a mail-out to each voter in an electorate although, with a mass mail-out, the actual costs would be considerably less per letter. The end result though is that MPs can spend significantly more on communications than the lump sum of $75,000 suggests (Senators are still restricted to $40,000).

    So, for example, in the electoral division of Fraser in the ACT which had 133,488 voters enrolled at the end of 2012, the allowance would be over $155,000. The average division of about 94,000 voters works out at an allowance of $131,400 per year, or nearly $20 million of communications business across the country.

    Given that the total allowance also provides for the production and distribution of ‘e-material’ such as websites and email campaigns, this presents an ideal opportunity for printers to demonstrate their multi-channel communication credentials. Instead of just quoting for a print-run of 20,000 DL flyers, why not up-sell them to an integrated media campaign comprising print, online and direct mail? The money is there to be spent, so go and grab some of the action. After all, it’s your taxes at work.

    Move to the right

    The honourable Members of Parliament are not the only political players with a print budget to spend. All the major political parties are also big buyers of print, especially during an election campaign, and once again, it is taxpayers who are paying for it.

    This is because every first preference vote for a party or individual at the forthcoming election is worth $2.49 in election funding (provided the party or person collects more than 4 per cent of the vote in any electorate or State). In the last two elections, between 50-60 per cent of candidates reached the 4 per cent vote threshold which qualified them for funding. For the major parties, this can amount to quite a substantial lump sum. In 2010, for instance, Labor received about $21.2 million in public funding, the Coalition about $23.6 million and the Greens $7.2 million. Even the Australian Sex Party received over $11,000, just a few hundred dollars more than the Shooter and Fishers, which perhaps says something about our national priorities.

    Of course, parties and individuals have their own sources of funding as well, and not all this money gets spent on printing anyway; television advertising takes up biggest chunk of it. Print is still in the mix though and, especially at election time, it is competing for a slice of the political pie. How much gets spent on print at a federal level is hard to determine. While political parties must declare any donations or receipts above the $11,900 threshold, there is no requirement to detail how the money is spent.

    It’s a different story at state level though where the reporting requirements are more demanding. For instance, at the last Queensland state elections in 2012, both the Labor and Lib/Nat parties spent about $7.1 million each on their respective campaigns. Of these amounts, Labor spent about $660,000 on print and distribution while the Lib/Nats spent approximately $760,000 on print alone and another $1 million with Australia Post for postage. It’s a similar story in NSW where during 2010-11, the year of the last state election, the Liberal party out-spent Labor for print and distribution several times over.

    So, with millions of print dollars up for grabs from the major parties at the upcoming federal election, your best bet for a piece of the action would appear to lie with Tony Abbott rather than Kevin Rudd.

    Pressure on print

    Away from the noise and hurly-burly of the campaign trial, perhaps the most significant role for print in the federal election is in the administration of the vote itself – the voter rolls, the polling booths and, of course, the all-important ballot papers.

    The 2010 federal election cost $100 million to stage of which $6.2 million was spent on printing and publications and a further $6.5 million on mailing and freight. Several print companies – the likes of Canprint, Fergies Print & Mail and Computershare – have successfully tendered for print contracts with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) this time around, and it will be their task to ensure that the print element of the election process goes off without a hitch.

    In 2010, over 43 million ballot papers were printed (comprising both green House of Representatives and white Senate ballot papers). This time around, the numbers will probably be about the same, especially now that the proposed referendum on local government has been axed which would have necessitated an additional 20 million ballot papers being printed as well.

    The challenging part of the ballot paper production is in the timing and the fact that the presses can’t start running until all the candidates are known. In a short campaign such as the current one (less than five weeks), there will only be about three weeks in which to get everything done after nominations are finalised. Moreover, a substantial number of ballot papers need to be printed within days so they can be available at early voting centres in Australia and overseas. At the last election, about 850,000 votes were cast either by post or at early voting centres.

    Hands up for an e-vote?

    As with most other print-based activities, there has inevitably been speculation as to whether or not election print will eventually migrate to an online world. Certainly in terms of campaigning, the main parties are devoting more resources to online advertising and social media etc, but what about ‘e-voting’? Will a digital click ever replace millions of printed ballot papers and pencils on string?

    The proliferation of minor parties and independents running for the Senate raises the possibility that the printed ballot paper – already measuring over a metre wide in NSW – has reached its physical limits. As a result, some pundits predict that the shift to e-voting is inevitable, mainly because of the flexibility and ease of voting from any location and the speed and efficiency of tallying the vote. And, besides, some people just don’t like pencils and paper.

    Locally, there have already been some experiments with electronic voting, either in the form of a computer terminal at a polling station where voters can cast their vote electronically or as a ‘remote’ vote via a secure internet connection. Both forms have been trialled to some degree at state and territory level.

    Generally though, there is still significant resistance to the idea of shifting to an online vote. There are concerns about security, obviously, and the possibility of digital votes being lost, corrupted or even hacked. People trust the physicality of the ballot paper, the tangibility of print. And it’s not just the safety of the systems involved which is a concern. Taking part in an election is not simply about the vote; it’s also about participation, the act of turning up in a public place to perform a collective duty. Moving the act of voting from the polling station to the privacy of the home, where people may be more susceptible to pressure from friends and family, changes the character of voting itself.

    As a research paper on e-voting put out by the Parliamentary Library last year commented: “There are some subtle aspects of ‘doing democracy’ for which the rapid-fire concatenations achievable in cyberspace may not be so congenial.”

    Indeed. Enjoy ‘doing democracy’ in September and take time to appreciate the role that print plays in one of the defining rituals of our society.

    I’m a printer and I vote

    So the hopeful candidates for your federal seat have turned up to collect their how-to-vote cards. Here is your opportunity to do a little electioneering on behalf of printers across the nation. After all, as is regularly pointed out, printing is an industry which operates in every electorate across the country; collectively, printers have a voice that should resonate all the way to Canberra.

    So what do you say? Bill Healey, Printing Industries CEO, says this is a good opportunity to remind the prospective pollies of the importance of print in a “multi-channel communications” environment, particularly given the manner in which expenditure committees these days tend to view government print budgets as an easy target for cost-cutting. Presumably if they are there to buy print, this is the ideal moment to remind our representatives that print is in fact a terrific communications tool and offers the best value for our money.

    Having done that, lead them gently to the boardroom, sit them down with a cup of tea and present the following shopping list of printing industry election issues, as suggested by Printing Industries:

    • Fair and transparent government print procurement processes.
    • Australia Post’s bulk mail pricing policies and competition with printers.
    • Access to cost-effective energy sources.
    • Support to ensure the supply of skilled labour, including overseas workers on 457 visas.
    • Taxation reform such as reducing the company tax rate, lifting the GST on books and magazines, and abolishing payroll tax.
    • A reduction in ‘red tape’ and unnecessary regulation impacting on businesses.
    • Support for the industry in its transformation from manufacturing to creative services.
    • A review of the insolvency laws to prevent ‘phoenix’ companies.
    • A workplace relations system with flexibility and appropriate rewards.

    Having made your case, send them on their way with all best wishes for the forthcoming election campaign and let the democratic processes work their magic.