Disendorsed Western Australian One Nation candidates face carrying the cost of defeat alone after the electoral commission warned them the party – rather than the candidates – was eligible to claim their public funding for the election.
Even candidates that remained with the party face being left out of pocket, because the WA candidate agreement, seen by Guardian Australia, only guarantees them 75% of their costs or public funding.
The former One Nation candidate for Thornlie, Sandy Baraiolo, told Guardian Australia she was locked in a dispute to get a reimbursement for her $250 candidate fee and $1,500 of election expenses she incurred for campaign materials.
Baraiolo said she was disendorsed on 22 February for refusing to hand over access to her Facebook after social media posts in which she criticised the One Nation preference deal with the Liberals.
On 3 March, one week out from the election in which One Nation recorded a 4.8% lower house primary vote, the WA Electoral Commission wrote to Baraiolo with information on how to appoint herself as her own agent since she had been disendorsed.
But the email warned that appointment “does not mean that you will be able to receive a reimbursement of your nomination fee or submit a claim for public funding directly from the commission, even if you are eligible to claim those funds”.
“The Electoral Act 1907 stipulates that the nomination fee is to be returned to the person who paid it … and that a claim for public funding is lodged by the party agent.”
In WA candidates are eligible for $1.87 in public funds for every vote if they win over 4% of the first preference vote.
With 81.79% of the vote counted and 1,638 votes so far (7.5%), Baraiolo’s count would entitle her to over $3,000. The count will be finalised on 20 March.
Baraiolo said she was concerned the public funding would go to One Nation. “Not if I can help it – I would donate that money [to the electoral commission or a charity] before I would see it go to One Nation,” she said.
Baraiolo said she would ask the electoral commission not to release the funds to One Nation or consider a legal suit in the small claims division to recover the money from the party if it did.
“I’m entitled to the money – they disendorsed me and misrepresented themselves to the candidates.”
Baraiolo claimed the party had promised candidates it would not do preference deals, and a package of campaign material that was never provided.
Gould also nominated dishonesty about the preference deal as his reason for quitting.
Candidates who stayed with the party also stand to lose out. The WA One Nation candidate agreements states that the party will reimburse candidates for “75% of your expenses return, capped at $10,000 or 75% of the maximum reimbursement amount, whichever of the above is lesser”.
The terms of the agreement suggest that candidates that fall below 4% of the vote may not be entitled to reimbursement at all.
Before he was disendorsed on 21 February, Sorensen wrote a critique of the candidate agreement, seen by Guardian Australia, in which he said he was “extremely disappointed, and very concerned” about its terms.
Sorensen labeled it “extremely offensive” that the party would take 25% from his reimbursement.
Federal Greens democracy spokeswoman, Lee Rhiannon, who has been approached by One Nation dissidents concerned about the terms of candidates’ engagement, said the agreement is “very controlling”.
“The agreement sets out a high level of central party control in relation to campaign finances and decisions generally,” she said.
“If One Nation keeps 25% of the WA Electoral Commission funding that a candidate receives to cover their expenses then it appears that the One Nation party makes a profit at the expense of its candidates.
“It suggests that people without lots of cash could not afford to be One Nation candidates.”
Guardian Australia contacted the WA One Nation leader, Colin Tincknell, and its candidate liaison officer, Aidan Nagle, for comment.
In an email to candidates sent on Monday, Nagle put a positive spin on the party’s results, noting it had scored 8.1% of the primary vote and it was “confident” it would win two or three upper house seats.