The emails may be fake but the donations aren’t
“Democracy is not cheap.” That’s what the former NSW President of the Australian Hotels Association John Thorpe had to say about our political system. He was of course referring to the fact that his industry, in the nine years to 2007, had donated a jaw dropping $3.5 million to the NSW Labor Party. And he’s just one of hundreds of big donors out to buy our democracy.
Yesterday the National Audit Office released its report into the ‘Utegate’ debacle. While it found no wrongdoing by our politicians this doesn’t take away from the fact that the scandal left a sour taste in the mouths of many Australians.
When scandals like ‘Utegate’ crop up, we complain about our politicians - and with good reason; the emails may be fake but the donations aren’t.
Over 80 per cent of the amount raised by our major parties in donations comes in amounts over $10,000 with almost half in donations over $100,000 Businesses are of course not going to fork out such large sums of money without an expectation of quid pro quo.
And it has to be the public who demands change. The last time politicians tried to change the system was in 1984. Public funding for political parties was introduced – supposedly to lessen corruption. Since then, unfortunately it has simply supplemented private contributions and has done little to reduce the influence of wealthy and powerful individuals.
This time the Government’s big solution is to reduce the disclosure threshold from around $11,000 back to $1,000, not much lower than where it was a few years ago. But that change alone sidesteps the most important issue.
Transparency is a lovely word – but it’s not the answer. I for one don’t just want to know about undue corporate influence – I want it stopped! Our politicians are supposed to work for us, the Australian public, but their paychecks are being written by big corporates. It doesn’t take a genius to guess whose interests will take priority.
This won’t be an easy problem to fix. In the 1984 election the major parties spent $8.3m altogether. In 1996 they spent $23m. At the 2007 election, estimates put this figure at over $80m. Politicians are addicted to corporate donations to fund their ever-growing electoral war chests.
In reforming our political system we must adhere to three principles. Firstly we must ensure equality of access: all citizens should be able to have their voices heard by Government. Secondly, no company or industry group should be able to have undue influence on the political process. Finally, we must encourage participation in the political system by, for example, supporting small dollar donations by individuals.
To make such a system work we need wholesale reform. We have to treat tickets to party fundraisers (which reach many thousands of dollars) as donations. We have to cap the amount individuals can donate. We have to ensure we don’t allow anonymous donations over $50 and we must extend regulation to third party organisations.
Tim Gartrell, a former senior Labor party insider, yesterday in The Punch suggested that ending corporate donations and only allowing individual people to donate would advantage the Liberal party, which tends to have a higher proportion of wealthy donors. But wholesale reform that includes a cap of $1000 on individual donations would in fact ensure a level playing field, as long as more funding goes to public election financing.
Secondly, Union participation in the Labor Party would still be possible through capitation and affiliation fees. These fees are not donations and wouldn’t fall under an appropriate ban on corporate donations. Under these circumstances surely it is time for our political parties to get on board.
That’s why GetUp today launched a campaign calling for an end to corporate donations.
We have to take democracy off the market.
We have a serious opportunity here. Malcolm Turnbull says he wants all political donations from companies banned. Newly minted ALP President and QLD Premier Anna Bligh has also come out for a ban; and the Greens and Senator Xenophon have been talking about it for some time. With the possibility of bipartisan support, now is the time to disinfect our democracy.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…