Wednesday, 10 September 2008

The politics of giving

BIG promises about controlling political donations in NSW are yet to bear fruit.

But that doesn't mean the state's major parties have been idle. The most recent publication by the Electoral Funding Authority of donations to political candidates suggests the parties have moved decisively to shield many of their candidates from embarrassing scrutiny.

In many cases, it seems, donations are now being paid directly to the parties' head offices instead of to individual candidates. This does little to address the negative perceptions surrounding these donations, leaving intact the suspicion that large donors hope or expect that their generosity will result in favourable consideration for their commercial interests. Removing the donations from direct association with individual candidates minimises the risk of criticism for the individuals concerned while retaining the monetary advantages for the party.

And while new laws demand that candidates report donations at regular intervals, it is notable that those contesting this month's local government elections won't be required to disclose any details until early next year. [my emphasis]

The Premier, Mr Iemma, has supported a major overhaul of the laws governing political donations, signalling that he may follow the recommendations of an Upper House inquiry that suggested capping donations at $1000 and banning gifts from developers and corporations.

Such a course of action has been loudly backed by developer lobby group, the Urban Task Force, which advocates banning all donations in favour of publicly funding election campaigns. This call inevitably draws attention to the hefty financial support the Labor Party receives from trade unions, challenging lawmakers to outlaw this form of subsidy along with the more controversial developer donations.

The big political parties may hope that channelling most donations through their head office accounts will, by reducing public attention to the issue, enable them to preserve the profitable status quo. It will be a matter for lasting regret if this proves to be the case.

From the Newcastle Herald Editorial 5 September 2008.

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