“To get a clearer idea of what’s happening on the reform agenda, it’s best to follow the money,” Hugo Kelly wrote in yesterday’s Crikey Daily. “A key to his agenda is the plan to lift the threshold for undeclared political donations. And what will this do? For a start, it will help mask the identity of most of the parties’ political donors.”

Well it might – but that’s not a reform agenda. The Liberals have been absolutely consistent on this point. Since 1984 they have supported a disclosure threshold of $10,000. Why?

Labor introduced the current disclosure threshold back in 1984 to favour themselves. If a company gives a disclosable figure to the Liberals, chances are they will be hit up for a corresponding donation to the ALP. If they don’t pay up, then the unions pull a sudden and unexpected work stoppage on OH&S grounds – or something like that. The companies learn very quickly to either pay up to Labor as well, or donate to neither side.

Small donations – and the current thresholds aren’t much – are an administrative burden to donors, parties and the Australian Electoral Commission. Not only do the parties have to retain details of these small amounts, but donors have to submit returns and the AEC has to audit them both.

Administrative burdens are fine for big unions and big business, but for individuals and small businesses they are a nuisance – so if you make donating messy enough, these people may well simply choose not to donate.

Guess who’s fessed up to this? None other than that pillar of integrity in Graham Richardson. In Whatever It Takes he makes it clear. These laws were brought in for one reason and one alone – to screw the Libs.

And how much does Labor want to screw the Liberals? Well, Labor now wants every donation declared. Every. Including the one dollar raffle ticket Betty Branchmember bought. Labor wants parties to keep a record of that and donor returns to be lodged.

This is what Labor’s public accountability spokesman Kelvin Thompson said back in July:“Instead of the $1500 limit, which is presently there, we think that political donations from all sources should be disclosed.” That’s just administrative lunacy.

Oddly enough, such a move might hit the minor parties, the Greens and the Democrats, worst of all. They get most of their funds from small donations. The only party it doesn’t disadvantage is the ALP, which gets the bulk of its funding from big donations from the union movement.

So what’s the biggest threat to the integrity of our political system – $2,000 from Joe Shopkeeper or $200,000 from Joe de Bruin?

The vast majority of the donations to the ALP and the Liberals in 2003-04 were in amounts of $10,000 or more. If there are claims of influence peddling be made, its not going to come in small donations from people supporting their favoured party. Real crooks will stick to the old brown paper bag in the car park.

Peter Fray

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