The Federal Government will this week introduce its amendment to the Commonwealth Electoral Act to increase the disclosure threshold for political donations from $1,500 to $10,000, which will be indexed.

While the Parliament is considering the changes, here are two no-brainer amendments that should also be made:

  1. The timetable for disclosure of donations in a financial year should be brought forward from February of the following year to November at the very latest. After all, state and federal governments require listed companies and the like to produce annual reports by 30 October. Why on earth should politicians be given seven months to produce a list of donations? Rob Gerard could have donated $5 million in cash to the Liberal Party on 1 July this year and it won’t be disclosed until February 2007 – a delay of 19 months.
  2. Just like listed companies, political parties should be required to publicly release a consolidated balance sheet, which brings together all the state and federal branches. At the moment we only get lists of receipts and outgoings from each state branch or the federal division. The AFR revealed earlier this year that the Queensland ALP has a $100 million asset pile, which is believed to be the largest stash of any political organisation in the country. A consolidated ALP balance sheet, especially if you included affiliated unions, would probably show net assets of more than $500 million. These are big bucks for big organisations with big responsibilities, yet the public is told nothing of the detail.

It’s a real shame that Australia has woefully inadequate disclosure requirements for political parties, yet the Howard Government is actually going backwards by allowing all donations under $10,000 to remain a secret.

Secrecy breeds corruption and this will surely increase the incidence of the old developer donation syndrome where a cheque for $9,999 will deliver planning approval for some property spiv. A sad day indeed.

Peter Fray

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