Dr Peter Phelps, chief of staff to Special Minister of State Eric Abetz, writes:
Stephen Mayne’s complaints about raising the political disclosure threshold to $10,000 misses the core issue. The Liberals have been absolutely consistent on this point. Since 1984 we have supported a disclosure threshold of $10,000. Why?
1. The current disclosure threshold was deliberately introduced by Labor to favour themselves. Graham Richardson in Whatever It Takes said that the electoral laws were changed in 1984 with this view in mind: “I concentrated on making more certain that Labor could embrace power as a right and make the task of anyone trying to take it from us as difficult as we could.” Moreover, with the changes in place it was “a certainty that Labor would be the big winner”. How does it work? 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…” The companies learn very quickly to either pay up to Labor as well, or donate to neither side.
2. Piddling figures are an administrative burden to donors, parties and the AEC. 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 hassle – and if you make donating messy enough, the latter will simply choose not to donate in the first place.
3. These laws were brought in for one reason alone, and it is made clear in Richo’s book: they were brought in to screw the Liberals. No merit, no honour, no rationale – just to screw the Liberals.
But you have to ask yourself this: is the greater threat to our political system the $2,000 from Joe Shopkeeper, or $200,000 from Joe de Bruin?
The fact is 88% of all the donations to the ALP and Liberal Party in 2003-04 aggregated to amounts of $10,000 or more. If there are claims of influence pedalling to be made, they are not going to be made by people who are simply throwing a bit of small change at their favoured party.
Real crooks are not going to declare it to the Electoral Commission anyway – they’ll do it through the old brown paper bag in a car park.
Labor’s real fear is that they won’t know which companies to extort money from any more.