At 9am this morning the Australian Electoral Commission dumped its
annual avalanche of information detailing all donations to
Australia’s registered political parties. Every party, every division, all at the same time and all hopelessly dated.

The thousands of figures released today relate to the 2004-05 financial
year. What other institution in Australia gets to wait eight months
after the end of the financial year to release key financial
information?

Unfortunately, the figures only relate to revenue, because the
respective balance sheets of our most important political institutions
remain hidden from public view. Contrast that with the way our 1600 listed
companies must reveal all sorts of information within three months of
the year’s end.


Therefore, almost 15 months after the last Federal election, we have
today finally been told who bankrolled the whole thing, provided you
can understand the hopelessly cumbersome way the figures are presented
and the various tricks used to hide the truth from the public.

As usual, taxpayers were the biggest contributors, as the Federal ALP
got $16.78 million from the public purse and the Liberal Party pocketed
$17.95 million. This constituted more than half of their total receipts,
which both hit a record high of almost $30 million. As usual, the union
movement contributed many millions to Labor, but not as much as
companies gave to both parties.

Campaign finance is the greatest single source of political scandal
globally, yet in Australia it has never received the attention it
deserves, partly because of the way the figures are released.

Take Macquarie Bank, for example, which appears to have given more
than $500,000 including a headline $90,000 for the Federal ALP and
$75,000 for Federal Liberal.

Different arms of Macquarie are listed 14 times as having contributed
$125,000 to the NSW ALP alone, yet only three of these and $8,500 are
“donations”, the rest being “other receipts”.

How do we know if the “other receipts” are just ALP funds on deposit
with Macquarie or the proceeds of a BMW donated by the Millionaire
Factory at an ALP fundraiser. We don’t, there is no differentiation.

Clearly the $9,073 in “other receipts” that the Australian Tax Office
contributed to the NSW ALP was not some sort of contribution in kind,
but how on earth do we work out all the others? Unlike other years, the
vast majority of contributions to the Labor states are now listed as
“other receipts”, muddying the water more than ever.

Rather than improving and reforming the system, John Howard is about to
make it worse. The PM personally contributed $6,000 to the NSW Liberals
in 2004-05, yet his new laws will lift the disclosure threshhold from
$2,000 to $10,000 so his donation would remain hidden from public view under
the new rules.

What we actually need is the rolling release of campaign finance
figures on a quarterly basis and then a major summary within a couple
of months of each state or federal election.

At the moment, Saddam Hussein could donate $5 million to the Victorian
ALP on July 1 this year and the public wouldn’t be told until February
1 2008, some 20 months later and 14 months after the funds would have
helped re-elect the Bracks government at the November 25 poll this year.

Maybe the scandalous way that AWB Ltd secretly donated $300 million to
Saddam’s regime will make our politicians take a look at our own system
of disclosure and accountability for campaign finance.

Check out the AEC website for
yourself and good luck in deciphering it. If you have any insights as
to who’s behind some of the private companies or why the cash has been
handed over, drop us a line to [email protected] as we’ll be banging
on about this all week.

Peter Fray

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