The Liberal Party should hand back the
$20,000 it received from Telstra after chairman Donald McGauchie and
CEO Sol Trujillo attended the $10,000-a-head fundraising dinner at the
Myer family mansion in Toorak last week.

Telstra is clearly
controlled by the Federal Government with 51.8% and should therefore
should not be making such donations to the Liberal Party. We keep
reading that doors are slammed in Telstra’s face in Canberra, yet what
sort of system allows doors to open when the wheels are greased with a
$20,000 donation.

We’ve got a strong precedent for this argument. Look at how The AFR covered what Steve Bracks did after we stole the guest list to a Labor fundraiser in December 1999:

The political row over the Victorian Labor Party’s $1,000 a head fund
raising dinner has escalated with confirmation that public money was
used to buy some tickets. The Premier, Mr Steve Bracks, initially told
State Parliament on Tuesday afternoon that the dinner had been a
“private occasion paid for privately”.

But in a personal
explanation late on Tuesday evening, Mr Bracks said he had since been
told six of the 850 tickets sold had been bought by a government
trading enterprise, City West Water, and by the Victorian University of
Technology.

He said the $6,000 involved would be repaid and
new guidelines put in place to ensure government-related bodies could
not use public money for any political fund-raising.

Steve Bracks is absolutely right – government-related bodies should not
use public money for any political fund-raising. We emailed normally
feisty Telstra spinner Rod Bruem yesterday seeking confirmation and he
replied as follows:

Yes, the company made a decision that it was appropriate for the
Chairman and CEO, as representatives of Telstra, to attend the event
which was held to honour the achievement of John Howard reaching 10
years as Prime Minister of Australia. I trust you’re chasing all other
companies who attended and not singling out Telstra.

Not quite, Rod. I’m not aware of any other government-controlled
company which handed over $20,000 in such a way and point you to the
precedent set by Steve Bracks in 1999.

While Sol is worth about $50 million and could afford such a dinner,
Donald McGauchie clearly didn’t want to donate almost 5% of his
chairman’s fee to the political party that rewarded him with the board
seat in 1998, just to protect his unpopular CEO at a dinner full of
antagonistic federal ministers.

Peter Fray

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