Isn’t it hilarious how the only defence that any Liberal can come up with to the Howard Government’s substantial weakening of Australia’s campaign disclosure laws is that there are also rorts exploited by the unions-ALP conglomerate and the Greens.

Yesterday’s spray in comments and corrections by Peter Phelps, chief of staff to the last two special ministers of state, is a classic of the genre. It included the following:

At the current time, if you give $5,000 to the Greens, you can only claim back $100 in tax. But if you give $5,000 to some bogus enviro-loony front “charity” which then uses the money on a public campaign to push exactly the same line as the Greens, then the donor can claim the whole lot back on their tax. Indeed, there was one notorious example in Tasmania where a now-quite-prominent Green was arrested. His supporters then hit the solar-powered photocopy machine and started producing flyers which strongly suggested that people should make “tax-deductible donations” to a particular environmental “charity” – which, of course, would then proceed to pay the legal bills of that prominent Green activist.

Peter, I completely agree. You might remember a little Crikey campaign last year calling for Australia to introduce a New Zealand-style “Charities Commission” for greater accountability. I also called for an end to the ridiculous tax and regulation exemptions enjoyed by the not-for-profit sector, which sees the Seventh Day Adventists run a $500 million a year cereals business, Sanitarium, free of tax.

Sadly, Peter Costello took a look at this massively tilted playing field and wimped it, presumably not wanting to upset the all powerful churches, so we still haven’t got any basic regulatory oversight of NGOs in this country.

Another Liberal let fly with a similar spray that included the following:

Stephen Mayne conveniently forgets to mention that the ALP-union oligarchy is the biggest political subsidy rort of all, working off income tax exemption for unions activities and funds collected. Unions provide millions to the ALP at state and Federal levels not counting their free provision of union officials masquerading as ALP officers. You’ll find that the public purse suffers more at the hands of others than the Libs or Nats.

Once again, couldn’t agree more. In fact, it was Crikey that recently claimed the ALP-unions conglomerate was worth more than $500 million. Union dues for workers is a legitimate work-related expense, but to the extent that the funds are pumped into the ALP, they shouldn’t be tax-deducted.

The point of my whinge is that our already heavily subsidised and largely unregulated system of campaign finance disclosure is about to get a whole lot worse and I’m still yet to find anyone who can defend the indefensible. These are the three key questions:

1. Why aren’t political parties required to release timely and full disclosures of their funding sources? Figures that are up to 19 months old and don’t include a balance sheet are totally inadequate when my kinder has to disclose its net assets on a more timely basis.

2. When public funding already delivers an average of almost $20 million a year to our entrenched political duopoly, why are we changing the law to deliver an estimated $22.5 million in extra taxpayer contributions over the next four years by lifting the tax deductibility of donations from $100 to $1500 when things like mandated child support payments for divorced parents are not tax deductible.

3. Given the scandal of Australia slipping a dodgy political regime in the Middle East $280 million on the quiet, why are we substantially weakening out domestic system by lifting the donation disclosure threshold from $1500 to $10,000?

Over to you, Mr Phelps. Whilst toughening corporate governance requirements for the corporate sector, why are you weakening transparency and accountability for our political system? Surely you can do better than that old favourite of “they rort it too”.

Peter Fray

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