I’m happy to take up Stephen Mayne’s challenge on political funding. Let’s today deal with his first question:

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.

Because the Commonwealth parliament in the early 1990s decided that that is the appropriate timeframe for the disclosure requirement to be met. Even today it is not unreasonable to assume that there will be significant delays in the aggregation of income figures in political parties and individual donors, given the highly decentralised nature of our parties and the honorary status of most of the branch office-holder positions. Many (especially small) donors do not even realise that they have disclosure requirements, and the AEC needs to have the Party returns in place before sending out reminder notices.

As it is, the process requires lodgement of figures a few months after the end of the financial year, which are then checked by the AEC, which will then seek compliance from non-compliant donors and/or recipients, and which will then publish the corrected returns in February. That’s not unreasonable – and I like the cute use of the “up to 19 months old”. Would that have anything to do with the fact that the returns cover financial years – so even if there was instant disclosure in July, you could still claim that the donations were “up to 13 months old”?

Stephen seems to think that the AEC is out there to try and “nail” people. It is not. It seeks compliance with the law. Most delays or failures to disclose are errors, not malfeasance. And Stephen, who has worked in politics, should know that if there is a choice between conspiracy and stuff-up…

Stephen Mayne responds:

So, a public company must, by law, produce a detailed profit and loss statement and a complete balance sheet in the annual report by 30 October each year, yet the political parties that make these laws are given an extra three months to produce the very limited and difficult to decipher statements of income and expenditures. Queensland Labor can have a $150 million-plus asset pile and there is no requirement for disclosure to anyone? If the British can manage quarterly campaign finance disclosure, rising to weekly during elections, why can’t we? I rest my case.

Peter Fray

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