Stephen Mayne wants the following question (13/4, item 8) answered and I’m more than happy to oblige:

Given the scandal of Australia slipping a dodgy political regime in the Middle East $280 million on the quiet, why are we substantially weakening our domestic system by lifting the donation disclosure threshold from $1,500 to $10,000?

I’m not sure that I fully understand the import of this “argument by non sequitur”: “AWB was naughty, so let’s not increase the disclosure threshold”. What school of logic does that come from?

In answer to the second half of the question, the most obvious reason is that it has been Liberal Party policy since 1984 to have a disclosure threshold of $10,000. And we are elected to give effect to our policies, aren’t we Stephen? But if you want raw figures, then ponder this: even under the new regime, 85% of the dollar value of all donations will be disclosed.

Now Labor is going around screaming “Oh, but you won’t see as many people named on the lists”. Perhaps not. But who is the greater corruption threat: Joe Shopkeeper who gives $1,500 or Joe de Tradeunionleader who hands over $150,000? I notice that Crikey has advertising on its website. Does this advertising money influence your editorial content? I mean, are you seriously saying that you think that $1,500 can buy you a policy?

And if not, then what is the public benefit in dragging people’s names into the public domain where, especially in the case of small business owners, they can be subject to extortions or vendettas from Labor? Indeed, one could envisage a situation where net political donations in Australia actually decrease because businesses and individuals are no longer intimidated into donating to both (or several) parties – just the one they actually want to support.

Stephen Mayne replies:

AWB is one of the world’s worst examples of secret funding of a political party. Usually, when an extraordinary scandal breaks, a government will move to tighten up the system. Remember how the Tampa triggered the Pacific Solution, US corporate scandals gave us the Sarbanes-Oxley act and Martin Bryant brought about the gun buyback. Well, in this case we’re going the other way and weakening the system of campaign finance disclosure, allowing more of it to remain secret.

As for Liberal Party policy in 1984, can anyone remember the broader corporate governance environment back then? The corporate plod had a budget of just $6 million and our politicians certainly hadn’t required a detailed breakdown of payments to the ten highest paid executives in each company. So while everyone else faces much tougher disclosure requirements, the Liberal Party is winding back the clock 22 years. Why not go back to the 1970s when there were no disclosure laws and dodgy crooks like Larry Adler had lunch with Treasurer John Howard, who then miraculously decided to overturn the recommendation of regulators to withdraw FAI’s insurance licence. Did Larry make a secret donation? We’ll never know but it looks very suspicious.

Phelps also fails to address the issue of someone donating $9,999 to each of the various different state divisions. The regulation should be consolidated nationally. And he’s right that $1,500 is neither here nor there, but this is all about donating $10,000 – just the sort of secret sum that would buy Joe Developer planning approval from some crooked government.

Peter Fray

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