Peter Phelps, the Howard Government’s
chief defender of Australia’s weak and getting weaker political funding
and disclosure laws, has been noticeably silent since I answered his
challenge and laid out a workable campaign finance model last Friday (item 11) in Crikey.

The
proposal borrowed in part from the best aspects of the UK
system, which has today been demonstrated in the Australian press with reports
about Lynton Crosby’s tidy $1.1 million consultancy for seven months’ work
for the Tories on last year’s British election campaign. The Brits even
have to disclose that Liberal Democrats leader Charles Kennedy spent almost $20,000 on make-up and six suits.

Of
course, our political parties don’t have to publicly release a
breakdown of their spending, something the Brits have to do as part of
the
18 million pound spending limits they also have in place to prevent
elections from being bought.

Sure, it must add to the
administrative burden but less than 12 months after last year’s 5 May
general election, the public has been told who funded the campaign and
how the money was spent. Check out the Labour Party breakdown on media,
advertising, flyers, events, transport and market research across
England, Wales and Scotland here. The Tory equivalent is here.

Compare
that with Australia and our last federal election on 9 October, 2004.
It took almost 16 months before we got the deluge of indecipherable
political donations figures in 2004-05 for the Commonwealth, all states
and territories dumped on the AEC website
at 9am on 1 February, 2006. Sadly, there was no breakdown of loans –
something the Brits have to disclose – and no detail whatsoever on how
all the money was spent.

As we’ve said before, our political
parties don’t even have to make their audited accounts public. The
Brits certainly do. Check out the 2004 annual return for the Liberal
Democrats here.
It shows a detailed breakdown of the 4.09 million pounds of revenue,
the 4 million pounds of expenses and we even get a balance sheet,
showing net assets of 691,705 pounds.

The Labour Party return
shows revenue of 29.3m in 2004 but the party recorded a loss of 2.8m
and its net deficiency blew out to 6.4m. The ALP is certainly in far
better shape, although my estimate that the great unions-ALP
conglomerate has net assets of about $500 million is nothing more than
a guess because there is no disclosure requirement.

By 30 June we’ll have all the audited profit and loss statements and balance
sheets for British political parties as at 31 December 2005 – six
months after the financial year close. Whilst my kinder has to tell the
Bracks government its net assets each year, I’m still yet to hear any
argument, or even an attempted defence, of our political parties not
having to do this.

C’mon Mr Phelps, surely you’re prepared to go
another round on this point. Why doesn’t your current bill introduce
balance sheet disclosure, rather than just shafting young voters by
closing the electoral roll early, increasing political welfare through greater
tax deductibility of donations and reducing accountability by lifting the disclosure
threshold for donations from $1,500 to $10,000?

Peter Fray

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