Campaign finance has been the biggest source of political scandal globally over the years, but for some reason it has never really taken off in Australia as an issue.

One possible explanation is that the corporate media themselves are up to their eyeballs in soft-dollar contributions. This analysis of TV network contributions in the US is quite scary and begs the question: what happens in Australia?

Shareholders in Nine, Seven and Ten have literally made billions out of the new media ownership laws – yet there will be absolutely no disclosure of how much they will charge the major parties for advertising at this year’s federal election.

Then, of course, there is the whole vexed issue of how government-friendly TV network political coverage will be through 2007.

The 2005-06 political donations figures will be released on 1 February and this will be the first time we’ll see John Howard’s watered down disclosure laws in action.

However, it will be something of a halfway house because the laws increasing the disclosure threshold from $1500 to $10,000 were passed on 22 June 2006, but were made retrospective back to 8 December, 2005.

Therefore, we will get some donations figures below $10,000 – but only those made in the first half of the year. Hmmm, why was this done? Could there have been a spate of embarrassing fundraising dinner attendees.

Given we only get donations disclosure once year, why would you apply two sets of rules to the one period.

Global best practice is for quarterly disclosure of donations, rising to weekly during election campaigns. Sadly, Australia now has arguably the weakest disclosure laws in the developed world.

Let’s hope this gets pointed out in the coverage we see in early February because sometimes the big TV networks don’t even bother to report any of the figures.

Peter Fray

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