The combination of an ethically-strong Kevin Rudd, a governance-obsessed John Faulkner and the Wollongong City Council looks like ensuring the stars are about to align for Australia’s most comprehensive program of campaign finance reform.

Kevin Rudd opened the batting with Kerry O’Brien on three fronts last night :

  • Cutting the disclosure threshhold from $10,000 to $1000
  • banning donations by foreign individuals or companies
  • Capping the amount of individual donations

Faulkner, the NSW left luminary who grew up fighting Graham Richardson’s whatever-it-takes culture in the NSW right, has secured poll position as Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary.

He’s already out there briefing Piers Akerman of all people, who has columnised today on Faulkner’s vision of limiting public funding of candidates and parties to audited expenses.

This would be the Pauline Hanson clause as she has literally made millions from running low-cost campaigns that deliver more than the 4% threshhold to qualify for public funding.

Whilst political welfare is controversial in its own right, Steve Bracks at least ruled out the profit-motive when introducing $1.20 a vote for candidates a few years back. The Feds pay $2.10 – a total of about $40 million at the last election – and there is no requirement to prove up your costs.

Former NSW auditor general Tony Harris opened up another important front in The AFR this morning when he railed against the blatant corruption that comes from paying for access to ministers or party officials.
He’s dead right — cash for access should be banned.

Campaign finance reform could be about to get a global boost given that it was the single biggest issue that John McCain ran on against George W Bush in the 2000 Republican primaries. Rudd seems to be a believer and has the personal authority to over-rule the cyncial machine and bag men in the ALP – although the role of former NSW general secretary Mark Arbib as one of his king makers and close advisers does cause some concern.

Then again, Arbib will just be one vote in the Senate from June 30 and Wollongong has presented Faulkner with a once in a lifetime opportunity to tackle corruption in the NSW Right.

However, Rudd’s check list for serious reform needs to get a whole lot longer and include the following:

  • Caps on spending limits for parties and candidates similar to the UK system
  • Publically released breakdowns of campaign spending as required in the UK
  • Limiting donations to individual registered votes, as Malcolm Turnbull has been advocating
  • Forcing political parties to reveal their balance sheets, such as the $1 billion plus of
    net assets controlled by the ALP and its affiliated unions
  • Making all these disclosures on a more timely basis, rather than annually on February 1, a whopping 7 months after the end of the financial year

The Latham Diaries are well worth another read now that Labor is in power and the former leader makes the point that the union gerrymander over the ALP wouldn’t stack up if public funding was conditional on political parties practicing democratic principles.

If Rudd can use campaign finance reform to enforce once vote one value principles on his own party, then he really will go down as a serious change agent and political reformer.

Go here for today’s discussion with Deborah Cameron on ABC Sydney about some corporate issues and political donations.