Caught in a pincer between the unpopularity of his government’s plans to sell parts of the NSW power industry and toxic seepage from the Wollongong City Council corruption inquiry, Premier Morris Iemma launched a circuit-breaking offensive.

Two weeks ago he announced a $12.5 billion Metro line between the city and north-west Sydney which has been endorsed by 2UE traffic reporter Vic Lorusso and a Sydney Morning Herald editorial writer, and then he declared a plan to ban political donations and replace them with public funding of elections.

“My view is the time has come for us to now seriously consider moving away from donations and having a fully public-funded system,” he said.

“It’s now got to the point the mere fact of giving a donation creates the perception that something has been done wrong.”

But we’ve all been here before. On April 15, 1981, then premier Neville Wran introduced his Election Funding Bill into parliament telling MPs:

“This is an extremely important piece of legislation. It removes the risk of parties selling political favours and declares to the world that the great political parties of NSW are not up for sale. It is a measure for a better democracy, a clean democracy.”

When Wran’s legislation came into force, parties received taxpayer-funded support at the rate of 22 cents per vote, the equivalent of the price of a postage stamp. Since then, the rising Consumer Price Index (CPI) has sent the state funding contribution to almost $1 a vote.

And from a couple of million dollars’ state hand-out 25 years ago, the funding to the major political parties reached a record $15 million at the March 2007 election when half the ALP’s total election expenses were paid from the public purse and the other half came from corporate and trade union donations. The Liberals and Nationals campaigned on a similar funding basis.

Wouldn’t you think that is sufficient for the politicians to pay for their election expenses? No, they want more. From us, the taxpayers.

Implicit in Iemma’s plan to ban political donations is this message to the electorate: “You don’t like political donations; they create an unfortunate perception that donations can buy favors. Ok, we’ll ban them but only if you increase the amount of public funding to take up the slack.”

NSW Labor well knows that the developers, the pubs, clubs, unions and business boardrooms have become extremely leery of making donations and the money is starting to dry up.

So they’ve switched tactic: now they want taxpayers to give them more public funding to pay for them to get re-elected without having to pass the hat around their cronies. What a wonderful system – it’s like something out of George Orwell (Animal Farm/1984) or Joseph Heller (Catch 22).

The device for delivering this new system of fully funded elections is the Legislative Council Select Committee of Electoral and Political Party Funding which meets today (Monday) in Macquarie Street.

Chaired by Christian Democrat leader Fred Nile, one of the ALP’s most trusted political allies, it can be guaranteed to urge an expanded role for the Election Funding Authority to cover the full cost of state elections.

And will the rorts then go away? Of course not!