Anyone who doubts we face an election campaign arms race ought to take a look at the amounts of money being reported today — more than a year after the event — by our major political parties. The Liberal Party received over $10m in donations, and the ALP more than $8m in 2007-08, nearly all of which would have been in the lead-up the 2007 election. The ALP appears to have been very, very clever in selling access to Kevin Rudd to business. The ALP return shows a lot more donors, and a lot more big donors, than in years past. But the sheer volume of money now being vacuumed up by the Labor and Liberal parties reinforces the case for major reforms of our current political donations framework. No donation below $10,500 will be reported today, and the reversal of the Howard Government’s increase in the reporting threshold is the first critical step to greater accountability.

But the only real cure for the parties’ addiction to donations is to cut the supply off entirely. A ban, or low limit, on donations would be the first step. But the role of third party activities must also be addressed. Nowhere in today’s figures will you see the cost of the union movement’s “Your Rights At Work” campaign, which was a major component in Labor’s victory.

John Faulkner’s Green Paper on electoral funding issues provides the basis for fundamental reform, but it remains to be seen whether the Rudd Government will pursue it. If it doesn’t, the 2010 election will see donations figures far in excess of what we’re seeing today. And with no corresponding increase in democracy-serving transparency.

Peter Fray

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