These days I am not so much congratulated on the Greens’ great work in cleaning up political donations as asked if the party has sold out for taking $1.68 million dollars from one individual, Graeme Wood, founder of Wotif.

Last week in The Power Index, Paul Barry called Greens NSW Senator and democracy spokesperson Lee Rhiannon hypocritical for this apparent change in direction.

However, I know that Lee, having led the Greens NSW’s influential campaign to clean up political donations for nearly a decade, has queried the value of accepting this donation .

For some in the Greens, the $1.68 million donation meant success at the 2010 federal election, but I wonder if it was worth it considering the ongoing criticism the party is now receiving. This is a dilemma for the Australian Greens as under the current system our party is penalised as we cannot compete with Labor and the Coalition parties in the all-important area of election campaign advertising.

Rather than accept million-dollar donations we could use fund-raising as an organising tool and work to mobilise many smaller donations. That would be more sustainable in terms of ongoing fund-raising and have the added benefit of involving members and supporters.

None of this $1.68 million was spent on Lee’s campaign to win a NSW Senate spot. While we did not have a huge budget for advertising in the NSW Greens campaign, we have received extensive media coverage for our consistent and principled work in this area.

The Greens are a confederation of eight state and territory parties. In NSW, our policy, which we stick to, is to take no money from corporations or other organisations and limit donations from non-members to $10,000. I know many members and supporters are disturbed about accepting this cheque.

We need to closely consider what taking this big donation says about the Greens, especially considering part of the success of the Greens is that we are seen as different from Labor and the Coalition parties.

The closest donation to the Greens $1.68 million was $959,000 to the National and Liberal parties from mining boss Clive Palmer.

The Australian public are deeply troubled by the impact of political donations. The perception is strong that those who donate gain influence above and beyond the average person.

Now it appears the Greens are in the same league as the old parties.

Having worked on electoral funding reform for a decade, as director of the the Greens NSW Democracy4sale project, this new situation concerns me.

The Graeme Wood donation is now on the books, but in NSW we will continue to campaign hard to reform electoral funding laws so corporate donations are wiped from the political landscape.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey