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Crikey Says

May 1, 2014

Crikey says: NSW must ban political donations

It's Commission of Audit day. Exciting, huh? Crikey meets the authors ahead of the release at 2pm. Plus the cosy conflicts around coal in NSW. Why John Faulkner's retirement shows Labor's learnt nothing (and a "Crikey"-style newsletter won't fix it). Guy Rundle on the racists out of control. Arts companies closing under Campbell Newman. And inside Al Jazeera.

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“Commissioner, this inquiry will expose the systematic subversion of the electoral funding laws of New South Wales … The evidence will expose the conduct of some donors whose sole purpose in donating was to purchase favourable political decisions — at a more disturbing level it will show that there were others who were willing to sell their political preferences.”

So said Geoffrey Watson SC, the lawyer assisting the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, on Monday. It was the start of an explosive week of testimony, which has raised serious charges of Liberal MPs corruptly soliciting and hiding donations, allegedly in exchange for political favours.

This is nothing less than a threat to a workable democracy. The more donations candidates garner, the better their chance of winning. So ICAC has heard that wealthy businesspeople are corruptly and illegally buying seats for their lapdog MPs. Barry’s Grange pales in comparison.

New NSW Premier Mike Baird should be very, very worried. Here’s what he said this week:

“I am on the record as a supporter of public funding of political campaigns, as a mechanism to expunge the corrosive culture of political donations. As stated by Counsel Assisting, Geoffrey Watson, SC, the time has come for a public debate on this matter, with decisive action to follow.”

Baird must follow through; the situation in NSW has got so bad and the stench of corruption so unmistakeable. NSW should bring in the full public funding of elections with all private donations banned. Let the taxpayer channel a certain amount of money per vote to candidates, and breathe easier in the knowledge that big businesspeople are not picking winners with their chequebooks.

It’s a drastic step that curtails the right of people in a free and fair democracy to donate to candidates they support. But with this much at stake, with some politicians allegedly on the take, it is justified.

*Bernard Keane is locked up with the rest of the press gallery rifling through the Commission of Audit papers in Canberra — check back to the Crikey website for full analysis after 2pm AEST

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