Every year we go through the same shabby ritual: up to 19 months after some of them have been made, we finally learn who is trying to curry favour with our political parties with donations.
Or rather, we learn about some of the donors. Courtesy of donation disclosure laws that are a relic of the Howard era, parties and donors are not required to disclose donations of under $13,000 (although to its credit the ALP has consistently reported all donations over $1000, as the Greens now do as well). Moreover, there are huge loopholes in the definition of donations. For example, “purchasing” a good or service from a political party, such as a seat at a dinner table with a minister, is not considered a donation.
The entire reporting system is woefully out of date. We should have online, near-real time reporting of donations by federal, state and territory branches of political parties. Instead, we are required to wait until February 2016 to find out who was donating to politicians as long ago as July 2014.
Most of all, there is little penalty for late disclosure. Political parties routinely get away with declaring hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations years later, long after anyone has stopped scrutinising them. Bill Shorten’s convenient failure to declare an in-kind donation from a company to his 2007 election campaign is just the tip of the iceberg.
Every year, Crikey makes the same editorial call: our analog-era joke of a disclosure regime needs to be overhauled. But there is little political will within the major parties for greater transparency. The last politician to seriously attempt reform was John Faulkner under Kevin Rudd. To its shame, the Coalition thwarted his efforts. Since then, both sides have treated voters with contempt.