Up against the twin ratings juggernauts of The Voice and Nigella Lawson on MasterChef, Four Corners did well on Monday night to attract 512,000 viewers in the five major capital cities for its investigative piece on Australia’s shoddy political donations system. Throw in the regions and iview and the politically engaged in Australia were given a solid expose on the need for campaign finance reform. The story immediately flushed out a policy commitment from Labor to reform the system. Unfortunately, this important governance reform doesn’t rank in Labor’s 100 positive policies list, and it didn’t warrant a media release from leader Bill Shorten, who is presumably still a little sensitive about his undisclosed $40,000 Unibilt campaign donation in 2007. Instead we got this Brendan O’Connor statement on Tuesday, which, not surprisingly, ignored the issue of the CFMEU, led by his brother Michael O’Connor, contributing almost $10 million to Labor over the past 20 years. However, at least Labor is committed to returning to most of the comprehensive John Faulkner reform package of 2009, including:
  • Reduce the donation disclosure threshold from the current level of $13,000 (indexed to inflation) to a fixed $1000;
  • Ban "donation splitting" where donations are spread between different branches of political parties and associated entities to avoid disclosure;
  • Prohibit the receipt of foreign donations;
  • Ban anonymous donations above $50;
  • Link public funding to campaign expenditure to prevent serial candidates like Pauline Hanson making a windfall from standing for election; and
  • Introduce new offences and increased penalties for abuses of the political donation disclosure regime.
Labor’s interest in the question of political donations took another strange tack this week when it launched into Senator Nick Xenophon and his biggest donor, Ian Melrose. Perhaps it was disappointment with the likely Xenophon decision to mainly go with split tickets in the 18 lower house seats his party is contesting, but ALP national secretary George Wright took time out from his busy schedule to write to the AEC complaining about the $175,000 donation Xenophon received from the entrepreneur and serial supporter of underdog causes. The result was an enormous beat-up on page 1 of The Australian yesterday head-lined “Xenophon, his donor and the Timor tie-up”. The piece attempted to suggest that Melrose purchased Xenophon’s call for a royal commission into some East Timor issues, even though Labor’s “formal complaint” was over whether the donation was a loan, which is somehow a breach of the Electoral Act. In Australia, it would be completely legal for Vladimir Putin to give the Greens $100 million, but there’s a problem if you take out a loan of more than $10,000, it seems. Bizarre stuff. Xenophon deftly batted that beat-up away with Leigh Sales on 7.30 last night and reinforced his best practice system of immediately disclosing donations above $13,000, rather than waiting until February 1 next year. The Greens also supposedly believe in real-time online disclosure of all donations, but there’s no sign of it yet in this campaign. As part of the campaign to unseat Kevin Andrews in Menzies, I’ve set up a real-time online register disclosing all donations, no matter how small, as they come in. No other candidate has gone this far, although only four of the 35 donors so far have agreed to have their full names disclosed. It’s not easy to win public support when you have lots of powerful enemies. Andrews, who is spending up big on his campaign, has been challenged to disclose his campaign backers. We’re still waiting for Clubs NSW to explain why it directed $30,000 in contributions to Kevin for his 2013 re-election campaign. Andrews has told his side of the story after The Age splashed with the revelations last year, but he continues to deflect questions to Clubs NSW. Interestingly, local party members in Menzies tell Crikey that Andrews also held a series of Liberal Party events in various pokies venues in 2012 and 2013, including the Doncaster Inn, the Shoppingtown Hotel and the Manningham Club, where he held his election night party. All of these venues are controlled by Woolworths and its billionaire joint venture partner Bruce Mathieson. Wonder if Kevin got a discount? *Stephen Mayne is standing as an independent against Kevin Andrews in Menzies and was not paid for this item.