Money for votes not such a bad thing

Colin Smith writes: Re. “Mayne: major parties have snaffled $275m of your money in seven elections” (Friday). Stephen Mayne (29/7) complains about political parties ‘snaffling’ $333 million of our money over seven elections, and suggests it “is surely something that should be debated”. I am glad to oblige.

The amount of money — about $18 million per annum — is not much in the context of total public expenditure. It amounts to a compulsory donation of $2.63 by each voter to the party s/he voted for, and is surely the fairest and least corruptible method imaginable for the funding of political campaigns. The alternative is for parties to be utterly beholden to voluntary donors – especially rich and corporate ones with vested interests. Without public funding small start-up parties unwilling or unable to attract donations from compromising sources are likely to die in their infancy — and the survivors will tend to be the ones that are willing and able to be thus compromised.

Of course, the 4% theshold rule goes a long way to ensure small parties don’t survive anyhow. And the lack of controls upon private donations — or at least of real time reporting — rather negates the other benefits. However, it makes no sense, given these deficiencies, to single out for complaint the one element in the existing system which is wise and fair.

Again, the argument that parties should only be remunerated for proven campaign expenditure, and thus prevented from making profits by running low-budget campaigns with extensive use of volunteers, is quite silly. The profits are needed to fund the building and maintenance of party machinery between elections.

The arguments against the federal system of public funding are unworthy of Stephen Mayne. They make sense only if one regards running for public office as an intrinsically noxious activity that probably ought to be banned – or at least discouraged. And I am sure he does not believe that.

Hinch will be great for parliament

Geoffrey Heard writes: Re. “Brace yourselves: Derryn Hinch has parliamentary privilege” (Friday). One of the great things about Derryn Hinch is that he has a sense of humor and fairness; even when someone as obviously prejudiced as Michael Bradley is dishing it out to him, I am sure Hinch will take it. I suspect he will rightly regard Bradley as a mosquito not worth swatting.

Bradley is concerned about what Hinch will do with parliamentary privilege available to protect him in what he says. Hinch in the “bulliest of all pulpits” (goodness me, is it even worse than the courts?) “should cause the unwary voter to wonder about just what we’re about to see unleashed”.

Derryn Hinch, according to Bradley, has a “predilection” for naming people whose names the courts have suppressed. No, that is not true. His “predilection” extends only to those who have been charged or found guilty of abuse of children — and then only in serious cases — and in one case to reporting what a very large number of people already knew abut a man standing trial for an horrific murder.

And what is a predilection? A tendency to do something — but going beyond the definition, it is clear from the dictionary examples that it means a tendency to do something a lot, or all the time.

Hinch has been charged and jailed for three offences in his more than half a century in journalism. And that constitutes a predilection?

Do you seriously think that those who voted for Hinch, and those who did not, are unwary? That they do not know Hinch and what he has done? Do you have the faintest idea how patronizing and foolish you sound? And why suggest that something is about to be “unleashed” implying some mad force out of control? Is that how you see Hinch’s slim record?

Then we have the gem — Bradley quotes the Mitchell-Hinch exchange at length to get to the nub: “You’ll put the Parliament above the courts,” says Mitchell.

And that, in Bradley’s view, makes Mitchell sound like the “Voice of Law and Reason”. Is Bradley (and Mitchell) proposing that the courts are above or on the same level as Parliament, and that they are infallible? That they have never got it wrong?

Is Bradley suggesting that the court was right in suppressing the name of the predator priest in 1987? Various reasons for not naming him were given, including the need to protect his victims and the Catholic Church’s reputation. Today, the Catholic Church’s reputation in respect of protecting children from predator priests and brothers, and in dealing with predation when reported, is in tatters. History has shown that the court was wrong, wrong, wrong and Hinch was right.

But look at it — three cases over a period of nearly 30 years, three of them directly linked through the nature of the offences, the third not far from those three involving publishing information to which a very large proportion of the population was already privy or had access to one way or another, and Bradley speaks of “the messy unreliability of Derryn’s track record”. Three cases in nearly 30 years!!! That’s hardly  a track record and certainly not one of “messy unreliability”.

Bradley concludes that democracy is in jeopardy: “If a senator enters Parliament intending to use the privilege invested in him for the purpose of placing his own judgement, and by extension the power of Parliament itself, above the fully informed determinations of the courts … Parliament becomes the ultimate arbiter of legal rights and wrongs.”

Surprise, surprise, Mr Bradley, the fact that court decisions often are NOT “fully informed determinations” is so well established (why have an appeals system? Why have Royal Commission into the trorture of children in NT?) that it is trivial to argue about it, and the notion that Parliament is NOT the ultimate arbiter of legal rights and wrongs” is just silly. Parliament sits above the courts, they exist within the legal framework set up by parliament, and the power of parliament can be used to change both the laws and how the courts put them into practice.

In 1987, as a journalist with a quarter of a century’s experience, I applauded Derryn Hinch’s naming of the priest and hoped that given the same circumstances, I would have acted with as much courage. I believe the same applied in respect of his jailings in 2011 and 2014.

The revealing of the Meagher murderer’s record is a classic case that rebuts Bradley’s “full informed determinations”. Australian and British law asserts that a crime is committed in a vacuum. It is not. The law is an ass and the court system that enforces it is crippled. Hopefully, Derryn Hinch will address this in Parliament. No-one else has and the likes of Bradley never will.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.


Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey