There is little doubt Christian Porter’s sense of entitlement has a lot to do with his decision to not only accept an anonymous donation but also to stay in Parliament after the gift blew up in his face.
But his decision is also reflective of a culture in Australian politics where it’s OK to take political donations and not disclose where they come from.
Research in January revealed more than $1 billion in secret donations had been funnelled into Australian political parties since 1999. This has been largely because of the federal government’s high donation disclosure threshold of $14,300.
The research by the Centre for Public Integrity shows the source of almost 40% of donations to the Coalition over the past 20 years were kept secret. This compares with 28% of donations to the federal ALP.
Under the Commonwealth’s disclosure rules, donations under $14,300 do not need to be reported to the Australian Electoral Commission — a much higher threshold compared with the states and territories which are between $1000 and $5000.
As Crikey has frequently reported, this has a huge effect over time, particularly since there is no requirement for multiple donations of $14,299 to be disclosed. This enables donors to structure payments to political parties to hide where the money is coming from.
Han Aulby, executive director of the CPI, tells Crikey the Porter issue was just one example of the many ways in which money is hidden in politics in Australia.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
“It’s a cultural problem, where they think it’s OK not to give the public a full view of who is funding their campaigns and their political parties,” they said.
They said the Porter issue also highlights how the definition of political donations is far too narrow.
“We know there are so many ways that people can contribute to political parties,” they said. “There is no structural accountability in our system to deal with these cases, and each scandal is dealt with slightly differently.”
Of course voters have a right to know who a government MP is receiving funds from, ministers or not. Although Porter’s case is particularly egregious, it may just be the latest example of the culture of secrecy that has plagued the Commonwealth political donations system for years.