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Monday, February 04, 2008

Way off the money on timeliness of disclosure of political donations

Lots of interest about contributions to political parties as a result of a report released by the Australian Electoral Commission. However a system that discloses information, in some cases up to 19 months after the donation, is not one to be proud of. In addition, according to The Age what has been released is information up to June 2007. It doesn't cover donations in the lead up to the Federal election which won't be published until May - 7 months after the election.

The anonymity provided for donations up to $10,300 and the technicality that allows the NSW Labor Party to report many contributions as "other" do not provide the information we should expect about who is seeking to oil the wheels of the political system. Only 264 donations qualified for disclosure of the source - 1000 less than those disclosed before Howard government legislative changes last year.

I mentioned here 2 years ago, how difficult it is to get into the details published on the web. It doesn't look any easier now.

The Federal Labor Party has plans to go back to $1500 for the disclosure threshold, and to remove tax deductions for political donations. There is also some speculation about banning overseas donations.

The Government should also be moving towards disclosure within weeks of political donations and making this information available without a year or longer passing before we are to know who opened the wallet. The NSW Electoral Commission will this week put up on the web its report on contributions for the 2007 election - almost 1 year after the event.

In the US campaign contribution reports are required quarterly (with some reform ideas swirling around). Here is the latest on US Presidential contenders to December 2007.

The NSW Government in 2005 was interested in a ban on donations by developers if a national approach was taken to this issue. John Howard said "not practicable". Times have changed. With Labor governments everywhere, just the right circumstances to do something if integrity in government is a high order issue.

We can all draw our own conclusions about what donors expect. As the head of the Australian Hotels Association, John Thorpe said a few years ago "Democracy isn't cheap".

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