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Friday, November 12, 2010

NSW makes a welcome start on political donations

Election campaign finance reform in NSW has moved forward with the passage of the Election Funding and Disclosures Amendment Bill yesterday. Much of the media attention has been on the ban on political donations, agreed at the last minute, placed on the alcohol, tobacco and gaming industries to go with the existing ban on donations from developers, and caps for donations and expenditure.There's more to it than that: for a summary see the Premier's Media Release: NSW – first in the country to reform election funding, or for all the detail, the 59 pages of amendment legislation, and the parliamentary debate.

While the changes are as Greens MLC John Kaye puts it a "solid step forward" and the caps on donations (maximum $5000, with identification of donors of more than $1000) reduce to a degree the importance of public disclosure, it's no step forward on that front. In fact it's a step backward. Reporting of donations to the electoral authority is currently required for the six month period to 30 June and 31 December each year (s 89). The Authority is required to publish on its website the disclosures of reportable donations and electoral expenditure "as soon as practicable after the due date for the making of the disclosure" (s 95). 

The amendment bill removes the six month reporting requirement and substitutes a 12 month reporting  period ending on 30 June. No change has been made to the requirement for publication of reportable donations on the web as soon as practicable after lodgement. So while the legislation removes some of the smoke (no pun intended) we're still a long long way from anything close to continuous disclosure of donations. Or knowing at the time NSW voters vote next March who has kicked the can for candidates and parties. All that will be revealed "as soon as practicable"- and well after 30 June.

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