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Friday, July 10, 2015

Voices for action on influence peddling: the only ones missing are those who can make it happen

Pathetic disclosure requirements for political donations and half baked regulation of lobbying have been known weaknesses and sources of concern for years at all levels of government particularly for the Feds. What we're learning now about the Mafia and about what passes for 'business as usual' in both major parties surely means the time has come....surely?

ABC Four Corners: The Mafia in Australia
GEOFFREY WATSON SC, COUNSEL ASSISTING, NSW ICAC: When you look at the (Liberal Party aligned) Millennium Forum website or the way in which it organises functions, the idea is that you would be a donor of a particular value and that would get you so much access, whether at dinners or fundraising events of different kinds. It's access in return for a donation.
NICK MCKENZIE: It's all about getting the ear of a politician?
GEOFFREY WATSON: Exactly: and nothing else...
..On how many occasions would you see it that a donation was quickly followed by a request to meet a politician? Then ask yourself: why is somebody requesting a meeting with a politician? It's not just to get to know them. It's to influence them as to their decision making. Of course there's a connection.
Sydney Morning Herald-related article: Glad handing and influence:mafia taking fast track to the powerful:
The amount of money Madafferi and his associates generated for the Liberal Party is likely to be in the tens of thousands of dollars (records show one Madafferi company donated at least $23,000), although the true figure will never be known because of Australia's opaque fundraising disclosure laws...

The federal police investigated the Madafferi donations and lobbying, but stated the "nexus between those donations identified and any political leverage could not be substantiated". They were, in part, blinded by Australia's inadequate disclosure regime. Their inquiry, recently obtained under freedom of information laws, warned that police had found "numerous issues relating to the disclosure of donations to political parties". These "issues" meant investigators have limited oversight of who was donating how much, and why.

Fairfax Media- related article: Political fund raising can't be left to trust

Our system of democracy relies on transparency. If vested interests can get closer to power by donating money, then the public has a right to know about it.
Bernard Keane in Crikey on political donations and disclosure 'rules' as revealed at the Royal Commission:
How bad was Bill Shorten's convenient failure to declare a donation in kind to his election campaign in 2007 from a company? At eight years after the event, it is almost certainly the latest declaration ever. But for $40,000-odd, it's an also-ran. When it comes to our political donation "laws", late declarations and amendments are normal. Political parties routinely get away with declaring hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations years later, long after anyone has stopped scrutinising them. And it's deliberate.....

So what will almost certainly happen to the existing requirements as a result of Shorten's embarrassment? Nothing. Both recent attempts at improving the Commonwealth donation disclosure laws -- John Faulkner's 2009 effort and then the Gillard government's effort in 2013, when Tony Abbott reneged on a signed bipartisan deal for reform -- have come to nought. And while the media will pursue Shorten for his eight-years-late-and-forty-thousand-dollars-short declaration, the Coalition won't have much to say, knowing that there are likely to be plenty of embarrassing disclosures of its own that might emerge from any thorough examination of what parties are being paid. Instead, we'll be stuck with disclosure laws that border on a joke and leave us in the dark about who is trying to buy influence over our politicians.
Sean Nicholls in the SMH on funding reform and a Federal ICAC:
The question mark about influence hanging over both arrangements is another reminder of not only the need for  donations law reform nationally but also the glaring absence of a federal ICAC. Prime Minister Tony Abbott is on the record opposing the move. But last year, NSW Labor gave in-principle support for a federal ICAC-like body and voted to refer it to this year's federal Labor conference. Labor - and Shorten - should embrace the idea and begin pressing the government for action.
Professor Ian Ramsey, the director of the Centre for Corporate Law at Melbourne University, said new rules were needed to ensure complete transparency:
"For quite a number of years now, many people, myself included, have really seen significant limitations in terms of our existing disclosure requirements," Professor Ramsey said. "In particular, there are important issues about the transparency, how much is disclosed, and also how quickly that information is disclosed. "Certainly I think there is a real need for improvement."
Then there's Professor Marian Sawer on The Conversation.

And Independent senator Nick Xenophon wants changes to political donations to end what he calls a "financial arms race" in Australian politics.

There are other voices but..

 Nothing so far from those in the leadership positions that count. Plus ca change..


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