Thursday, August 11, 2005

Things to Come

If you're looking for indications of how liberal democracy, Australian style, is going to shape up once the coalition has whipped the dissidents, sorry political terrorists, within its ranks into line, you could do worse than to take a look at this report from Monday's Age and SMH:

Companies and individuals should be able to secretly donate up to $10,000 to political parties, says a Liberal Party federal director.

The Liberal Party wants the threshold at which political donations must be publicly disclosed lifted from $1,500 to $10,000 - and for more donations to be made tax deductible.

... Brian Loughnane says it's time the threshold was lifted to a level similar to the STG5,000 ($A11,600) allowed in Britain and $NZ10,000 ($A9,000) in New Zealand.

"It's been over 20 years since the threshold for disclosure of political donations was first introduced at $1,000. It's 13 years since this was lifted to $1,500," Mr Loughnane told a parliamentary inquiry into the 2004 election.

"Obviously the current $1,500 has been eroded by inflation and in our view that was way too low anyway."


Mr Loughnane said it was ridiculous to assume that someone donating $10,000 or less was trying to buy influence, when most were simply paying to attend party functions.

Their privacy should be protected, he said.

"The fact that somebody attends a political function of itself I don't believe requires public disclosure," Mr Loughnane said.

"I think people are entitled to participate in the activities of political parties but have an element of privacy."


... Mr Loughnane said the current disclosure provisions worked well, with the exception of the actual limit.

"If the threshold level was raised to $10,000, based on last year, 88 per cent of donations would still be publicly declared," he said.

"At a point where 88 per cent of all donations are disclosed, we believe there is still a very very transparent funding system in Australia."

I can't remember ever paying much more than about twenty bucks to attend a political party function - usually a local ALP Branch fund-raising barbie (salads provided, BYO everything else unless you want to find yourself eating standard industrial BBQ Snags washed down with cask red) or the ever popular quiz-night. On top of the admission you might find yourself shelling out an extra couple of bucks to be in the draw for an autographed copy of the recently-remaindered memoirs of a former local mayor, usually described as "a valuable contribution to Labor history which provides a fascinating, insiders' view of the machinations of local politics." All up, I'd be pushed to shell out even $100 a year on political party donations. To get to $10,000, I'd have to attend 500, if you ignore buying the occasional token ticket in a raffle you have no desire to win. Somebody's running some pretty swank party fundraisers out there, aren't they?

I'm no big fan of the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" argument but I remain a little bemused by Loughnane's concern for the privacy of closet supporters of political parties. Not his own party, I'm sure - in the current political climate I can't see any reason for people to feel that attending a Liberal Party function has to be done as furtively as paying a visit to the Daily Planet. It's obviously ALP, Democrat and Greens supporters he has in mind; people who might find themselves embarassed socially or have their careers jeopardised if it became widely known that they didn't have the nous to get on the side of the conservative ascendancy. Perish the thought that Mr Loughnane's position has anything to do with the inconvenience of collecting a lot of untraceable used bills, finding a brown paper bag big enough to hold them all and then organising a discreet rendezvous where the whole parcel can be passed over.

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