Time to shine a light on the ‘dark money’ of political funding
Furphies abound in discussions with political insiders about political fundraising – one in particular.
We’re told that big donations from big organisations – trade unions, public or private companies, industry associations or even some community groups – are essential for democracy to function. Without that money, we are tearfully told, democracy would wither on the vine.
The key to reform is all about adopting a “low-value high-volume” fundraising model.
We need to make so insignificant the amount of money that can be lawfully donated that it could never be considered an inducement in the often Byzantine, sometimes nefarious world of politics.
Sausage sizzles, the honest way to support party coffers.Credit:Dean Sewell
We need to stop the Americanisation of Australian politics.
Creative fundraising has for generations yielded a flood of gold for political parties. Over many decades, hundreds of millions of dollars have been donated to parties across the entire political spectrum.
To fix this, we need a broom – not a dustpan.
The way to make that money clean is to cap donations and limit them to individuals. A limit of $200, anonymously donated, is equitable and neither favours nor disadvantages the supporters of any side of politics. It would make public funding and donations by corporates, unions or any other entity redundant. Dark money would disappear from the system overnight.
Australia has a lofty place on the world stage when it comes to standards of governance, transparency and accountability in both the public and private sectors. So why should the blemish, the dark cloud of political fundraising be tolerated?
The political fundraising house has been crumbling for generations. This house is beyond renovating. It’s a knock-down-rebuild job.
The reforms should not stop a business leader, trade unionist, high-net-worth individual or manual worker from donating to a political party. Let anyone who is on the electoral roll donate, capped at $200.
It’s the entities – the companies, unions, industry associations and other organisations – that should be stopped from donating.
This would mean political parties will have to get off their backsides to raise the money from individuals who actually vote, rather than rely on the traditional rivers of gold from entities.
This is not a time to appease the parties that run both sides of politics. This is a time to take them on – with arguments that are unassailable.
Prominent political figures lament constantly that trust in the institutions that matter most in our society is at an all-time low. And at the very same time, they countenance a system of political funding that contributes to exactly that.
Let’s transition to a low-value, high-volume form of political fundraising. An egalitarian, democratic system of fundraising that reflects Australian values.
Only then will this stain on the integrity of our democracy be addressed.
Think about this. If just 2 per cent of the 17 million Australians eligible to vote donated an average of $200, the income to political parties of their choice would be $68 million – about the same amount ripped off unwitting taxpayers in public funding at the last federal election. These are the numbers the factional insiders do not want you to hear.
One of the most inspiring aspects of low-value high-volume fundraising is that whether you are running a charity, a community organisation or a political party, it puts those organisations in touch with numerous small donors rather than a few large donors.
In other words, democratise fundraising. Bring back the sausage sizzle and the lamington stall.
This low-value high-volume model will benefit those who work hard to make it work.
Australia may be one of the cleanest and least corrupt countries in the world but that doesn’t mean we can’t do better. We can do much better.
We can make Australia the global exemplar of political fundraising and election funding. That’s what I would call a good legacy for our children.
Michael Yabsley was a minister in the Greiner government and a former treasurer of the federal Liberal Party.
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