My Daily Advertiser column for Tuesday 8 August 2017: It’s time for real reform on political donations

by ray goodlass

Labor senator Sam Dastyari, reportedly with a straight face, has called for an end to the way in which parties compete for donations, and a total ban on all future political donations (Senator calls for end to all political donations, Daily Advertiser, 1 August) in the ABC TV’s Australian Story last Monday.

On the surface, it’s a stunning about-face after his resignation from Labor’s front bench last September in the wake of a political donations scandal.

“I come at this from someone who wasn’t just part of the arms race … I was one of the weapon suppliers in this arms race … and responsible for fundraising across the party. It needs to come to an end, and the time for that is now,” Senator Dastyari somewhat disingenuously told Australian Story.

“I’m a realist on this and saying this needs to change. We must reform. We need to ban, to limit, to restrict donations in so far as it’s constitutionally possible to do so” he said, seemingly unsure exactly what he thought should be done. Ban, limit or restrict? Which? Make up your mind, Sam.

And in a very weak reaction Labor leader Bill Shorten said his party should not take money from foreign donors and has asked his party to implement that very limited standard.

“I’m happy to reiterate my invitation to Malcolm Turnbull. Malcolm … we should shake hands and make it a gentleman’s agreement — No foreign money in our election process. Labor’s happy to work with the Liberals and implement a standard even in advance of the law,” he said. Pull the other one, Bill.

However, Mr Shorten fell very short of supporting Senator Dastyari’s call for a ban on all donations. “I’m not sure that the public is ready to pick up the tab for elections. “I do think it’s okay for people to make donations, for Australians and Australian organisations to contribute to the political process, but there’s no doubt that we need transparency” he said.

Greens democracy spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon has accused Labor of using their classic tactic of different messages for different audiences on political donation reform.

“While Senator Dastyari is going for the ‘full Monty’ version calling for a total ban on political donations, Mr Shorten is pushing the minimalist version of reform that goes no further than some transparency changes to reporting and a ban on foreign donations.”

“The Dastyari donation scandal that broke last year should have jolted Mr Shorten into backing a thorough clean-up of electoral funding laws” Senator Rhiannon said.

It is ludicrous to assert that only foreign donations have an adverse impact on Australian democracy. Domestic corporate political donations can be just as dangerous in terms of buying influence.

Labor’s official position will not clean up politics or end the corrupting influence of political donations.

In fact, the opposition leader’s weak stance on reform is similar to the approach of earlier Labor leaders.

For example, when Labor was in government from 2007 to 2013 they had the opportunity to work with the Greens in parliament for an overhaul of political donations. However, they failed to act.

The Greens long held position is for a suite of complimentary measures that include caps on election expenditure, bans on donations from for-profit organisations and overseas donations, caps on donations from individuals and improved disclosure of all donations of $1000 or more in real time. That’s unequivocal straight talk, compared with the Labor and the Lib/Nat’s wishy-washy policies.