Media reports are giving some positive indications that the federal Labor government will be making some major improvements to the laws covering political donations. Reports suggest the government is not only going to make increase the requirements for disclosing political donations, but also to put a limit on the size of individual donations from corporations and individuals.
If these reports are true, this change would be a major shift and one very much deserving of applause – although I will be interested to see whether any cap on donations extends to trade unions. I suggested a few weeks ago that we should consider something along those lines, but I didn’t expect the federal government would seriously consider such a move.
It appears from the reports that the plan is to fairly quickly reverse the amendments made to the Electoral Act by the Howard government, which were a breath-takingly self-serving abuse of power. (I wrote about this on this blog about it at the time – see here for an example). Reversing this perversion of democracy as promptly as possible is very important. That includes lowering the threshold at which donations must be dislcosed to at least $1500, as well as reversing the attempts to disenfranchise younger people, prisoners and Indigneous Australians.
However, more is needed if we are to really seriously reduce the ability of the wealthy and well-connected to buy influence. Limits on donations or even a total ban on donations from particular sources such as developers or all businesses and unions (also floated by ACT Liberal Senator Gary Humphries a couple of years ago), limits on the expenditure by third parties in support of political parties and candidates, and possibly also expenditure limits for candidates and parties themselves, are all ways that we could try to reduce the ability of money and wealth to have an excessive influence on our democratic process.