Major improvements to control political donations on the way?

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.

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  1. Andrew, is there anything to stop business groups, unions or just groups of people from running their own ads in support of a party? Would donations to such groups need to be disclosed to the AEC?

    I’m wondering because if groups can promote a party without the limitations on donations that parties face then have we really solved the problem at all?

  2. it can’t be a major change, anything one gang can do, the next gang can change- as indeed you describe happening. this is breath-taking naivety, i hope.

    and, as dylan asks about, there is 3rd party advertising, a significant factor already and likely to blossom as a result of this cynical regulation.

    if no one stands up for democracy, there will never be any.

  3. I think there should be a complete ban on donations – also on other groups advertising in a support of various parties.

    The groups would have to run their own candidates and then let them do all of the talking themselves. What could be fairer than that?

    Unions already have their own spokespersons – in the form of Labor candidates.

    The government should give each candidate an equal credit for advertising, signs etc – with any unused funds (if any) going back into the government kitty for next time.

    Then we might get more Independent candidates as well.

  4. For all the ideas about campaign finance reform, and for the 20 million people not invited to the Australia 2020 Summit, the online community created a wiki so people across Australia could post, discuss, and vote on the best ideas for the country. It’s totally a grassroots effort. It’s free, can be anonymous, and isn’t being sponsored by any political party, business, union, or special interests. It’s just people who want to encourage an online national brainstorming session.

    The site is at There are pages for over 20 different issues (including government reform) and even an online petition to get the best ideas heard at the actual Summit.

    The more people know about it, the more ideas are submitted, and the better the discussion. It’s a great way for everyone to participate in the summit.

    Wiki Creator

  5. You know, I’ve never known why businesses (particularly smaller ones) wouldn’t want lower disclosure limits on party donations.

    It’s cheap advertising, especially if someone happens to mention your business by name in a newspaper ad or column, such as: “Acme Garden Nurseries supported the Save A Tree Party with a donation of $1000.”

    (The only ones with something to fear from lower disclosure settings would be the businesses whose support was transparently leading to arguably dodgy links between donations and policy changes.)

    To me, banning corporate donations is probably a bit overboard. Ensuring who’s donated what is documented at a reasonably transparent level is hopefully enough.

  6. Pete:

    Corporate donations advantage some candidates over others – typically those belonging to large party machines.

    This mitigates against getting the most suitable people to run our so-called democracy.

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