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From Wikipedia: “Despite the Australian Electoral Commission publishing a yearly list of political donors, it is often difficult to ascertain who made the donation, as political parties sometimes use associated entities as front organisations to hide the source of the donations.”

Read about Associated Entities in Wikipedia by clicking here.

Imagine my surprise when I read this. In my naivety, as a typically innocent and gullible member of the public, I had always assumed that party donations were on full display via a public register. At first glance there are indeed registers of donations being paid directly to party state and national bodies. Yet these registers are supplemented by the donation registers of each party’s collection of Associated Entities. There’s an astonishing number of them! So to see all of the donations made to any party you actually have to look across all of the donation registers of all of their Associated Entities individually, and it ain’t at all obvious from their names which party they would belong to!

The AEC website does in fact provide a mechanism to search for all of the donors for any party; it is called a “Party Group Analysis”, and is located near to the bottom of the menu of searches that the AEC makes available. What is most striking about the searches that come back is the sheer number of pages; for the 2011-12 Returns, it is 13 pages for the Liberals and a thundering 45 pages for the ALP! Yet oddly, when leaving the default setting of 20 results per page, only the first 5 pages of search results are given a direct link. You can also click on the link labeled >>, and jump straight to the last page which then offers direct links back to the previous 4 pages.

So the very design of the AEC website makes it very hard to navigate to a “black hole” that lies within the search results of both major parties. Unless the default number of search results per page setting is increased, the only way to reach these middle pages would be to painstakingly navigate from page to page. Even then, you have to also click on each Associated Entity link to see the actual trails of donations. For the Liberals’ 2011-12 Returns the default search yields a “black hole” that covers pages 6 through 8, whilst the ALP’s “black hole” extends from page 6 through 40. Try navigating to John Curtin House Ltd for example via the ALP Party Group Analysis and you will realise just how difficult it is to get to an Associated Entity located in the middle of the alphabet.

If the intention is really an attempt to hide donations from scrutiny, then isn’t it a wonderful irony that these Associated Entities will be the first place for an informed public to look when scrutinising party funding!

I invite interested readers to examine these registers, and perhaps post comments about what they find. Use the following link, and then select Party Group under the Analysis title near the bottom of the menu. Don’t forget you will need to click on the Associated Entity’s link to see the actual trail of donations received from that source. A hint might be to start from the middle pages of search results and work outwards!

I have already identified quite a number of donors with vested interests in an assortment of current affairs, just by viewing the donations sourced via the Cormack Foundation and John Curtin House Ltd. These are the two Associated Entities referenced by the Wikipedia article as being Front Organisations of the 2 major parties. Yet there remain many mysteries out there, and the public have a moral right to know why all of these donations were made. My most puzzling enigma is more than $2,000,000 donated via John Curtin House Ltd by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This is the department belonging to the former NSW ALP Senator Bob Carr, now federal ALP Minister for Foreign Affairs. So at face value the ALP is donating money to itself, but perhaps this means the money is really coming in from overseas? For all we know, this could be anything from an anti-Assange slush fund to a gift from Putin to keep our federal government in vintage wine, and where is the public accountability?

Remember that when investigating corruption, it is the money trail that counts. If there is anything to hide it is likely that the organisation involved will have made it hard to examine the money trail. Think about political parties sourcing huge amounts of income from their Associated Entities per this article, but also think about other organisations with involvement in current affairs that might reasonably be expected to publish detailed Annual Reports via their websites but choose not to.

The party funding model in Australia is broken and cannot possibly command any respect from the public. We must insist on a new funding model that makes it illegal for vested interests to donate. Maybe then we might see that the parties will represent the public interest, instead of representing villains such as the gambling industry.

This problem appears to be institutionalised nationally, so I suddenly see a role for the Monarchy which I had never previously recognised. We will have to go beyond our borders, and actually petition the Royal Family in the UK in order to get these matters properly investigated. We will need a Royal Commission whose terms of reference are set from the UK, and which is also staffed with UK judicial inquisitors.

This is a wake up call. The corruption blighting our country must be tackled. Please ask your MP if he/she is willing to request a Commission of Inquiry into corruption in Australia, and please assert that it must be convened from outside of our borders.

Kev Rothery is an IT Specialist who emigrated to Tasmania 8 years ago. Kev takes a keen interest in local affairs, and is a former employee of The Wilderness Society Inc. He believes in the importance of public participation, and the right of the public to be properly informed.