Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Bob Burton

Braddon voters back real-time political donations disclosure

First published March 9.

Polling of more than 700 voters in the conservative Braddon electorate in Tasmania’s north-west has revealed strong support for real-time disclosure of political donations over $1000.

The polling, which was commissioned by the Australia Institute, revealed over 57 per cent of 754 voters in Braddon considered immediate public disclosure of donations of over $1000 to political parties and candidates would have a positive effect on Tasmanian democracy.

Those polled were asked “If donations to political parties and candidates greater than $1000 were required to be immediately disclosed publicly, do you think it would have a positive or negative impact on Tasmanian democracy?”

Just under 13 per cent thought it would have a negative impact and just over 16 per cent thought it would have no impact. Almost 14 per cent of those polled were unsure or stated they didn’t know whether the impact of disclosure would be positive or negative.

“The result of the poll shows that in Braddon a majority of voters believe that better, real time disclosure of donations to political parties would improve the political process. Political parties and the politicians they help elect, should provide maximum transparency to the people they seek to represent,” said Leanne Minshull, the Director of the Australia Institute Tasmania.

The automated telephone survey was conducted by ReachTEL on March 2, 2017. While the number of voters polled is over three times larger than the standard EMRS statewide voting intentions poll, ReachTEL did not state what the margin of error is.

Results pose challenge for Hodgman Government

The poll is significant as the first time Tasmanian voters have been canvassed on the issue of political donations disclosure. With strong opposition to donations secrecy in an electorate which is one of the Hodgman Government’s current strongholds, public sentiment in favour of disclosure is likely to be even stronger in other electorates.

The issue is particularly problematic for the Tasmanian Liberal Party.

Since the Howard government eased disclosure thresholds in 2006 Australian Electoral Commission data reveals the Tasmanian Liberal Party has received over $15 million in donations from secret sources.

In the past financial year the Liberal Party of Tasmania, the wealthiest political party in the state, disclosed the origin of just 13 per cent or $356,500 of its $2.8 million income.

While the party disclosed the names and contributions from 12 donors which contributed over the then $13,000 threshold, potentially well over one hundred more donors would be publicly identified if the threshold was lowered to $1000.

For over 30 years the Liberal Party of Australia has fiercely resisted proposals to tighten Australia’s political disclosure laws.

In mid-2006 the Howard succeeded in increasing the disclosure threshold from $1000 to 10,000 and indexing it to increase by $200 a year. In Senate debate on the change the then Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation and Tasmanian Senator, Eric Abetz, argued that donors “need protection from those people who would seek to intimidate them because of their donations.”

Last year Tasmanian Times revealed AMP had contributed $9900 to the Tasmanian Liberal Party to participate in secretive “policy forum” initiated by the party. At the time the Tasmanian Government’s communications office declined to respond to questions seeking clarification on whether Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman or any of the Ministers in his government had attended forum meetings, how often they had attended and which companies were represented at the meetings.

With millions of dollars in political ‘dark money’ sluicing through the Tasmanian Liberals’ coffers, the Hodgman Government – which has a commanding financial and fundraising advantage over other parties – has baulked at enacting state-based donations’ disclosure laws.

The Hodgman Government did not respond to a request from Tasmanian Times seeking comment on whether it supported real-time disclosure of political donations.

Comment was also sought from the government on whether it agreed Tasmanian voters should be able to access public information on who donors to political parties are ahead of the next state election. No response was forthcoming.

However, a spokesperson for the government forwarded a copy of the Hodgman Government’s August 2016 response to a Legislative Council committee report on the Tasmanian Electoral Commission. In its response the government rejected the recommendation proposing state-based disclosure be legislated.

Campaigners for tighter disclosure, however, believe reform is urgently required.

“It is important to have immediate disclosure to ensure full transparency and accountability of decision makers. Decisions on planning and development issues, fast tracking of development projects and de-regulation can have an immediate and significant impact on Tasmanians,” said Geoff Capper, a spokesperson for Funding & Disclosure , a Tasmanian group lobbying for greater donations transparency.

“Potentially political donations can have an immediate effect on decisions but without immediate disclosure citizens may not find out about some of what was going on behind the scenes until over a year later,” he said.

Tasmania and Victoria remain as the only Australian states without political donations disclosure legislation.

In the absence of state legislation political parties in Tasmania are only required to comply with federal legislation which currently mandates only donations of over $13,200 to be disclosed.
The current federal legislation also contains major loopholes. While penalties exist under the legislation for non-disclosure of donors the Australian Electoral Commission doesn’t enforce non-compliance.

The current federal legislation allows for a long delay between donations being made and publicly disclosed. Donations made to Tasmanian political parties after July 1 this year will not be disclosed until February 2018, well after the next state election.

Federally, the Australian Greens, the Labor Party, the Xenophon Team, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party and Jacqui Lambie have all supported an inquiry into political donations reform including the issue of lowering the disclosure level to $1000 or lower and requiring either real-time or frequent disclosure.

While there is growing broad-based federal support for reform of political donations disclosure laws, the Turnbull Government continues to resist reform.

“Given the public support for disclosure rules and very little specific opposition to them, I would struggle to find a reason why the Hodgman Government wouldn’t put in place disclosure rules before the next election,” Minshull said.

*Bob Burton is a Hobart-based Contributing Editor of Tasmanian Times. His earlier articles on Tasmanian Times are here. If you would like to be added to his email alert list for when new articles are published you can sign-up here.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. William Boeder

    March 11, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    Another timely and well presented article by Bob Burton, thank you Bob.
    The Liberal political party bastion in itself is a non-palatable high cost privilege-purchasing blighted beast upon the nation of Australia.
    Yes I know it makes for tiresome reading, but a read of the Australian Constitution does not favour this feckless frolicking non-policy nil agenda-ed Liberal party participation for the election of their insidious parasitical legerdemain-practicing clutter of grasping greed toads.
    Currently Turnbull and his ego polishers have no real policy other than to continue to shit-can the opposition parties, influence their own corporate-favouring “thus disqualifying” (as per their favouring of one litigant over the other) court of law sham-ery, as merely another available means of grasping for increasing secret party donor funds.
    (Consider how the Australian court of law favours the venal cut-throat Big Banking corporate sector)

    Unfortunately I have failed to locate any other basis for this eager collective of pomposity to be known as or to expect themselves to be recognized as a political electable alternative choice to dare to contest the seat of leadership government in Australia.

    One can quickly conclude the above by recognizing by way of the Liberal personification in the the example set by a certain non elected detestable Tasmanian Senate representative, who is arguably the worst form of any kind of State representative person one could ever, even in delirium, favourably imagine.

  2. john hayward

    March 10, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    Real time disclosure would threaten the fondest of the LibLabs’ pathetic fallacies, which is that Tas is not a plutocracy. RTD disclosure might also compel our pollies to legislate for some sort of US- style PACs which would shield all the big donations as a freedom of speech matter.

    John Hayward

  3. Robert LePage

    March 10, 2017 at 6:21 pm

    All “donations” are really bribes and should be stopped to promote a real democracy.

  4. mike seabrook

    March 10, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    no problem – there are lots of cronies sucking on the tassie teat who can pay the backhanders to keep the pollies sweet

  5. Leveller

    March 9, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    “The issue is particularly problematic for the Tasmanian Liberal Party.

    Since the Howard government eased disclosure thresholds in 2006 Australian Electoral Commission data reveals the Tasmanian Liberal Party has received over $15 million in donations from secret sources.

    In the past financial year the Liberal Party of Tasmania, the wealthiest political party in the state, disclosed the origin of just 13 per cent or $356,500 of its $2.8 million income.

    While the party disclosed the names and contributions from 12 donors which contributed over the then $13,000 threshold, potentially well over one hundred more donors would be publicly identified if the threshold was lowered to $1000.

    For over 30 years the Liberal Party of Australia has fiercely resisted proposals to tighten Australia’s political disclosure laws”

  6. TGC

    March 8, 2017 at 10:09 pm

    Look forward to the details of all union donations to the Labor Party.

  7. Tim Thorne

    March 8, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    Doesn’t most of it end up with someone like Mantach anyway?

  8. Chris

    March 8, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    I know, says Gutwhiner, lets take over a GBE and make it into a GBE, its like water offa ducks back.
    In 17 mumfs we will get the new GBE off da ground, or under it, that time scale will speed up da process and we will get muney from somewhere to make it happen in 5 years (plus the 17months + the implementation time) anallwill be well?
    We will only charge 3 and half % extra every year so the price will drop, rather like betting $5 on a pokie and being electronically advised via flashing lights and pictures that you have won one dollar.
    Meters will be employed to measure yor ewesage and to determine how much return the inevitable privatised company will glean from the Labor ideal where the ownership of your utility will be gifted into selected wealthy donors pockets.
    Do you see a Green Labor Government going down the sewer?

  9. phill Parsons

    March 8, 2017 at 9:45 am

    Congrats QLD. The issue is now a weakness for all govenents that don’t move to introduce it.

  10. pat synge

    March 8, 2017 at 9:24 am

    The Queensland state government should be congratulated for having recently introduced real-time disclosure of all political donations of more than $1000 for both state and local government.

    “Instead of waiting more than six months to see who is donating to a political party, from March 1, voters will have access to this information within seven business days,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

    She said the reform should be national. “There is absolutely no reason why this reform should not be rolled out to every other state and territory and should not be adopted by the Federal Government. Maybe they haven’t had the guts to do it, pure and simple.”

    Currently here in Tasmania we have no regulations whatsoever relating to donations to local government candidates. They can legally accept donations of any amount from anyone (including developers).
    A recipe for corruption.

    Local government is big business. Hobart City Council controls assets of over $1 billion with an income of over $50 million from rates alone. Councillors make decisions that have significant financial consequences for individuals and businesses. With no regulations whatsoever the temptation must be almost irresistible for both candidates and those who might profit from their decisions.

    There is a very fine line between a “donation” and a “bribe”.

    It is now time for the Tasmanian Government to tackle this issue and follow Queensland’s lead.

    Surveys clearly indicate that the public increasingly distrust politicians and this lack of transparency simply feeds this distrust.

    Funding and Disclosure (Inc) will be campaigning on this in the lead up to the next State and Local Government elections. You can find us on Facebook.

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