Campaign finance threat not over

The plan by the main political parties to award themselves large amounts of taxpayers’ money showed such naked self-interest that the public awoke from its general indifference to campaign finance law, and forced the Liberals to withdraw their support.

But there was an underlying political logic behind the Liberal position. They were trying deal with a bill to lower the donation disclosure threshold from $12,000 to $1,000 that has already passed the House of Representatives and could still pass the Senate before the election. They feared that this would have a disproportionate effect on their supporters, who for social, employment, business or political reasons don’t want their names appearing on the AEC website. Labor’s main financial backers, the unions, are obviously quite open about their support.

Labor’s problem is less that their supporters don’t want their names disclosed than that too few people want to give them money under any circumstances. Hence their plan for so-called ‘administrative funding’ to finance them year-to-year. They offered the Liberals a higher disclosure threshold in exchange for this taxpayer-financed bail-out. The deal was done, but has now been broken.

Now Julia Gillard is threatening to go back to the original bill. I wrote a lengthy critique of it back in 2011. Around that time I also wrote op-eds that more briefly explain some of the issues:

* why the idea that a $1,000 threshold is needed to stop undue influence is ridiculous; the only plausible purpose of such a law is to deter donors;

* the xenophobic attempts to restrict the influence of ‘foreigners’;

* and the unjustifiable measures to harass NGOs.

There is almost nothing to be said in favour of this bill, and it would be sad day for Australian democracy if it is passed.

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