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Political donation rules must be tightened: judge


Loose rules around political donations are allowing special interest groups such as miners to influence policy, a former Supreme Court judge has told a parliamentary inquiry.

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Anthony Whealy QC, who chairs Transparency International Australia, has written to a parliamentary committee examining links between donations and government decision-making.

TI Australia has argued for the threshold for disclosing donations to be reduced to $1000, from $13,500 now.

As well, the Australian Electoral Commission should roll out real-time disclosure and outlaw the splitting of donations by individuals and party divisions.

Consideration should be given to banning donations from certain groups such as property developers, tobacco and gaming industries and a complete ban should apply to foreign donations.

Whealy says there is a strong case for a national integrity commission and a parliamentary integrity commissioner who could refer breaches to the integrity body.

As well, the donations regime should be made consistent across the country.

“The principle question asked is – why are large donations made to political parties?” Whealy says in the submission.

“The answer is simple and universally acknowledged: something significant is expected in return for a significant payment.”

TI Australia estimates mining firms have donated $16.6 million to major parties over the past decade.

“The unregulated system of political donations can allow special interest groups to attempt to influence policy-making at all levels of government.”

Woodside Energy said in its submission it had banned donating to campaign funds for political parties, politicians and candidates in 2016.

However, the company funded attendance at political party events where the events allowed for “discussion on policy issues” relating to its business activities, such as the Liberal Party’s Australian Business Network and Labor’s Federal Business Forum.

In the previous financial year this came to $250,480, which was disclosed to the AEC.

The inquiry will take evidence in Melbourne on Thursday.


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