Crikey had an article yesterday about the surge in political donations for the Howard government before the 2007 election. These reports have been released NOW. It serves to show how utterly inadequate our campaign finance laws are.
That many of the large organisations donated equal amounts to both the Liberal and Labor party demonstrates they were not giving money to a party they supported, but simply buying access, hedging their bets in case either wins.
Reform is essential. Because the current system serves to benefit the major parties so substantially, it can only come through pressure from the public. The Howard Government significantly loosened campaign finance reporting laws, yet faced not public outcry. Here are my recommendations for campaign finance reform:
1. Limit the amount any individual can donate. Ban all donations from businesses.
2. Make instant digital reporting mandatory. All donations over a cursory amount (say, $25) should be made public. Currently, only donations over $10,000 are made public.
3. Consider all state branches to be within one party, and have the annual donation limit apply per party, rather than per branch.
4. Apply limits to third-party political groups, and ensure all political advertising laws apply equally to those groups, which would undoubtedly be strengthened should campaign finance reform happen.
One of the wonderful things about campaign finance reform is that it requires politicians to look further afield for donations, and consequently engage with a broader audience. In a country as switched-off politically as Australia, any move to encourage individuals to get more involved is a good one.