There is no doubt that Christian Porter’s sense of entitlement has a lot to do with his decision not only to accept an anonymous donation, but also to stay in Parliament after the gift exploded in his face.
But his decision also reflects an Australian political culture where it is acceptable to receive political donations and not disclose where they came from.
Research in January found over a billion dollars in secret donations had been funneled into Australian political parties since 1999. This is largely due to the high federal government donation disclosure threshold of $ 14,300.
Research from the Center for Public Integrity shows that the source of nearly 40% of donations to the Coalition over the past 20 years has been kept under wraps. This compares to 28% of donations to the federal PLA.
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Under Commonwealth Disclosure Rules, donations below $ 14,300 do not need to be reported to the Australian Election Commission – a much higher threshold compared to states and territories that fall between $ 1,000 and $ 5,000.
Like Crykey has frequently reported, this has a huge effect over time, especially since there is no requirement to disclose multiple donations of $ 14,299. This allows donors to structure payments to political parties to hide where the money is coming from.
Han Aulby, Executive Director of CPI, recounts Crykey Porter’s question was just one example of the many ways money is hidden in politics in Australia.
“It’s a cultural issue, where they think it’s okay not to give the public a full view of who is funding their campaigns and their political parties,” they said.
They said Porter’s question also highlights how far too narrow the definition of political donations is.
“We know there are so many ways people can contribute to political parties,” they said. “There is no structural accountability in our system to handle these cases, and each scandal is treated slightly differently.”
Of course, voters have the right to know from whom a government member receives funds, ministers or not. While Porter’s case is particularly egregious, it is perhaps only the latest example of the culture of secrecy that has plagued the Commonwealth’s political donation system for years.