a strike by voters to end political donations?

It is the seventh day of The dirty country: corruption in Australia. Read the full series here.

The challenge of identifying viable solutions is of concern Crykey readers responding to our series on corruption, political donations being a particular issue.

As Richard Holden points out in his article today on How the High Court views restrictions on political communications, an outright ban on donations will never see the light of day in Australia. But the case law leaves room for restrictions that could reduce or even eliminate the role of donations in influence peddling.

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The obvious reform is greater transparency, including much lower reporting thresholds, fewer exemptions, and real-time reporting.

Another useful addition would be a requirement for political parties to report all fundraising events, who attended and how much was raised, which would help better understand the bipartisan practice of providing donors with private access to decision makers. .

One reader suggested that voters strike against parties that accepted donations, but another, Rick Duley, proposed that donations be limited to party members who give around $ 1,000 a year to their local candidate, forcing them to donate. parties to devote more effort to engaging voters.

Parties are under pressure to seek donations due to the high costs of television, outdoor and newspaper advertising during election campaigns. While an increase in public funding – coupled with limits on donations and campaign spending – can help parties reduce their reliance on private funds, another solution is to require the media to provide a limited amount of free advertising. to political parties, thus reducing the cost of the campaign.

Given the quality of care given to large media companies and the enormous regulatory benefits and funding they receive from the government, such a requirement would only be a fair trade.

Like Duley, Don Latter sees a solution to corruption in a more popular and popular democracy. Rather than a panel of unelected experts, he suggests a panel of randomly selected citizens to oversee how government funding is allocated – starting at the local level, then increasing if it proves effective.

The irony of this approach is that a randomly selected representative group of the community would be tasked with doing what elected and paid politicians did not – representing the true interests of the community – and inserting a stamp of community input between professional politicians and decisions about resource allocation. .

It is also in line with what one might call the idea of ​​”randomization of decision-makers” put forward by Cameron Murray, aimed at bypassing the tendency of the political class to serve the interests of their peers.

When we held the Crikey talks webinar last week, perhaps the most frequently asked question was what people can actually do about rampant corruption. Many of the problems stem from a gulf between political professionals and voters. Politics is now a career and a profession in itself for many politicians, and is becoming more and more so. Like any profession, it has developed its own rules and concepts of what is appropriate and ethical, even if these concepts seem counterintuitive, if not incomprehensible, to outsiders.

Things look different from inside politics: you have raise funds; you have consult stakeholders; you have make decisions on resource allocation; the views of business leaders and corporate leaders and union officials surely carry more weight than the average citizen; you have keep influencers and media companies by their side; you have to reward those who have supported you.

The only way for outsiders to solve this problem is to become insiders, get involved, and participate more. This may not necessarily be within established political parties, but with local community bodies or interest groups that seek to counter the tendency to shift decision-making from public interest to private interest – to reclaim power. politics of the political class.

No set of rules and regulations and restructuring of incentives will ever beat corruption. But the more people there are in the room, the more difficult it is for special interests to use that room to their advantage.

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Pierre Fray

Pierre Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crykey

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