disclosure far from truthful

For several reasons, I have sympathy for the small army of bureaucrats charged with the unsatisfactory task of assembling today’s report into political donations.

The first reason is that they have a job that requires them to deal with half-truths. The second reason is the half-truths they have to face when telling a half-truth story. The result is that today’s disclosure is far from truthful.

Let me explain.

See how the power really works.

News made without fear. Join us today and save 50%.


Today’s Australian Electoral Commission report tells us that from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, $17.9 million was donated to Australian political parties. There are two glaring flaws in the methodology of this process. First, the information is old news. And second, at least half of donations go undisclosed thanks to the so-called $14,300 disclosure threshold.

It’s bad enough, but it’s the not-so-glaring issues that should bother all Australians concerned about the health and integrity of our democracy.

The AEC disclosure certainly does not reveal that political donations are a de facto Membership fees for one of Australia’s most exclusive and influential clubs – the Political Influence Club.

But let’s face it, the “health and integrity of our democracy” isn’t something that keeps most people up at night – unless of course democracy is under threat. On today’s world stage, the citizens of Ukraine and Myanmar could tell us what that means.

In Australia, by contrast, we have one of the cleanest democracies in the world, backed by the practice of ‘one vote, one value’, compulsory voting and a system where we are free to vote without interference. Governments in all our jurisdictions, across three levels of government, come and go through the ballot box as sure as the sun rises in the east.

As ABC investigative reporter Linton Besser recently pointed out in “Wither Democracy,” published in Meanjin Quarterly“The people of Australia, or any other liberal democracy, freely examine and criticize the conduct of their elected government. In failed states, the subversion of the rule of law is flagrant. The police are bribed, planning approvals are settled in cash, and blackmail is a viable defense strategy.

Transparency International, the agency responsible for testing the smell of corruption around the world, ranks Australia 17th out of 180 countries worldwide on its Corruption Perceptions Index. The UK ranks 11th and the US 67th.

So if Australia is such a clean skin nirvana, why all the fuss? What’s so bad that we need to know more than we do about political donations – or as I was recently advised: “Why sweat the small stuff?”

Given that sporting analogies and metaphors abound in Australia, wouldn’t we always want to see our team at the top of the table?

better also warns: “In functioning capitalist democracies, dodging the rules requires subtlety. Bingo! What could be more subtle than de facto membership in the political influence club?

You see, the big money-related malaise in Australian politics today is more like a silent, invisible pandemic. You could even say optimistically that so far no lives have been lost, only a handful of people have ended up in hospital, and life as we know it in this lucky country is going well. You could say the same about politics in the United States and many other capitalist democracies.

While Australia is well inoculated against exposure to market failures, no one should think that we are not in danger of descending the same slippery slope as politics in the US, where money rules.

That is why, under the current regime of political fundraising, we should at least get from this small army of bureaucrats a full picture of who gave what and when they gave it. Make no mistake, if we just accept the system of fundraising and election financing that we have, even with enhanced disclosure requirements, we will continue to descend the slippery slope called the Americanization of Australian politics.

It was the American futurist Buckminster Fuller who warned: “You never really change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, you build a new model that makes the existing one obsolete.

So it is with our dangerously flawed political fundraising regime. Even in our relatively pristine and corruption-free society, we face a trust deficit between those who govern and those who are governed. The causes of the trust deficit are many and varied. Some are probably irreparable, like deliberate bad practices carried out by willful bad people.

Let’s move to a low value, high volume form of political fundraising – an egalitarian and democratic fundraising system that reflects Australian values. If just 2% of the 17 million Australians eligible to vote donated $200 to the political parties of their choice, the total revenue would be just under $70 million. This would democratize the fundraising process. Political parties would have no choice but to engage with a large number of small donors rather than a small number of large donors.

Australia may be one of the cleanest and least corrupt countries in the world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do better. We can do much better. In this crucial area of ​​public policy, we can make Australia the global example. And that small army of bureaucrats might have the satisfaction of facilitating full disclosure rather than half-truths that lead to a half-truth narrative for the public to digest.

Crikey is short story for readers who can handle the truth.

The best way to support independent media is to become a member.

You can join us with our 50% discount using promo code LETTERS. Or, if you can afford it and want to help us even more (thanks!), you can purchase a full-price annual subscription. It really makes a difference.

Pierre Fray

Pierre Fray
Chief Editor