Overhaul of political donations rule still leaves Tasmania with ‘weakest laws’ in the country, critics say

Tasmania’s government has unveiled long-awaited legislation to overhaul the state’s political donation rules, but opponents say it would still be the weakest laws in the country.

The bill was unexpectedly introduced in state parliament on Tuesday, more than four years after former premier Will Hodgman promised to review the reforms.

Mr Hodgman’s pledge came as the 2018 state election was “bought” following donations poured into Liberal Party coffers by the gambling industry.

Under the bill, political donations over $5,000 would have to be reported within seven days during election cycles, or every six months otherwise.

This minimum threshold remains much higher than the $1,000 that experts and opposition parties have deemed preferable, and which is in place in most other states.

South Australia is the outlier, with a threshold of $5,000.

At present, only donations over $14,500 are required to be reported in Tasmania, and they are not made public until six months after the end of the financial year to which the donation relates.

Greens leader Cassy O’Connor said there was nothing in the legislation that would change the way donations were made by the gambling industry in 2018, and she would propose amendments to Parliament to try to reinforce it.

“The Liberals want to continue raising money from big gambling, big mining and developers, and they’ve put in place a legislative framework for donations that suits their fundraising goals very well.”

Ms O’Connor said some measures, such as publicly funding elections to the House of Assembly, were welcome improvements.

Independent MP Kristie Johnston said the bill was a farce and she wanted action to be taken to ensure truth in political advertising as well.

“It’s a joke and really an insult to the community, which is really concerned about the bastardization of democracy through corrupt practices of vote giving and buying,” Ms Johnston said.

“The $5,000 donation disclosure threshold is too high, it just doesn’t pass the test of common sense.”

Opposition will seek to amend lack of spending caps

Deputy Prime Minister Michael Ferguson said the government felt the $5,000 threshold was appropriate for Tasmania.

“You always have to strike a balance here, we’ve agreed on that amount of money and I think most Tasmanians would agree that it certainly captures donations over $5,000, which could be seen as significant support from, say, the company or other sectors,” Ferguson said.

Mr Ferguson said the government had carried out an extensive consultation process.

Foreign donations would be banned under the reforms, but there would be no limits on donations from corporate or industry sectors, for example, property developers.

The laws would also include an $18,500 cap on campaign expenses for Legislative Council candidates, but no cap on those running for election to the House of Assembly.

Campaign spending caps of $30,000 for individual candidates and $750,000 for parties running for election to the House of Assembly had been recommended by the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Social Change .

Shadow Labor Attorney General Ella Haddad said the lack of spending caps was one of the biggest flaws in the legislation the opposition would seek to change.

“The most glaring omission is that this bill does not impose spending limits on parties or candidates,” she said.

“Until we start to get a handle on how much people can spend on campaigning, we’ll never have a real level playing field in Tasmanian politics.”

Ms Johnston said the lack of spending caps made it difficult for independents to compete with major parties for seats.