Treasurer Joe Hockey is furious over reports that his campaign fundraising body, the North Sydney Forum, offered VIP meetings to groups which included industry lobbyists and business people, in exchange for annual fees of up to $22,000. This comes after the weekend’s revelation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) that the New South Wales Liberal Party’s Police Minister, Mike Gallacher, was involved in hiding payments made by a developer to an alleged Liberal Party slush fund. He brings the number of NSW state government ministers forced to step down to five, following the Premier’s resignation a few weeks ago over the infamous bottle of wine incident.
Two former Liberal leaders, Malcolm Fraser and Joe Hewson, have both called for greater transparency of political donations. They have suggested a system of continuous disclosure, in which parties would be required to report any political donations to the Australian Electoral Commission within days of the payment. Mr Hewson has also called for a $1000 limit to individual donations, and a greater ban on donations from organisations including businesses and unions.
As Mr Fraser explained, banning donations entirely is not a viable option, as political parties need a way to fundraise, however, he feels that enforcing total transparency of these donations could be the key to changing the political climate.
“Public funding and banning private donations to political parties is not necessarily a simple solution…the easier thing is to establish total transparency, and to have that transparency immediate, reporting weekly or every few days.”
Mr Hockey has denied any improper behaviour revealed in the report about his campaign funding body, labelling it “both offensive and repugnant”.
Read more at the Sydney Morning Herald website.
It seems ludicrous that we don’t already have a system of total transparency in place. With bodies such as the ICAC, surely we should all be able to find out who exactly is whispering in the ears of our political leaders? Transparency of funds is a major step in ensuring that political parties remain as free of corruption as possible (although I’m sure we all understand that getting rid of corruption entirely is about as likely as the tooth fairy running for Prime Minister).
I have to wonder about anyone arguing against such transparency. No matter how seemingly reasonable are their justifications, or how many twists and turns their arguments take, it always comes back to: why argue against transparency if you have nothing to hide?
With the number of Liberal ministers who have been accused of some level of corruption in the last few weeks, it makes sense that the Government has not embraced this call for total freedom on information when it comes to political donations. This series of revelations has likely also made it easier for the Opposition to come forward and support the call for transparency (although it was reported earlier this week that the Labor Party was offering business executive access to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten for $3300).
But surely, in the long run, enforcing transparency when it comes to political funding is the only democratic option in this situation. The voters, you and I, deserve to know exactly who is influencing politics, and at what price.
What do you think? Is political funding a private matter for the parties? Would transparency really help to reduce the possibility of corruption? Do voters deserve to know who is funding our political leaders?