Thursday, January 19, 2012

Money Money Money (Part I)

Money makes the world go round, and politics proves it.

I have long found party funding distasteful.  Companies who donate tens of thousands to both sides, proving that it is not an ideology or a person they support, but rather influence they seek to buy. The constant confluence of donation and patronage. The sympathetic ear offered to the "generous" rather than the needy or the worthy.

It disgusts me, but I accept that to some extent it is inevitable. Political parties do serve a purpose, and like ideology will always attract like.

Having said that, we can have a system that entrenches advantage or we can have a system that seeks to level the playing field.

If I had may way, only individuals would be able to donate, and their donations would be limited to a modest amount.  Any companies or organisations that want to have their say to the electorate can do so directly, or not at all. Why is don't we have that system?

Because the amount donated would fall, dramatically.  Because the two major parties depend on donations from non individuals (overwhelmingly business for the Coalition and unions for Labor). Because it would make non-major parties more competitive.  Because it takes political will for good to make these changes, and who has that these days?

In any event.  There is presently an inquiry into the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Amendment Bill 2011, which has the following memorandum
If you'd like more detail on the changes, have a look at these previous posts: 1 2 3.

The transcripts from yesterdays hearings are available here.  Time permitting, I'm going to post a few blogposts on this issue as the inquiry progresses, not least of all because this is one of the most important inquiries this government will conduct this sitting.

The first witness was the Secretary of Unions NSW, Mark Lennon. The heart of his argument appears to be the extract below:
This is thinly veiled BS. There would be nothing stopping Unions NSW running an ad on their own dime.  There is nothing stopping them dropping leaflets on whatever issue has upset them.  What it does stop them doing is funnelling vast amounts of cash into the Labor Party.

The unions have enormous influence in the Labor Party, and if they stopped from providing cash directly, I suspect that they are concerned that the influence might evapourate.

The next witnesses were Paul McNabb and Diana Melham, both from the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (NSW).

I want to extract the very start of their testimony.
I mean for heaven's sake.  It's about time we created our own Godwin's Law for the first person to use the word UnAustralian.  This stuff sends me spare.

His argument comes down to this:
He seems to fail to understand that this legislation doesn't stop him expressing anything.  It stops him donating.  What he really means is that this legislation stops his group buying influence, which I suppose to him might be the same thing.

You'll also notice he used my favourite word again too.
What, again? Surely that's the last time.

I mean, if you're not going to take the process seriously then what's the point of appearing?

The next witness was Geoff Derrick, Secretary of the Finance Sector Union Australia (NSW).

Whilst his views do somewhat mirror the views of Lennon, he did make a good point about the restrictions regarding affiliated and non-affiliated unions:
This is why I am sceptical about the complexity of the bill proffered by the Coalition.  Why not stop all donations by anyone besides individuals, and then let any union buy as many ads as they want?  No doubt the Coalition will mobilise business in the same way, and at least then there will be some transparency to the whole thing.

Lannon's views on this are probably about right, but I suspect he and I differ on the solution to the issue.

Next was John Tingle, former MLC and Vice Chairman of the SHooters and Fishers Party.

He makes an interesting point that bears repeating:
Well, yes, precisely.  People aren't going to donate as much.

What he doesn't mention is that if the changes are made parties will need to actually make a case to the public as to why they are worth donating to.  If you can't convince the public of that, then I would suggest that you don't deserve of the public's hard earned.

David Avery, Honourary Secretary of the Hunter District Hunting Club Inc gave evidence broadly in line with Tingle.

Graeme Orr of the Democratic Audit of Australia (an organisation I must admit that I had never heard of) was the final witness. His evidence is a little opaque, but in short it focusses on the constitutionality of the bill, which is a complex legal issue beyond the ambit of what I want to look at here.

It will be interesting to see if many submissions are made in favour of the bill. It may well be that given that this bill hurts the otherwise powerful and emancipates the otherwise weak that we won't see much "institutional" support for the changes.

Which kinda proves the point, really.

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