Thursday, January 26, 2012

Money Money Money (Part II)

I've thought a little more about political donations since my last post on the topic.

Ideally, this is the system I would prefer:

  • Only individuals on the electoral roll can make donations.
  • Each person has an applicable "donation limit" per year.
  • If a non-political party wants to run an issue campaign, they can do so, but only using funds donated for that purpose.
  • Funds donates to non-political parties would be included in a person's donation limit.
I think it's fair. I also think it has buckley's chance of being introduced, but there you go.

If you've had a look at the changes proposed by O'Farrell - well, they are heading in the right direction, but they are a long way short of where I would like us to be. That said, small steps are (in this case) better than no steps at all.

Consequently, I was more than a little frustrated to read the transcript of the first day of the Inquiry into the Coalition's changes.  The conga-line of people attending to rubbish the changes smacked of vested interest and partisan (rather than honest) analysis.

As I settled down to peruse O'Farrell's comments to the committee, I expected that he would be hammered by a panel that seemed more than a little slanted against him.  I was not disappointed.

You may be interested to first have a look at the submission made by the Office of the Premier. If you're interested, the full list of published submissions can be seen here.

The full transcript of the second day of the hearing can be found here.

O'Farrell came straight out of the gate with his justification for the changes:
Steve Whan (ALP) persisted with Labor's attack on O'Farrell for continuing to attend fundraisers whilst pressing the case to, if not outlaw, certainly minimise the utility of them.  
O'Farrell response is entirely reasonable.  It is unfair and frankly more than a little ridiculous for Labor to expect O'Farrell to stop attending fundraisers whilst the ALP delay the introduction of these changes by running an inquiry.

There followed some discussion about the exact operation of the new laws.  John Kaye (GRN), chair of the committee, had this exchange with O'Farrell, which is worth repeating just for the nasty (but not unfair) comments about lawyers:
If you have the chance, the full 13 pages of his evidence are worth reading just for the amusing sniping between Whan and O'Farrell.

Anne Twomey gave evidence principally directed at the constitutionality of the changes.

Tony O'Grady, Brett Holmes and John Moran of the NSW Nurses Association were the next to appear. Their biggest concern was expressed as follows:
Christopher Maltby of the Greens appeared next.  At the start he clarified that the Greens do support the legislation generally, saying the following:
It was also interesting to note the following comments about the Greens funding arrangements:
How many donations from corporations and other non-individual bodies would the Greens get if they did accept those donations?  Impossible to say - but their policy does somewhat allow them to claim the moral high-ground in this discussion.

Mr Smith and Mr Thew were next to appear. A problem with the transcript as it presently appears on the Hansard website means I'm not sure exactly what their positions are, but it appears that they are in some way affiliated with the Christian Democrats.

That transcript problem meant that I'm not able to peruse his opening statement, which makes it a little hard to know their overarching views on the legislation. Mr Smith did make a good point about the fact that many of their supporters are in the older demographic, meaning that complying with potentially complex reporting requirements may become onerous for them.

The final witnesses for the day were Lenore Hankinson and Jennifer Diamond from the NSW Teachers Federation. It was interesting to see Diamond state the following right at the outset:
The impressiveness of that independence is somewhat lessened only a few paragraphs down:
He went on to express concerns about the ability of the Federation to push their agenda if these changes are made.

One final comment - an incredibly large amount of time in committee was taken up by members asking witnesses whether they thought this action or that campaign would be permissible under the legislation. That seems to me to be a monstrous waste of time.

No doubt the committee have all read legal advice on the topic. Excepting the constitutional experts, I fail to see what the witnesses personal view as to the legality or otherwise of this or that is of benefit to anyone.  It certainly wasn't worth spending large portions of the day on.

The documentation I have been able to find is unclear as to whether further hearings will be held.  I certainly appears, judging from the questioning, that the inquiry is far more about the media and perception then they are about any legitimate attempt to discuss the legislation.

It appears certain that the ALP will oppose the changes and likely that the Greens will support them, possibly after some fiddling around the edges.

What I hope is that there will continue to be pressure placed on O'Farrell to make further changes and to do even more to clean up this most unsavoury aspect of politics in NSW.

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