What chance for reform in a paying political system?

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Increasingly, it is impossible to escape the reality that political fundraising is in bad taste and bordering on illegal. If the bagmen themselves say so, it must be true. And I just did.

Michael Yabsley, The Black Money

Michael Yabsley is the perfect politician to lead the charge of political giving and campaign finance reform. After more than 40 years of political fundraising – Yabsley’s New South Wales parliamentary career began when he convinced the preselectors at Bligh State Seat that he had already developed tremendous fundraising skills fundraising in student politics – his self-description of “poacher turned gamekeeper” doesn’t really express how inflammatory his Dark Money newspaper is. That’s forty pages of quotes on how the current system really is rotten and the urgent need for reform – in fact, it’s probably the political reading of the year.

These are no longer small parties or independents, or small outlets like Crykey, noting that the system is broken, that there is corruption at the heart of the political process and that donors can influence policies by purchasing access. He is a seasoned politician who has organized and led state and federal fundraisers since the days of Neville Wran and Bob Hawke.

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And he was supported by Business Dean Luca Belgiorno-Nettis (describing himself as “the symbolic businessman” present at the launch yesterday) referring to his own experience with political donations and the many fundraisers ” rubber chicken “which he had attended before Transfield stopped donating. “We all know that playing pays off,” he said. The bagmen say so, and those who fill the bags.

Yabsley doesn’t have time for the idea that just buying access doesn’t equate to influence, by the way. “Pull the other, ”he says in Dark Money. “Who, other than Walter Mitty or Pollyanna, wouldn’t believe that access and influence are inherently indistinguishable… why are they forbidding journalists from covering these lectures…?

Most of Yabsley’s guests had some sort of problem with Yabsley’s 10 point plan – especially Stephen Loosley; he thinks severing the link between unions and labor would kill his party. Yabsley wants:

  • A cap of $ 200 on political donations per person, covering the entire electoral cycle in each jurisdiction
  • A cap on election expenses, including advertising
  • Only registered Australian citizens are allowed to donate
  • All donations should be anonymous and undisclosed, as their small size would remove the case for disclosure
  • No other entity, company, union or organization is authorized to make donations.
  • All public funding for elections will be cut
  • Laws to be enforced with criminal penalties punishable by custodial sentences, including targeting the aggregation of small donations into much larger donations
  • Uniform national donation laws in all states and territories
  • From electoral commissions to overriding laws and revision ceilings
  • A tailor-made federal / state body to develop a program of electoral debates and implement media elements during election campaigns.

Some problems arise: a company or a union could simply get its employees to “make a voluntary donation”; it does not address the problem of third party participants engaging in election advertising, or the potential rise of US-style PACs.

But there are a lot of positives – Yabsley wants to force our hollowed-out parties, where power brokers prefer low membership because they make stacking easier, to reconnect with the community; it would remove paid access to politics, it presents a coherent argument for cutting public funding of parties, allowing the perpetuation of large hollowed out parties, and by capping election and advertising spending, it would curb parties’ desperate thirst for funding.

Yabsley is aware that a potential big loser from his reforms is the mainstream media, which relies on an injection of tens of millions of dollars in election advertising spending every three years at the federal level and every four years at the federal level. State, and says it has already been said by media figures that its reforms would be very damaging to their income. “Titty hard,” he said.

There is “am unorganized, largely silent conspiracy “between the main parties over political donations, writes Yabsley. At the very least, he removed any justification for continuing this silence, either by politicians currently in parliament or by the media who are supposed to hold them to account.

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Pierre Fray

Pierre Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crykey

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