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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1666

Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (17:46): Our persistent failure to reform laws relating to political donations is directly contributing to those we represent becoming increasingly cynical about what we do in this place. It is time we stopped the rot. While I am in favour of a cap on private donations from any source, whether it be unions, corporations or wealthy individuals, a more moderate set of reforms would go a long way towards restoring confidence in our political system.

These fall into two broad categories. Firstly, there is the issue of foreign donations. It is so blindingly obvious that it is contrary to the national interest for our politicians to accept donations from foreign entities that I need not say more. The second area of reform alluded to is the issue of transparency. If donations from private sources are to be uncapped, Australians need to know who is taking what, and from whom. They need this information in real time, so when they go to the ballot box they can weigh it up however they see fit.

Our current laws are woefully inadequate to provide even this minimum safeguard of democratic principles. The disclosure threshold of approximately $13,000 is ridiculously high. In addition, it is common knowledge that, for those who have the will, the current system permits donations of around $100,000 to be made to the major parties without the need for any disclosure at all. This is done by splitting payments between various party offices. This loophole makes a farce of our democracy and must be closed.

As for timing, current technology would easily permit all donations above a reduced threshold being published on an AEC website within a couple of weeks. Together with a prohibition on donations within a specified timeframe prior to an election, this would ensure Australians are aware of who is financing politicians when they go to vote.