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Left in the hands of increasingly corrupt major parties, political donations reform won't happen

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Senator John Madigan Independent Senator for Victoria

--- Media Release --- Left in the hands of increasingly corrupt major parties, political donations reform won’t happen

24 May 2016

Independent Senator for Victoria John Madigan has chosen to publicly release a submission sent

to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) on 6 May in which he airs a range

of serious allegations concerning its handling of an inquiry he established into political donations

last October. A copy of Senator Madigan’s submission is attached.

In an opinion piece published by Tthe Guardian today, Senator Madigan provides a condensed

account of his submission to JSCEM. A copy of this piece is attached.

On the issue of JSCEM, Senator Madigan said: “Comprised of individuals drawn from the major

political parties - that is, the beneficiaries of the financial largesse bestowed by political donors -

inquiries by the Joint Standing on Electoral Matters’ into this policy area are inherently tainted by a

conflict of interest. In my view, this is one of the main reasons for decades of inertia in this policy

area, despite overwhelming evidence of the need for reform. Until we see this committee hand

over its role to an independent body, we are unlikely to see the reforms needed to restore

confidence in our political system.”

Senator Madigan’s submission also includes a comprehensive analysis of Australia’s electoral

finance laws, along with a series of recommendations for reform. Key to these is a proposal to

disband JSCEM and have either a newly established independent statutory body or an expanded

AEC take over the role of advising government on electoral matters.

Senator Madigan said: “Australia’s electoral finance regime is among the most liberal of all

comparable political systems. In our federal sphere, there is no limit on how much can be donated

to politicians, or the amount political parties can raise from donors. There are no restrictions on

who can donate (not even foreign nationals, companies or governments are precluded from

financing our politicians) and there are no limits on electoral spending.

“This free-for-all has given rise to an “arms race” between the major parties, who now compete to

outspend each other at elections while devoting ever-increasing resources to raise the funds this

demands. The lion’s share of funding comes from private donors, leaving our major parties, in

particular, increasingly reliant on this mix of large corporations, unions and wealthy individuals to

remain electorally competitive.

“It is naive to think donors don’t expect something in return. In fact, there is compelling evidence

that donors seek to exploit the extraordinary access to politicians this arrangement engenders in

order to influence policy for their perceived benefit. Professional lobbyists are an accepted part of

the political process, as is the idea that if you have enough money to throw at a political party, you

can buy access to its key decision-makers.”

Senator Madigan also describes how attempts he made to become a participating member of the

committee were blocked by the government in what he considered a highly unusual move that

appeared designed to ensure he was not witness to whatever mischief it was involved in.

“In my five years in the Senate I don’t recall this ever happening. It really does beg the question,

what do they have to hide?” Senator Madigan said.

“The way JSCEM has gone about this whole thing risks giving rise to a perception that there has

been collusion between the major parties to bury this inquiry and avoid public scrutiny of their

relationships with political donors, lobbyists and the fundraising entities they are involved with.

“Unfortunately, the days when politicians took their role as guardians of our democratic institutions

seriously are long gone. The current mob runs the place like a personal fiefdom. There’s no

integrity. My view is the two party system stopped serving us well decades ago. They are too

comfortable now. Even when they get voted out they know they’ll be back in after a few years on

the opposition benches. That’s not genuine accountability. A fair few of them need to be turfed out

for good.”

Senator Madigan said he would continue to campaign on this issue right up to election-day,

encouraging greater scrutiny of the major parties in particular.

He recently accepted an invitation to attend the John Cain Foundation’s Come Clean event in

Melbourne on 14 June. This is part of a campaign run by the foundation (a social democracy think

tank) which, according to its website, is “aimed at highlighting the urgent need for the next

government to address our current shambolic approach to election financing”.

Senator Madigan commented: “Well, we are in furious agreement here, obviously. More seriously

though, it is heartening to see people from all walks of Australian life beginning to demand

change. Especially after witnessing the contempt with which our elected leaders treat our political

institutions and the people they are supposed to represent.”

Media inquiries: Nick Moss - 0417 602 378