Monday, March 1, 2010

No reform for political funding

Mr. Kevin Rudd,
Prime Minister of Australia

Dear Prime Minister,

We refer to the reports below for your information.

Would you like to comment, please?

Yours respectfully,

Eddie Hwang
Unity Party WA (Uploaded)
Ph/Fax: 61 893681884
Date: 01-Mar-2010.
Environmental Friendly - Save the trees - Use Email.
Can you afford to give Telstra/Bigpond a try?
Corruption-buster slams the politics of deception
Tony Koch - The Australian - February 25, 2010 12:00AM
FORMER anti-corruption commissioner Tony Fitzgerald has hit out at what he sees in Australia as an amoral political culture run by a governing class preoccupied with amassing power for itself.

The man credited with cleaning up public life in Queensland through the corruption inquiry he headed in the late 1980s told The Australian yesterday that young people felt "totally excluded" from decision-making.

Mr Fitzgerald will return to the public stage in Queensland next Tuesday when he launches a biography by this journalist on former Queensland Liberal leader and businessman Terry White, and later that day launches another book of essays that analyses the legacy of his landmark inquiry.

In that publication, The Fitzgerald Legacy, he writes in the foreword that small groups control the Labor and Liberal parties "and indirectly the national destiny".

"Dynasties are emerging as politics become, for some, the family business," he writes.

"Misleading or deceptive conduct is barred in commerce, but secrecy and misinformation (euphemistically called spin) are routinely employed by politicians.
"Political debate is often marked by spiteful, juvenile point-scoring and attempts to discredit each other, inevitably discrediting all participants.

"Media management insults and confuses the electorate, which is denied the comprehensive, accurate information which is essential to the proper functioning of democracy."

Most pointedly, Mr Fitzgerald writes that (political) access and influence can be purchased and patronage is dispensed to supporters and used to silence potential critics.

That is a repeat of a warning Mr Fitzgerald issued last July when he addressed a Brisbane function marking the 20th anniversary of the delivery of his report.

He then criticised the plethora of "consultants" who fed off government -- most of them former MPs or party hacks.

Mr Fitzgerald said yesterday that "the political class" was interested in the acquisition and exercise of power, not democratic theory.

"Mature democracies restrain self-serving activities by dividing power and imposing effective constraints. Under our weaker system, whichever party is in government, with effective parliamentary control, can and routinely does indulge its adherents, supporters and ideology," he said.

"Well-connected individuals and small, usually wealthy, groups are provided with access to and influence on the political process. Decisions favouring special interests are common.

"Because all parties grasp opportunities when in power, opposition criticism is muted and the risk of an electoral backlash is low.

"Instead, the general public is becoming increasingly cynical, apathetic and disengaged."

Gifts lavished on senior WA public servants
Joe Spagnolo, political reporter - October 02, 2009 06:40pm

ALMOST 100 senior WA public servants and ministerial officers have been lavished with thousands of dollars in freebies from some of the State's biggest companies and organizations, it has been revealed.

The public servants - working in government agencies such as Treasury, Planning and the Department of Premier and Cabinet - received more than $30,000 in gifts and free travel from September last year until the end of July this year.

New figures show the fat cats were treated to cricket, football, rugby matches and golf days as well as ballet, circus and Leeuwin concert tickets.

They also received bottles of scotch and wine, chocolates and clothing.

Ministerial staff within the Office of the Premier helped themselves to chopsticks, scented candles and an ornamental fan courtesy of Japanese businesses, while others received stamp collections, silk scarfs and carvings from the Japanese.

Amongst those offering the freebies were banking institutions, real-estate groups and mining companies.

In one case, a Department of Treasury and Finance officer spent two nights at the Caves Hotel in Yallingup, valued at $500, as a guest of the Commonwealth Bank, which provides banking services to government agencies.

Details of the perks were released by the government following a series of questions by Labor MP Mark McGowan.

Premier Colin Barnett has refused to answer a series of questions put to him by PerthNow about the perks, issuing this statement through his media adviser: ``The receipt and giving of gifts throughout government and opposition is done in accordance with the Ministerial Code of Conduct.’’

The Premier’s adviser and the Office of the Public Sector Commission said this week that each individual government agency had its own code of conduct which dealt with freebies and that heads of agencies decided whether it was appropriate for gifts and travel should be accepted.

``In the case of the Department of Premier and Cabinet it conducted ethical and accountable decision making training for all departmental officers which included specific case studies on accepting gifts,'' a spokeswoman for the Premier said.

Mr McGowan this week raised concerns about freebies for public servants and other government officers.

``I don’t think there is a problem going to the footy but there is a serious issue when there is a business relationship between the provider and the receiver – such as the CBA providing free accommodation to an officer from Treasury,’’ he said.
Political bigwigs dined out in the lap of luxury
Patrick Lion - From: The Courier-Mail - January 27, 2010 4:00AM
MINISTERS and advisers were wined and dined by Australia's richest woman onboard one of the world's most exclusive cruise liners.

The incident took place while her project was under State Government review, the Courier-Mail reports.

Deputy Premier Paul Lucas, Mines Minister Stephen Robertson and Speaker John Mickel last month enjoyed hospitality aboard The World, a $350 million floating resort on which billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart owns a plush residence.

The office of Premier Anna Bligh yesterday backflipped on an earlier commitment and refused to release the full list of invitees for the dinner party but Transport Minister Rachel Nolan's chief-of-staff and Mr Robertson's policy adviser also attended.

Senior government sources said the Premier, Infrastructure Minister Stirling Hinchliffe and Ms Nolan had to reject their invites to the dinner last month while The World docked in Brisbane.
Details have emerged amid an integrity debate over links between business and State Government decision-makers.

The intimate event was held shortly after the Premier met Ms Rinehart in her Executive Building office on December 17 to discuss and accept her application for the Government to declare an "infrastructure facility of significance" on a planned train line from her two proposed central-west Queensland mines.

It allowed Ms Rinehart's firm, Hancock Prospecting, to start a feasibility study into the projects this year.

A green light for the application would mean the Government would recognise the 500km rail corridor, between the company's Alpha and Kevin's Corner mines in the Galilee Basin to the coast at Abbot Point, as economically and socially important for the state.

Government co-ordinator-general Colin Jensen is also still conducting overall environmental assessments into the two projects, which are valued at $16.5 billion, as well as a nearby $7.5 billion proposal by Liberal Nationals' billionaire backer Clive Palmer.

Department sources said dinner guests had to provide passports when boarding the highly exclusive international vessel, which is home to millionaires and billionaires who each have spent up to $22 million on residences

To preserve democracy, political donations must be limited
December 20, 2009 - age
WHAT price democracy in Australia? As far as the broad mass of taxpayers are concerned, not that much, it seems. For the 2007 federal election, taxpayers chipped in about $49 million to help political parties run their campaigns, up from $10.3 million in 1987.

That might sound like a lot, but compared to public funding for elections in other countries, it's relatively small beer.

This is not to say Australian elections are cheap. In fact, the cost of funding them has been rocketing. Labor's spending rose by 116 per cent in real terms over the 20 years to 2004. Liberal spending surged 136 per cent.

Public funding makes up just 20 per cent of election spending in Australia. The rest comes from a morass of donations, membership and affiliation fees, investments and fund-raising.

Ask Premier John Brumby and he might say that this is all part of the democratic process. Is it not a basic freedom for individuals and companies to contribute to a political party if they wish?

But perhaps a more pertinent question is whether that ''basic freedom'' carries with it an even bigger cost: the erosion of the democratic process itself.

John Faulkner, previously special minister of state and now defence minister, warned in a green paper on electoral reform that ''spiralling costs'' of electioneering had created a campaigning ''arms race''.

This has heightened the danger that fund-raising pressures would open the door to donations that might attempt to buy access and influence.

Consider a recent report in The Age that coal company Exergen paid Victorian Labor for a private briefing with Brumby, before its $1.5 billion scheme to export 12 million tonnes of brown coal to India was examined by a state cabinet committee. Then there was Latrobe Fertilisers chairman and ALP donor Allan Blood, who reportedly paid $10,000 to sit next to Brumby at a fund-raising dinner. The company has proposed a $2 billion scheme to turn brown coal into fertiliser.

As Faulkner points out, there is a danger that ''third party'' participants could influence the electoral process without being subject to the same regulations that apply to political parties.

''Perceptions of the potentially distorting nature of large donations - either cash or resources - to political parties will degrade the public's trust in the integrity of the political process.'' The solution? Ban or severely limit political donations and increase the public funding of election campaigns to compensate for the lost revenue. And while we're at it, ban third-party advertising during campaigns.

This is what both major parties say they want to do. The Sunday Age reported last week that Labor had already drafted legislation to introduce reforms based on changes introduced in Canada and New Zealand.

The plan, which has become bogged down, would include limiting donations from individuals and organisations to about $1500. To make up for the loss, the taxpayer-funded contribution would be almost doubled from about $2.20 for each first preference vote to about $4.25.

All this sounds noble, but there are practical reasons too for the changes. In an age of growing cynicism, political parties are finding it increasingly difficult to raise the cash needed to fund election campaigns that include television and radio advertising, sophisticated use of electronic media and a blizzard of direct mail.

The NSW branch of the Labor Party is in a particularly parlous state because years of unrest and scandal in the State Government has cruelled their ability to raise corporate funds.

One Labor source said: ''It's being put in high-minded terms, but Labor federally is $8 million in debt, and Rudd point blank refuses to fund-raise. State branches are also in a parlous state.''

So what's the hold-up? The major sticking point is that the Federal Opposition wants union affiliation fees included in the definition of ''donation''.

But unions fear that if they lose the ability to pay Labor such fees - which are said to account for up to 70 per cent of the cost of running some state branches - they will be disenfranchised and eventually lose political influence within the party.

Despite Kevin Rudd's anti-union tough talk, Labor seems unwilling or unable to completely sever the umbilical cord financially linking it to the union movement and is continuing to insist that affiliation fees should not be included in the definition of ''donation''.

As long as this is the case, Faulkner's high-minded reformist agenda will not see the light of day and Australia's political parties will remain increasingly reliant on big business and the union movement to pay for their big-spending campaigns.

Josh Gordon is national political reporter for The Sunday Age

Lobbying & Political donations

6-February 2010 - smh

.........Brad Pedersen is a former councillor and founder of Democracy Watch, a coalition of senior academics and prominent judicial and political identities from across the political spectrum, focused on ''cleaning-up'' the political donations systems. ''Financial donations to political parties and candidates is the most corrupting force in our political system,'' Pedersen says.

''This is the dark underbelly of our political system. These donations are a serious threat to our democracy. The policy outcomes of all our governments risk being improperly influenced by huge corporations, powerful trade unions and wealthy individuals. Some donors even secure their influence by making equally enormous donations to both parties."

$5000 access to Labor ministers
FOR $5000 a head, business people and lobbyists can get the opportunity to hobnob with federal and state ministers at Labor's state conference in a fortnight.
A pamphlet being distributed by Labor officials advertises membership of the Business Observers Centre at the conference as $5000 a head or $2000 to $4000 a head for members of the Party's Business Dialogue group.

Membership of the business observers centre gives you the right to ''pre luncheon drinks'' with federal and state ministers and the ability to attend a breakfast meeting with the general secretary of NSW Labor, Matt Thistlethwaite.

It also entitles developers, hotel owners and others who pay the fee to attend business forums with state ministers Kristina Keneally, Eric Roozendaal, Joe Tripodi, Carmel Tebbutt and John Robertson. Forums will also be held with the federal ministers Julia Gillard, Anthony Albanese, Lindsay Tanner, Martin Ferguson, Tanya Plibersek, Craig Emerson and Mark Arbib.

Places are restricted to 80 takers, so the Labor Party hopes to raise $400,000.

The Greens MP Lee Rhiannon said yesterday: ''Yet again Labor is offering big business the opportunity to buy access that is not available to ordinary people. The Government appears to have learnt nothing from the string of political donation scandals …''

''The least the Labor Party organisers could do is to disclose who buys a $5000 pack to provide some transparency.''

The Labor Government is also under fire for hiring a director and shareholder in a major lobbying firm to become the chief of staff to the Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt.

Scott Gartrell, a cousin of the former Labor federal secretary Tim Gartrell, is a lobbyist who has resigned as a director of Government Relations Australia since his appointment, but still holds shares in the company. A spokeswoman for Ms Tebbutt said Mr Gartrell was ''in the process of disposing his shares … ''.

No reform for political funding
ROYCE MILLAR - January 13, 2010
THE Rudd Government has abandoned its promise of a new, cleaner system of political funding before the next election, prompting Opposition claims it has caved in to union pressure.

More than a year after the Government promised tougher controls on donations and expenditure in time for the next federal poll, Special Minister of State Joe Ludwig is refusing to back the promise.

Senator Ludwig would only say that the Government was still determined to achieve reform and was ''working with all parties'' to do so. He would not be drawn on the timing or likely detail of such legislation.

This marks a significant retreat on the pledge of his predecessor as special minister of state, John Faulkner, a champion of electoral reform who in September 2008 promised an end to the campaign finance ''arms race''.

At the time, Senator Faulkner told The Age: ''The electoral reforms will definitely be in place before the next election.''

Michael Ronaldson, the Coalition spokesman on electoral issues, accused the Government of crumbling under union pressure, saying ''momentum'' in negotiations stopped when unions started lobbying to shore up their ties with, and influence on, Labor.

Senator Ronaldson described Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's handling of the proposed changes as a disgrace. ''It is becoming clearer by the day that Kevin Rudd owes the unions and that they own him.

''It is increasingly clear that the level of union influence means that the reforms are all but dead in the water. And this is a great tragedy for this country.''

Senator Ludwig this week diverted attention to other parties involved in negotiations around the proposed Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill. ''In order for legislation to pass the Senate, we need agreement between Labor and the Liberals, Greens, Nationals and Independents,'' he said.

''Constructive talks with each party are continuing in order to build further support for the Government's campaign financing reform," he said.

The Age understands that broad agreement had been reached between the major and minor parties, including the Greens, about the need for key reforms, including controls on donations to political parties and campaign expenditure, regulation of third parties such as lobby groups and unions, and increased public funding for elections.

However the talks appear to have been derailed after lobbying by unions and party machines, in particular Victorian Labor. Unions are upset that one proposal on the bargaining table was a ban on union affiliation fees to the Labor Party, a major source of income for Labor which also gives unions a key role in party decision-making.

Victorian Labor wants to protect its income from both unions and corporations and is keen to ensure revenue continues to flow from controversial but successful fund-raising arm, Progressive Business, particularly as it faces both state and federal elections this year.

Labor MPs are also believed to have pressed the point that the proposed reforms had the potential to hurt Labor more than other parties.

It is unclear how Tony Abbott's ascension to the Liberal leadership has affected the party's approach.In a written statement to The Age this week, he said: ''The Liberal Party is open to discussions with the Government on this issue if they are genuinely seeking our views. Any new arrangement has got to be fair, it can't favour one side or another.''

Such sentiment is at odds with a speech he made earlier this week, in which he said he would oppose all Labor initiatives unless convinced ''beyond reasonable doubt'' the Government was right.

Ken Coghill, an associate professor at Monash University, argues that the activity of lobbying, rather than individual lobbyists, should be registered. ''The very important thing is to have a very complete and comprehensive list of lobbying activity. So if a CEO of a large mining company … or a CEO of a building developer meet a minister, it should be on the public record.''

There is ''no question'' business can influence government through lobbying, he says.

''Sometimes it can be a very fine line of what is a problem and what is not.''

One former senator who was on the standing committee for the lobbying code of conduct, and who has made submissions in response to the Federal Government's electoral reform green paper of last September, believes the system needs to be overhauled.

"The practice of companies making political donations without shareholder approval and … unions making political donations without member approval must end. The practice of some companies and unions affiliating to or becoming members of political parties without shareholder or member approval must end. The UK has attended to both corporations and unions along these lines."

No comments:

Post a Comment