Leading Civil Society Organisations Publish Open Letter Calling for Long Overdue Political Finance Reforms


Australia’s leading civil society organisations have today published a full-page ad in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Australian Financial Review and Canberra Times newspapers, calling for long overdue political finance reforms to make politics fairer and more transparent.

Based on research from the Australia Institute, the principles for reform aim to address the unfair advantages of taxpayer-funded incumbency, the undue influence of corporate donors, and to create a level playing field for all political candidates, including independents and those outside the major parties.

The letter comes as the government considers electoral reforms, such as spending caps and truth in advertising laws. This coincides with the impending release of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters’ final report into the 2022 election.

The five principles identified by the Australia Institute’s research are:

1. Giving voters a range of choices about who represents them is critical for a healthy democracy and holding elected representatives to account

2. Political finance reform should strive for fairness and increased transparency, and should not make it harder for new candidates to compete with incumbents

3. Candidates standing for election should be able to compete on a level playing field regardless of whether they are members of a political party or running as an independent

4. The significant taxpayer-funded advantages of incumbency need to be factored in when designing a ‘level playing field’ for political finance reform, with a view to reducing disadvantages already faced by challengers

5. The focus of political finance reform should be on those who most clearly threaten democracy and accountability such as large corporate donors, and the various ways that they influence politicians through financial and other means.

“Done well, meaningful electoral reforms will boost voters’ faith in Australia’s democracy and open our system up to everyone, rather than allowing corporate donations and vested interests to call the shots,” said Bill Browne, Director, Democracy & Accountability Program at the Australia Institute.

“Australia’s political finance laws are lax: the disclosure threshold is much too high, loopholes allow big donors to evade detection and the public has to wait up to a year and a half to see what ends up being disclosed. Australia needs stronger donation transparency laws before the next election.

“A better picture of how our political parties and candidates are funded would help guide further reforms to limit corporate influence, level the playing field and ensure public funding for candidates reflects genuine public support.”

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