Sweeping Changes Needed to Reduce Influence of Money in Politics: Report

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Politicians and political parties would be subject to rigorous scrutiny around their political finances under sweeping recommendations in a new report released today by the Australia Institute.

The report proposes reforms targeted at increasing transparency and diversity as an alternative to existing measures that have failed to rein in vested interests or cash-for-access and made it harder for new voices to enter politics.

A piecemeal approach to political finance laws from the major parties would also go against the wishes of a majority of voters, who identify political contributions from corporations, candidates, MPs and foreign sources as the payments most threatening to our democracy.

With the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters report into the 2022 federal election expected before the end of the year, the Australia Institute has set out targeted reforms to reduce the influence of money in politics and secure transparency and diversity in political finance.

Key recommendations:

  • Requiring the disclosure of all political contributions by corporations and all cash-for-access payments, regardless of size.
  • Lowering the disclosure threshold for political donations from Australian citizens to $5,000, or a lower figure if possible.
  • Introducing real-time disclosure of political contributions, including weekly disclosure during an election campaign.
  • Publishing ministerial diaries as governments do in NSW and Queensland.
  • Introducing a mega-donor cap that prevents any one entity from contributing election-distorting amounts of money.
  • Establishing a public library of materials funded by the communications allowance paid to parliamentarians, so they can be scrutinised.
  • Exploring alternatives to the current public funding model that would accommodate new entrants.
  • Considering a ban on donations from companies receiving large government contracts and the tobacco, liquor, gambling and fossil fuel industries.

“I welcome the Australia Institute’s contribution to this important conversation about how to improve the integrity of our electoral framework. Along with many others from the crossbench, I am very keen to see robust electoral reform in time for the next election,” said Kate Chaney Federal Member for Curtin.

“No one thinks it’s good for democracy when a billionaire spends more than $100m on an election. This report shows that it is possible to address that problem, without locking in the two-party system.”

“The influence of money on our politics is corrosive for our democracy, overwhelmingly favouring big corporations and those individuals who can pay the most to get the ear of politicians,” said Bill Browne, Director of the Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability Program.

“Existing measures to address political finance concerns have failed to rein in the influence that big money can have on our politics, including through political donations or cash-for-access to ministers or other key decision makers.

“Poorly considered changes to electoral laws can also make it harder for new voices to enter politics – including independents and minor parties.

“Australia Institute research shows that most Australians do not see donations from their fellow voters as a particular concern to Australian democracy. Instead, they see a greater threat in contributions from for-profit corporations, existing MPs or candidates and foreign sources.

“Fair political finance rules are essential to level the playing field and give Australians confidence that our democracy is working for everyone, not just those who can afford to pay.”

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mail@australiainstitute.org.au

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luciana@australiainstitute.org.au

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