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Follow the Money: Senator Patrick to make political donation reform a priority in the next Parliament

27 April 2022

Independent Senator Rex Patrick today announced his plans for pursuing political donation transparency reform in the 47th Parliament.

“Political donation reform must be an absolute priority for the next Parliament”, Senator Patrick said. “Shining a light on the problem of ‘dark money’ is essential to restore the health of our democracy. This is a task equal in priority to the establishment of a Federal anti-corruption commission.”

“The Commonwealth has the weakest political donation disclosure laws in the country. The big political parties – Liberal, Nationals and Labor – have been content to allow a flawed political finance disclosure regime to deteriorate to the point that it is an open door to political corruption and covert influence.” 

“Political parties are able to conceal the source of donations because of the high threshold of $14500 for the disclosure of donations and because multiple donations under that threshold to different branches of the same party need not be aggregated an disclosed. In addition the definition of a ‘gift’ under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 is far too narrow allowing numerous dodgy fund raising activities to fly under the radar.”

Data released by the Australian Electoral Commission for the 2020/231 financial year shows that more than $68 million – or 38.6% of political parties’ declared income is of undisclosed origin. Between 1998-99 and 2020-21, political parties received some $1.38 billion in undisclosed funds. 

Senator Patrick said:“Reform is urgently required. The extent of the problem is well known and has been well documented, especially through the work of the independent Centre for Public Integrity. The corrupting influence of money in Federal politics is clear.” 

“What is required is action to force debate in the Parliament on what is needed to stop the influence of dark money.” 

“Accordingly, if re-elected to the Senate, I plan to introduce legislation to implement the major transparency reforms recommended by the Centre for Public Integrity and other transparency and anti-corruption experts.” 

These reforms are:

  • A reduction in the reporting threshold for political donations, with individual donations over $1,000 and aggregated donations of $3,000 over 3 years to political parties, candidates, associated entities, third parties and political campaigners being required to be disclosed.
  • A broadening of the definition of ‘donation’ to include income from party fundraisers, corporate sponsorship of business forums, membership fees over $2,000 per year, and any gift that is spent on electoral expenditure or otherwise used for electoral purposes.
  • Real time disclosure of donations, plus quarterly reports providing categorisation and aggregates of donations.
  • Political parties to use a single dedicated campaign account to facilitate auditing and enforcement.
  • Related companies to be categorised accordingly, and aggregated for any donation or expenditure caps.
  • Enforcement through a strengthened and appropriately resourced enforcement division within the Australia Electoral Commission, and serious or systemic breaches to be investigated by an independent National Integrity Commission.

“Fixing Australia’s broken politics is absolutely essential to restore confidence in our democracy and to achieve better outcomes across all areas of public policy,” Senator Patrick said.

“As an independent Senator I’ve used every opportunity available to me to press for greater transparency and accountability from Government Ministers and public servants. However the past four and a half years of service have left me in no doubt that unless we fix the problem of dark money our Federal Parliament will remain compromised and our politics deeply corrupted.” 

“The early introduction of legislation to implement much needed political donation transparency reforms will force the Liberal, National and Labor Parties to engage on this issue in the new Parliament, and whoever forms Government will have to reckon with this as a matter of priority.”

“I’ll be pressing hard on this and I’m determined that one way or another we’ll see real reform delivered in the new Parliament.”