Pratt Reports Show Urgent Need for Political Funding Law Reform

The exposé suggests that Pratt has been working to cultivate political relationships through three different strategies.

Large political contributions make him a regular top donor

Raheen has been lobbying, including by meeting with ministers, their advisers and holding fundraisers in his mansion.

Former senior politicians such as Tony Abbott, Paul Keating and others are being hired.

This playbook is familiar to other businesses, especially those in sectors with high regulations. (Including mining companies).

No apparent quid pro quo, so does it matter?

However, there is no evidence that the wealth of Pratt was used to give direct favors.

Then, is there no corruption problem?

In McCloy V New South Wales the High Court highlighted how corruption can occur even if there is no quid pro quo. Specifically:

“Clientelism” corruption is “the danger that officeholders may decide issues not based on merits or the wishes of their constituents, but according the those who have contributed large financial amounts valued by the officeholder”.

war chest corruption is when “the power and influence of money can […] threaten the electoral process”.

The Pratt case shows that we need to be worried about the corruption risk of clientelism. Pratt has a goal in mind, which is reciprocity. His business interests are given a favorable hearing.

It is not just Pratt that faces the risk of corruption due to clientelism. Other large contributors, such as businesses and unions, are also at risk.

Climate 200 is another issue, as it is the major source of funding for the Teal MPs. Nearly one-third comes from just three individuals.

Climate 200 is the primary source of funding for Teal MPs. Lukas Coch/AAP

The need for campaign expenditure is what drives the demand for political contributions.

A “race to the bottom” is inevitable with large spending by political players like Clive Palmer and mining companies. (These helped remove Kevin Rudd from his position as Prime Minister through an advertising campaign worth millions of dollars.

Reform opportunity once in a generation

Now is the time to take action against the risks of corruption in political funding.

Based on a report from the Commonwealth Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, the Albanese Labor Government has pledged to reform federal laws on political financing.

This report recommends

Strengthening disclosure obligations by “real-time disclosure” and lowering the threshold to $1,000

Limits on donations to political parties

Spending caps

Administrative funding (to help with compliance with new legislation)

Increased public funding

Additional resources for the Australian Electoral Commission

It is the first time in more than 30 years that a federal law has been reformed in its entirety. In 1991, a ban on advertising political campaigns was found to be unconstitutional.

As noted by Graeme Orr, the time is right for “lasting reform.”

Read more: Proposed spending and donations caps may at last bring genuine reform to national election rules.

If effectively designed (and there is much devil in the detail), the measures the government has committed to will go a long way to addressing the corrupting risks of political funding.

The cap on large contributions will limit them directly. The caps on campaign spending aim to reduce the demand for gifts and address the unfairness that results from increasing campaign spending.

Reforming lobbying is crucial.

The reform agenda of the government left out a crucial area: lobbying regulation.

Teal MP Kate Chaney, and Independent Senator David Pocock both called for more transparency in lobbying by introducing a legislative scheme.

Ministers and their advisors should be required to reveal who they met and why, including through the publication of ministerial diaries.

Integrity and fairness

Will reforming political finance reduce corruption, but increase unfairness by consolidating the power of major parties?

Some claim it will. The government is said to be working ” on a bipartisan agreement designed to defeat independent“.

By opposing any changes to the political finance laws, we not only waste this rare opportunity for reform but also give a victory to those who are using big money in politics to influence it unnecessarily.

In the words of Teal’s MP Monique Ryan “(root-and-branch reform” is needed to ensure that all candidates are treated equally and on an equal playing field.

” Partisan Lockups of the Democratic Process ” are a real risk, since the major parties hold the power to decide electoral rules. But risks aren’t inevitable.

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