KIM WINGEREI. Political Donations Must End!

Political donations are a scourge on democracy.  No business, corporation, organisation or individual gives without the expectation or hope of an outcome, and it fundamentally undermines the democratic decision making process.  Banning all donations to political candidates, representatives and political parties is the simple solution.

Sam Dastyari first came to national fame during election night in 2013, offering to share a Halal Snack Pack with Pauline Hanson on TV. An offer she brushed off with her customary ignorance and absence of grace. Having read Dastyari’s autobiography, he comes across as anything but ignorant; Well intentioned, maybe easily led and a tad naive, but overall a good bloke with his heart in the right place.

His resignation was no surprise given recent revelations about his dealings with Chinese businessmen who no doubt took advantage of him. Sam Dastyari is no criminal, but he could have been. Or to put it another way, if political donations were seen by the law for what they are, he should have been. But then he most likely would have known better.

Political donations are a scourge on democracy. Viewed from the vantage point of the donor, it is a bribe. It is a bribe because no business, corporation, organisation or individual gives without the expectation or at least the hope of an outcome they favour. Granted, some give because they see it as their civic duty or even sometimes out of the goodness of their hearts, but how can we know?

Donations take many forms; There is a myriad of ways that business (and individuals) can donate to a party or a candidate – lunches, dinners, attending sporting events, flights, holidays, cash, paying school fees, giving to the candidate’s local bowls club, hookers, legal fees, the promise of a future job or a board position – the list is endless.

Whether she knew about it or not, ‘The Julie Bishop Glorious Foundation’ was not set up just for fun. Chinese mining magnate Sally Zou may well be both fun loving and well meaning, but even mining magnates don’t spend $50,000 on a whim. The Chinese businessmen that paid for Dastyari’s travels may be equally benevolent, but not without intent.

And it is not just about the Chinese, of course, nor only about federal politics. Bribes happen at all levels of government. Talk to anyone in the building game here on the Gold Coast and you get the same stories about how a mere $500 can ‘elevate’ a building application to the top of the pile. And that’s just the small stuff. A major developer I met a few years back told me how council had stalled his project for years because of his refusal to ‘grease palms’ as he put it.

 

Donations are given to influence a new law, a policy or a regulation or a decision in favour of the donor. Anything from a building permit, speeding up an application process, turning a blind eye, an introduction, a word in the ear of someone in the bureaucracy about to select a vendor for a big project, anything that can be helpful to the interests of the donor.

Regulating woefully inadequate reporting systems is not enough. Real-time reporting, as recently introduced in Queensland, is an improvement, so are caps on donations and trying to ban ‘foreign interests’ donations as the Turnbull government proposed this week. But it is all just the typical tinkering around the edges without recognising the real problem.

Donations (or favours of any kind) fundamentally undermines the democratic decision making process. The immutability of our elected representative is the linchpin on which the integrity of the system is based. Without that the system becomes corrupt. Our parliamentarians, councillors, ministers, premiers and prime ministers should all be beholden to their constituents only, their loyalty to the nation, their state or council. And the voters need to have absolute confidence in the veracity of what they say and do, without fear of favour.

Recognising the magnitude of the problem is the start. Banning all donations to political candidates, representatives and political parties is the simple solution. The argument that running elections and parties is costly and that donations are required is spurious. The few hundred million it would take from the public purse to pay for election campaigns and running political party organisations is a small price to pay for the protection of democracy.

Respect for our politicians is at an all time low.  There are many reasons for that, it is a serious issue that requires drastic solutions; Banning donations is one of them.

Kim Wingerei is a former business man, turned blogger and author. He is currently writing ‘Why Politics is Dead – Long Live Democracy’’ to be released in early 2018.

Follow @ kimwingerei.com.

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3 Responses to KIM WINGEREI. Political Donations Must End!

  1. Julian says:

    “Respect for our politicians is at an all time low. There are many reasons for that, it is a serious issue that requires drastic solutions; Banning donations is one of them.”
    True, true, true and true. Thanks Kim.

  2. paul frijters says:

    Kim,

    we share the same values, but I am afraid that banning donations will have zero effect. Zero. Banning donations is like shooting a pea at an elephant.

    Some reasons:
    1. The main way in which individuals donate is via their time. They volunteer and participate. If you ban time donations (which have a market value) you are effectively closing down political parties as they currently exist. If you do not ban donations, then special interests will simply donate in the form of time too (they will pay others to work for politicians, parties, advertising, etc.).
    2. As the US has shown, you can donate via running adds, think tanks, and campaigns separate from political parties. You can only ban that by banning free speech and freedom of expression. Not an option. So you cannot silence money. Let me repeat, because it is totally crucial: YOU CANNOT SILENCE MONEY. So unless you take the money off the table, you will be ruled by it.
    3. As should be clear, special interests own the politicians because in many senses, they are the politicians. Many politicians and top bureaucrats come from the world of special interests and go back to that world in a revolving door system of mates helping mates.

    So the key is to take the money off the table that politicians routinely funnel to the special interests. Neither transparency, nor royal commissions, nor bans on donations and revolving doors is going to help much on its own. And challenging the money will be resisted bitterly. You will need some kind of moral revival and a large-scale involvement of the population to overcome that resistance. The population needs to get off their behinds and take responsibility for their democracy lest they find at some point that they don’t have one anymore. Running to daddy in the hope that he’ll sort it out for them (a commission, a ban, a simple magic wand that one waves without putting in effort) is simply another form of laziness.

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