Transparency International today said a new global study into political funding reporting shows Australia lags behind many developed countries in transparency of political donations and enforcement of political financing regulations.
The 54 country study, Money, Politics and Transparency, a collaboration between the Sunlight Foundation, Global Integrity and the Electoral Integrity Project, provides detail on political finance laws and practices.
Transparency International Australia’s Alan Wolfe, contributor to the study said the report raises issues in the way Australia regulates and enforces political finance.
Australia’s high disclosure threshold on financial contributions to political campaigns means that loopholes can be easily abused
In Australia political contributions are required to be disclosed at the threshold of $12,400*. Because of a loophole it is feasible that one donor could contribute up to $99,200 based on 8 x $12,400 made up of separate donations to each State and Territory branch of a Federal party, as well as the Federal party, without disclosing their identity.
This resulted in lower scores for Australia throughout the questionnaire.
The use of state resources favours the incumbent candidate
The report identified that during political campaigns the incumbent has the ability to use Commonwealth resources including vehicles, existing support staff, travel allowances and office facilities seven though it is widely known that these should not be used
The ability to enforce sanctions is lacking in Australia
Although the Australian Electoral Commission is a well-respected organisation, the report found that the AEC has no authority to impose sanctions. Instead, a brief must be compiled, referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions which then assesses if there is sufficient evidence to prosecute. No prosecution has occurred for at least seven years.
A lack of timeliness of data
Political finance is only reported annually in Australia, resulting in post-election delays of up to 19 months before sources of political funding are publically known. The source and timing of donations is of increasing concern to Australians.
Transparency International Australia said: “In the age of instant global communications, and online banking there is no technical impediment to better disclosure. This is an important report and shows we can do better in Australia by demanding more transparency in political funding and tougher laws for those that break them.”
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Perth, Western Australia
Alan Wolfe is co-convener of the TI Australia WA Regional Committee and a consultant on a proposed Mining and Corruption programme. Alan works on research and integrity issues and he completed the Australian section of the Money, Politics and Transparency project