Independent Member for Clark, Andrew Wilkie, introduced his Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Cleaning up Political Donations) Bill to Federal Parliament. The Bill will strengthen the transparency and accountability of political donations in Australia. See above video for full speech.
“Trust in politicians and the political process is at an all-time low,” Mr Wilkie said. “The creation of the National Anti-Corruption Commission is a start to restoring this trust, but if we are to be fair dinkum about it, we must also legislate to require truth in political advertising, enhance our media freedom laws, provide better protections for whistleblowers and significantly overhaul our political donations framework. That’s why I’m re-introducing my Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Cleaning up Political Donations) Bill.
“The recent Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) annual returns once again highlighted how fundamentally broken Australia’s political donation laws are. An absurd amount of money continues to be given to political parties, quite often by big corporate entities. Just in the 2021-22 financial year, the Coalition received $118 million in donations, while the Australian Labor Party received $124 million. Much of this was dark money, donations with no identifiable source, and that is because the current disclosure threshold for political donations of $15,200 is far too high.
“Moreover the current legislation doesn’t require donors to disclose if they donate just below the threshold multiple times. In essence, this means a gambling company can donate one dollar below the threshold multiple times without the public ever knowing about it. Indeed the figures released by the AEC revealed dark money accounted for 40 per cent of political party revenue.
“Just last week, it was reported that Minister Michelle Rowland received a $10,000 donation from Sportsbet while acting as Labor’s spokesperson for communications before last year’s federal election. With the very real prospect of becoming Minister for Communications and being responsible for regulating online gambling, this donation is especially troubling. Moreover the donation only became known because Sportsbet revealed it.
“To ensure better transparency, my Bill would lower the disclosure threshold to $1,000 and require aggregation, so that multiple donations received from the same source be disclosed if the sum of all donations meets this threshold. Secondly, the Bill would introduce real-time reporting of donations to the AEC. It would also expand the definition of a gift.
“Ultimately, donations from certain sectors continue to severely impact policy and decision-making. When someone hands over hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in donations, they expect a return on that investment. Alarmingly, analysis by the Centre for Public Integrity found that in the lead up to last year’s federal election, a mere 10 donors provided 77 per cent of total political donations. Surely Parliamentarians are elected to serve their communities, not the interests of large corporate donors.
“The Bill would also implement a cap of $50,000 on the total amount any one donor can donate during an electoral cycle, as well as introduce an expenditure cap to limit the amount that can be spent on election campaigns by candidates and parties. Finally, the Bill would prohibit donations from sectors whose businesses cause direct harm to Australians, including fossil fuel entities, gambling companies, liquor companies and the tobacco industry.
“Shamefully, neither major party supported the Bill when I introduced it in 2022. But, if Australia is to clean up its democracy, both the Government and Opposition need to get behind and support it this time around.”