Nationals MLC Ben Franklin has defended new political donation laws after being accused by the Greens of ramming it through last Thursday night and providing only a week for the opposition to digest.
The new rules, say the Greens, will see ‘third party’ groups like unions, GetUp, Sea Shepherd and World Wildlife Fund see their spending caps halved to $500,000.
Additionally the new laws apply to local councils, where some will be able to spend more per voter than others, the party says.
Yet the Electoral Funding Bill 2018 ‘includes some positive measures’, including ‘the definition of prohibited donors, increased transparency and some spending caps in local government election’.
Third-party funding halved
Ballina Greens MP Tamara Smith described the new laws as ‘the most undemocratic ever seen in the state’.
‘Community groups like GetUp, Sea Shepherd, World Wildlife Fund and Marriage Equality have had their funding caps slashed while the old parties have given themselves a massive windfall in both money to run elections and money received after elections,’ Ms Smith told The Echo.
‘The Greens have led the charge when it comes to supporting caps on electoral expenditure but we say that if third party environmental and social justice groups have had their spending halved why haven’t political parties?’ she added.
Wealthy candidates encouraged
Greens MP Jamie Parker said, ‘There is a massive loophole for candidates to spend up to $60,000 outside of the donation cap on their own campaign. This means political parties be encouraged to endorse wealthy candidates who can afford to spend tens of thousands on their own campaign and will provide a back door way of avoiding donation caps for the Upper House.’
Fellow Greens MP David Shoebridge said, ‘Under these changes, a party contesting a council election with 2,000 voters across four wards can spend $120,000, but if they are in a council with 200,000 votes and no wards they are limited to $30,000.’
‘A party running in the City of Sydney will only be able to spend 21 cents per voter, compared to $3.70 per voter in Woollahra, $50 per voter in Walcha and a whopping $100 per vote in the Central Darling.’
Mr Parker told The Echo, ‘We tried to ban donations from mining corporations but that was rejected.’
He added that while political parties are still able spend over $22m each for elections, the new law includes a provision for ‘admin spending’, which adds even more money to their campaigns.
As for real time donation disclosure, Parker said his party moved an amendment so that donations would be made public within 14 days from being received, but that too was rejected.
When asked if a week was long enough for the opposition to digest and reposed to a 150 page bill, Nationals MLC Ben Franklin replied, ‘This Bill has undergone a long and rigorous process of consultation over the past couple of years. It started with the Government establishing an independent panel to consider all issues surrounding electoral funding. (This was chaired by Kerry Schott, with Andrew Tink and John Watkins as the other members).’ ‘Submissions both verbal and written were made by parties and individuals. It was very thorough and ran for a number of months.
‘The government accepted 49 or the 50 recommendations in principle, but asked the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters to consider this report.
‘Again, submissions were received and considered and a report was tabled. The report’s recommendations were almost entirely unanimous (with the exception of the third party cap issue).
‘The Bill was a result of all of these inquiries and discussions and was presented in the usual time frame.
‘So, if anything, this Bill was unusual because of the long period of consultation and engagement on it. (I had substantial discussions with anyone who raised any concerns – including the Opposition, with whom I met with repeatedly on the issue).’
Uncapped federal donations
Despite the new laws, federal political parties enjoy uncapped donations.
Franklin did not answer the question, ‘Do you believe there needs major reform at the federal level as what we have seen as the state level?’
But Franklin did say that donations that flow from federal to the state level via respective parties are capped at $6,100 (Clause 5 section 4 of the Bill).
‘I’m proud that the NSW Government has the strictest electoral funding and donation laws in the country. One of the reasons they were enacted to ensure that any concerns about possible “favourable returns” were ameliorated.’
‘The amount of money an individual or organisation can give to a political party over the course of a year is capped a $6,100 – a very low amount compared to other jurisdictions.’
The Echo also asked, ‘Do you believe that there are expectations of a return to those who donate to political parties? Why do you believe donations should be a part of politics – don’t political donations distort and create an uneven field for society?’
Franklin replied, ‘I support the idea of people being able to give donations to political parties as I believe it is a freedom of speech issue. People should be able to provide a degree of financial support to their chosen candidate or party just as they should be allowed to volunteer for them.’
‘However, there must be a strong system of public funding for election campaigns so that parties are not reliant on these donations to run a strong and effective campaign.
‘I believe our legislation does exactly that.’