Little progress has been made over the years in federal politics to reduce the influence of donations over the political process compared with the states. There are no limits on expenditure or on who can donate to parties.
While the Greens have argued strongly for limits on campaign spending and bans on corporate donations, all attempts for progress on those issues have been resisted.
Public funding of political parties was first imposed as part of the Hawke government’s 1983 electoral reforms. Donations over $1500 were required to be disclosed and for the first time public funding was provided at a rate of 30c per vote in the Senate and $60c per vote in the House of Representatives. Funding was only provided as reimbursement for documented expenditure.
Changes in 1995 removed the requirement that receipts are provided for funding, easing the administrative burden on political parties and making it possible for parties to receive more public funding than they spent on the election.
The Howard government pursued an agenda of weakening electoral laws that required disclosure of donations. After unsuccessfully pushing legislation after 2001, the Coalition gained control of the Senate at the 2004 election.
In 2006, the Senate passed changes that increased the disclosure threshold from $1500 to $10,000, with the new threshold indexed to inflation. The current threshold can be found on the AEC’s site.
From 2007, the Labor government supported lowering the threshold to $1000. This legislation was blocked in the Senate in 2009, but was reintroduced following the 2010 election. The Greens support this legislation. The Labor government also drew up a Green Paper on political donations prepared by Senator John Faulkner, then Special Minister for State. The paper offered a robust analysis of the challenges and a way forward for reform but sadly has not been advanced. The Greens submission to that inquiry remains an excellent blueprint for donations reform.
In 2010, the Labor government introduced a donations reform bill, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2010, with six measures in three key areas:
- increasing the transparency of political donations disclosure;
- more frequent and timely reporting of political donations and expenditure; and
- reforming the public funding of elections.
The bill would also have lowered the disclosure threshold to $1,000. Unfortunately the Labor government reneged on an agreement with the Greens and political donations reform was never progressed during their government. You can read the text of the Bill and MP’s speeches.
A similar bill, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2009, was passed by the House of Representatives twice but was defeated in the Senate.
The Greens have two Bills before the Parliament which would ban donations from corrupting industries and increase transparency for other donations:
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2016
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Donations Reform) Bill 2014