With Tasmania heading to the polls in early 2022 we will soon start hearing about candidates and policies from all parties across the political spectrum.
Posters, leaflets, doorknocking, radio and television campaigns, even the internet; a question that often gets asked is who pays for all this?
To limit the influence of private money on elections, political parties in Australia are publicly funded.
After each federal election the Australian Electoral Commission distributes a set amount of money to each political party directly related to the number of votes it receives. This funding can be used by parties for a range of purposes including campaigning, but only for federal elections.
Unlike other states, there is no public funding for state elections in Tasmania. This means that in state elections, donations from businesses and individuals as well as fundraising and candidates’ own savings are what funds the costs of running an election campaign.
Tasmania’s Shadow Attorney-General Ella Haddad has raised the issue of electoral donations and the weaknesses in the current legislation as a matter of public importance.
“It’s an issue that urgently needs attention to address the perception that money buys influence in Tasmania,” she said.
“In Tasmania, someone could donate an unlimited amount of money to an individual candidate for the House of Assembly, and nobody apart from the candidate and the donor would ever know about it.
“The candidate has no legal obligation to declare the donation. This leads to an uneven playing field and can lead to outcomes where candidates are elected because they have the deepest pockets.
“Tasmanians are right to feel cynical when there is absolutely no system in place to ensure they know who is donating to political parties and candidates and how much they spend on campaigning.”
The only reporting requirement on parties running for the lower house comes from the national level. Under Commonwealth law, parties – but still not individual candidates - must declare donations above $13,800.
“This is a ridiculously high threshold which must be reduced dramatically,” Ms Haddad said.
And at a state level, there is no public declaration of donations at any level at all.
“Elections are the process of the public choosing who will run the electorate, state or country in which the election is held, and they should not be affected by campaign funding from companies and businesses.
“Tasmania has the weakest political donation disclosure laws in the country and they need to change.
“These broken laws need fixing to make sure the community knows who is funding elections.
“The Labor party believes that transparently disclosing where political parties raise their funding is a good start.
“That’s why the Labor party has written our own draft bill and released it for public comment.”
Under Labor’s proposed legislation donations of $1000 or more will have to be declared to the Electoral Commission and put on the public record.
The proposed legislation would include multiple donations from the same donor that add up to more than $1000, even where each individual donation is below that threshold.
Donations would also have to be regularly reported with public declarations made every 30 days.
“Unlike our current laws, this disclosure requirement will apply to individual candidates and MPs as well as to political parties.
“Labor’s bill would also put a spending cap on political parties fielding candidates for the House of Assembly, and on individual candidates, just like those that currently apply to candidates running for seats in Tasmania’s Legislative Council and local government,” Ms Haddad said.
The bill is open for public comment and Labor welcomes your feedback.
To read and download Labor’s draft bill, visit: http://taslabor.com/donations-bill-2020/
Ella Haddad is the Shadow Attorney General
this article was originally published September 14, 2020