Greens donations proposals
Robert Durkacz, Brunswick News, 19 May 2020, Opinion
We often hear the argument that it is big business that prevents the Australian government from taking climate change seriously, though there are many cases of corporate leaders speaking publicly in the opposite sense.
In a piece published on the Green's website, Alison Xamon, a Greens MP from Western Australia, specifically singles out the fossil fuel extractors of buying political influence with large donations. Ms Xamon's piece does not go into enough detail to back up that claim. So "Labor, Liberals and Nationals took over $1 million in donations from coal, oil and gas companies last year." Maybe that is too much or maybe it is not much at all in the scheme of things, who knows? Link: https://greens.org.au/magazine/climate-action-starts-political-donations-reform
An offsider for Ms Xamon has enlarged on the argument in an email. In particular, Kirsten Richards, provides helpful guidance to the Australian Electoral Commission's register of donations. The Greens want changes to the rules about political donations and they ask for improvements in the way in which the AEC makes the donation data available. At least in regard to the second point their suggestions may have had some effect - the presentation looks very fair if you know where to look; here is the link; https://transparency.aec.gov.au/AnnualDonor.
The Greens have a project to add value to the AEC data which is looking a bit neglected. That is at http://democracyforsale.net . Ms Richards says that the Greens policy proposals for political donations is as found at the same site: http://democracyforsale.net/cleaning-up-politics .
In 2017 there was a commonwealth parliamentary enquiry into political donations. By looking at the report you can see it was an exercise run by the Greens (Richard di Natale was in the chair, with sufficient passive support from Labor to allow it to happen. Liberals basically took no part, Nationals made an occasional contribution. You would have to conclude that it represents Green thinking, and it is more substantial than anything on their website (being produced at government expense). Link: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Political_Influence_of_Donations
The Greens imply that the system that we have is woefully inadequate but it does not seem all that bad. Both donors and recipients must declare contributions. The numbers don't agree exactly with each other and that allows us to get some idea how accurate they might be. Unions donations are included. These go almost exclusively to the ALP. Whereas donations from business are frequently made to both sides but more in favor of the Liberal party. Overall Liberals get decidedly more than Labor. It follows that business donates much more than unions.
Greens are sensitive to some business sectors more than others. They would like to disallow contributions from alcohol, tobacco and gambling interests, entirely. This is understandable (though what is their argument?) but they would go as far as banning donations from the minerals sector as well. Though we may know why they would like to do this it is noteworthy that they do not come up with any sort of argument in justification. Even the very possibly true accusation that the fossil fuel extractive industries do their best to hinder climate change action misses the mark because not all mining industries extract fossil fuels.
It is suspicious if a business interest makes donations both to Liberal and Labor. The normal logic would be to aid that side which you would like to win, whose poicies you prefer. If you aid both then the assistance wold seem to cancel out and you would be better to keep your money and aid neither. There may be cases in history where someone aids both sides in a war, or aids the weaker side, in order to exhaust both combatants and then move in to pick up the pieces afterwards. That is not probably what is going on here.
Rather we have to suspect that the donor is directing his contribution so as to keep each party in gratitude to them. The parties on their side do not spend all their income on ammunition to throw against the other side; rather their people live off it as it pays their wages. The donors expect that when these people gain governmental power they will be able to express their gratitude, with interest. When we see a business interest giving donations to both sides we have to expect that something analagous to bribery is going on. Should donors be allowed to give to both sides?
The Greens idea to ban donations from certain sectors would need a lot more justification than they could come up with during the parliamentary enquiry and this is reflected in the report. They look like they want to do disenfranchise sectors that they don't like and which would not contribute to them. That is not going to work. I will go further and say they should give up the idea of cutting out the mineral sector because it is a major and a perfectly legitimate part of the Australian economy. On the other hand, none of this matters while they have even a more ruthless proposal to make, not that they are entirely explicit about it, but it seems that they would like to limit donations from businesses to the same limit as apply to individuals, a matter of a thousand or so dollars per year. That would be little different from banning corporate donations altogether - they would have a simpler case arguing for contributions to be restricted to natural persons.
Again we can understand why the Greens would like to disallow donations from corporations, presumably both business and unions - it would remove the big funding advantage that the major parties have over them - but there is little rationale offered for such a step.
Questions for the Greens
Tim Read, Alison Xamon and Larissa Waters are designated as voices for the Greens on these matters. Would they mind clarifying their policy proposals please?
- Do you really think that the entire mining industry should be prevented from making donations?
Would the Greens want to limit contributions from corporations to be no greater than contributions from individuals, ie a matter one thousand or so dollars per year max, reducing thereby corporate donations to insignificance?
Do you want political parties to be publicly funded more so than they are now? What balance between public and private funding would you hope to see?
Have you thought of rationalisations for such proposals yet?
Here I make my own suggestion. Individuals and corporations ought to be able to make political donations in proportion to how much income tax or company tax they pay. The proportion should however be declining, so that a company four times as big as another may donate only twice as much. Tax is assumed to be a measure of the contribution that the person or company has made to the economy. That contribution is what gives them a right to make known their policy preferences. The formula should cover political contributions from unionists and should allow (unless some contrary reasons are found) the present levels of contributions from unions. I don't see any special reason that the general level of contributions from business should be reduced. It would be up to people who think so to sharpen their arguments. What would be reduced would be any rather small business sectors who make disproportionate donations. This should catch the gambling sector who allegedly are buying government concessions vital to their business by giving benefits to political parties acting as agents for the government.
Contributions from the energy and resource sector do not appear to be excessive per the Greens website ($13 million since 2012 vs $54 million from banking and finance.)
As for donations from the fossil fuel extracting subsector, we as Australians have the sovereign right to do anything up to and including closing down those industries as we decide necessary. We don't have the right prevent people complaining about it or arguing against it.