Demise of democracy starts with cash in a plastic bag

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“In the ACT it is getting harder and harder to fathom decisions around planning and development. The planning debacles of the city may well be simply incompetence, but how long will it be before light shines on this issue?” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE.

SINGLE-use plastic bags have taken over from the traditional, brown paper bag, it seems. 

Michael Moore.

Revelations from the hearings of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption of $100,000 stuffed in a plastic bag changing hands will seriously hurt the NSW Labor Party.

But it will need to be more. It must be a serious deterrent for all political and business entities involved in inappropriate political donations.

This sort of behaviour has been revealed because there is an ICAC in NSW. The Federal government is still arguing that such a body is not necessary nationally. What a load of codswallop! Even some of this $100,000 was likely to support election to the Federal Parliament.

The ACT does have legislation in place for an Integrity Commission and the commissioner has been appointed, but the commission is not yet underway. It will be convenient for the incumbent Barr government if the commencement will mean no real scrutiny before the October, 2020 election.

Applications for the position of CEO of the Integrity Commission closed on September 5. “Once established, the CEO will conduct the day-to-day operations of the commission; develop policies, programs and procedures; and advise on a broad range of operational matters, including its financial performance.”

All forms of corruption undermine faith in democracy. The challenge for our society is to seek the “cause of the cause” of this sort of behaviour. Only then can democracy thrive and ordinary people have faith that decisions are made in the public rather than sectional interest.

A Federal anti-corruption commission could start by examining why the government continues to support the coal industry with large sums of money spent on infrastructure, but fails to provide even similar support to renewable energy. Or investigate $136 million of taxpayers’ money spent on government advertising before the last election.

In the ACT it is getting harder and harder to fathom decisions around planning and development. Hopefully, there is no corrupt behaviour. The planning debacles of the city may well be simply incompetence. How long will it be before light shines on this issue?

However, the establishment of anti-corruption bodies is only part of the answer. In some ways, it is like changing from brown paper bags to plastic bags and back again. The $100,000 still changes hands. It still buys access and influence. Corruption still thrives – in the hope that it can be hidden from scrutiny.

The real driver – the cause of the cause – goes back to the need for political parties to have large sums of money to run their campaigns. Clive Palmer spent $53.6 million on television, radio and newspaper advertising, while the Liberal Party spent $14.5 million and Labor $13.5 million.

It is time for further action. 

  • Step one is to ensure that current legislation is implemented and policed. The NSW ICAC is doing this very thing in examining donations from property developers (which are banned under NSW legislation). However, it is not enough to be banning donations from specific sectors or even foreign donations. The system itself must change.
  • Step two is to cap spending by political parties and candidates. This will reduce the ever increasing need for more and more money for political campaigns. The legislation should be extended to cover any organisation seeking to influence the outcome of elections. This might include social media giants such as Get-Up and unions. It must also include big business and their representatives such as, for example, the Mining Council of Australia.
  • Step three should be limiting to $1000 any donation to a political party or candidate. 
  • Step four should ensure only people on the electoral roll are allowed to make donations. 
  • And, step five, the level of government funding for elections needs to be examined so that parties have the opportunity to reach out to their constituents.

Doing nothing is to watch the demise of democracy. There has been enough delay. Electoral reform and proper oversight is urgently needed.

Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.

 

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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.

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