Monday, September 18, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly

Setting a good example
The Victorian premier shows Malcolm Turnbull what can be done on donations


A quick step sideways to state politics today to recognise something that should have been done years ago at a federal level.

The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, is going ahead with sharp changes to donations laws.

I’ve written a bunch in this column about the problem with donations in this country. I could bore you silly on it, but the basic point is short and simple. The issue is not that our politicians are corrupt. The system itself is. The quid pro quo is understood by everyone, because it relies on basic common sense: many businesses or organisations that make large donations to political parties do so because they reckon they’ll get something back. This is so well-accepted that companies basically say it out loud.

Even softening this somewhat: what politician is going to turn down a meeting with someone who has just donated thousands and thousands of dollars to ensuring they keep their job? Of course, a meeting doesn’t guarantee you’ll get what you want, but it gets you a lot closer than if you didn’t get that meeting at all.

Given the massive potential for donations to shape what happens in the corridors of power – and therefore the laws that we all have to obey – everything should be done to make sure that (a) that potential for influence is minimised and (b) the public has the clearest possible view of what is going on.

Premier Andrews has announced that he’ll be capping donations at $4000 over a four-year term, and ensuring every donation over $1000 is made public immediately – not months down the track, which usually means well after an election is over, meaning voters have voted without knowing about such things. Donations from foreign sources will be banned, and there will be public funding for elections, thus minimising the incentives for parties to do whatever it takes to scoop up money.

Now, is this perfect? Almost certainly not. Donations laws are like tax laws: you close one loophole and another opens up. For example: banning foreign donations is important, but it doesn’t stop foreign governments or businesses essentially funnelling money into campaigns via Australian individuals or businesses. There are questions about third-party campaigns, too: the conservative side of politics is incredibly exercised about campaigns run by GetUp! and unions. On the flipside, it wasn’t that long ago we had the massive anti-mining-tax campaign run by business.

But perfection should not be the enemy of the good here. Not being able to do everything is not an argument to do nothing.

At a federal level, progress is being made. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has released a discussion paper, and there does seem to be agreement that action is needed. Importantly, the committee recognises that our ineffective donations laws are part of a wider loss of faith in government and democracy. A discussion paper might seem like another delaying tactic, but I’m choosing optimism: this is an attempt to ensure the changes are comprehensive (though, again, those efforts shouldn’t be so severe as to prevent change of any sort). The government had intended to bring new laws to parliament this spring, but that timetable has been understandably delayed by illness of the minister, Scott Ryan.

All that said, agreement that change is needed is not agreement on the type of change that is needed. There is every possibility that reforms will collapse under the usual weight of political self-interest.

In Victoria, the parliament has yet to see Andrews’ legislation. The other political parties are withholding judgement until they do, and fair enough. But the fact he’s announced such stringent laws shows it can be done. We must all hope that Malcolm Turnbull follows suit, and that it happens well before the next election.  



Exhuming the Murphy allegations

Lionel Murphy was a singular personality – and it got him in trouble

Mungo MacCallum

“Thirty-odd years after his death, the archivists have exhumed Lionel Murphy, the incomparable attorney-general from Gough Whitlam’s government. Or, rather, they have not attempted to exhume the man, but only the raft of accusations that dogged him to his early grave. Many of these were absurd, fanciful to the extent that even his toughest critics admit that they were obvious fabrications. But others have been given some credibility.” read on


Psychological states in ‘Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice’

The dire title belies this game’s thoughtful exploration of mental illness

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“What does your inner voice sound like, the one that’s reading these words? Play with it. Give it a deep, guttural growl. A chirpy chipmunk trill. Lay on an accent for fun, a Scottish brogue or a Texan drawl. Who is this inner voice? Is it you?” READ ON

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.



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