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Senate inquiry calls for political donations ban

Major political parties oppose a Greens report that suggests an overhaul of donation rules

A senate inquiry has criticised Australia’s donations and disclosure scheme after a report suggests that there should be sweeping changes to donation laws.

A Greens-initiated parliamentary select committee released the report on Wednesday that looked into the donations regime and its impact on parliamentary elections. The report made 14 recommendations for reform, including a cap on gifts to parties.

Greens leader and committee chair, Richard Di Natale, said the report threw open a curtain on the underbelly of influence peddling in Canberra.

“Sadly this report shows that cash is still king in Australian politics, with big businesses happy to throw millions of dollars at political leaders to buy influence.”

The report recommends introducing a cap on campaign spending and real-time disclosure of donations, which would limit donations to $3,000 per donor.  This would mean a small rise in taxpayer funds to political parties to offset the proposed cap.

Donations from developers, banks, mining companies and the tobacco, liquor, gambling, defence and pharmaceutical industries to political parties and candidates would be banned. Foreign donations would also be made illegal.

“If the Liberals and Labor knock back against these safeguards, it shows their true allegiance lies with corporate Australia, not the Australian people,” the senators said.

This comes after unions threatened to take the NSW government to court over changes to the donation laws. Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced her government would introduce changes that would more than half what third parties can spend.

This would mean parties would be required to legally identify their expenditures and identify if they influenced voting in electorates within six months of an election.

Unions NSW secretary, Mark Morey, said: “It will constrain the ability of working people to get their message out, unlike the corporations who can campaign endlessly.

“If it constrains our right to free political communication, we will definitely challenge them. We will use whatever means necessary to make sure that we have a voice.”

The report proposes a limit on third party expenditure, with a proviso that any change, “enable continued democratic participation and advocacy, while removing any unfair advantage that can be enjoyed by interest groups with the largest financial resources.”

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