DEMOCRACY FOR SALE
We constantly hear about politicians abusing their “entitlements” but there are two related issues that are far more important. Issues that undermine our entire democratic system:
Despite constantly claiming to strongly support democracy, governments have always been reluctant to introduce transparency in this area - but this may be changing. The Queensland Government has just introduced mandatory real-time disclosure of donations. A great step forward and one that may encourage others to follow suit. This their site: Electronic Disclosure System
Funding & Disclosure (Inc) was formed to lobby for real-time donations disclosure and we congratulate the Queensland government for having taken this step
We believe that there is no excuse for keeping donations hidden and there is no longer any technical impediment to ‘real time’ disclosure.
When we vote in federal elections we are given no information about political donations until up to 18 months later.
Even then, if donors carefully split their donations around the states, it's only disclosed if the total amount exceeds $111,600. That's a lot of 'dark money'. It undermines democracy.
Fewer and fewer Australians trust politicians
F&D believes that all political donations above a very modest amount (ie $500) should be made directly to an Electoral Fund Authority. When the donation is then transferred to the intended recipient the details would be published online. Donations made outside this system would be illegal.
We also maintain that election spending should be capped. Currently there is an “arms race” in spending and if it’s allowed to escalate we will find ourselves with a US type system where politicians “buy” themselves into power. Clive Palmer showed how it's done and if campaign spending keeps in increasing a time will come when only the extremely wealthy or well-connected will have power.
How much do you value democracy?
Politicians will not act unless under pressure.
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Talking Point: Giving our democracy a much-needed jolt of people power
PAT SYNGE, Mercury
June 2, 2017 12:00am
Democracy, if not dead, is certainly showing symptoms of terminal decline.
We have a professional political class that is perceived to be out of touch. We’ve seen power broker deals such as here in Tasmania before the last federal election when Senate candidates such as Lisa Singh and Richard Colbeck were relegated to virtually unwinnable positions on their respective party’s tickets. We have a Senate where an extremist can block Government legislation despite only having had 77 first preference votes. A system where lobby groups use their muscle to force changes in policy. Powerful groups can bring governments to their knees. Think of the “mining tax” or “work choices”. As well as using the media they can legally fund political parties with substantial donations that are kept hidden from voters. Lobby groups are becoming more and more sophisticated at getting their messages across using complex algorithms and analytics to target vulnerable voters.
Social media is now the source of “news” for many. “Fake news” is real. “Alternative facts” are no joke.
So, what’s changed? Well, the change has been incremental and insidious but democracy as we knew it is sick and needs more than just a shot in the arm.
So, if democracy is dying what can we do to help resurrect it?
The word “democracy” can be fairly translated as “people power” and in the original Greek form of “direct democracy” there were no elected representatives; citizens collectively would vote on important issues. A bit like the system in Switzerland where in the past 120 years they have had 240 referendums.
No, I’m not suggesting we decide every piece of legislation by referendum but that we could introduce a process where ordinary people are directly part of decision making. What I’m suggesting is not new or original and is usually referred to as “Citizens’ Juries”.
Various models have been used in different countries including here in Australia. Just like trial juries, Citizen’s Juries (CJs) are randomly selected. Typically, 100 individuals are invited to participate: they are paid and can decline if they want. They are given relevant information by experts and others with interest in the issue being considered: the kind of people who would make submissions to a government inquiry.
They are then tasked with coming to a consensus and making recommendations. They then step down and have no further role. Elected government then has to make the final decision but has been given a clear direction.
It is easy for government to ignore submissions made by interested parties but it would be brave to reject outright the recommendations of the citizens’ jury without being able to provide good reason.
The New Democracy Foundation here in Australia ( NewDemocracy.com.au ) has been promoting this form of decision making for some time. They have conducted a considerable amount of research in this area and convened citizens’ juries to consider a number of issues.
Here in Tasmania current issues such as the State Government takeover of Taswater or reform to the Local Government Act would be good candidates for deliberation by CJs.
Rather than having the matter decided by a government minister, who may have political or other motivations, a CJ could be convened and make relevant recommendations.
If we value democracy — and we should — we must recognise that times are changing and democracy must change with them if it is to retain our trust and so remain effective.
TASMANIA - a special case
Tasmania is the only state in Australia with no requirement for local government candidates to ever disclose donations or gifts, no limits on the amount donated or who can donate.
A recipe for corruption.
We’ve been hearing a lot about Local Councils in the media recently and most of this has been for the wrong reasons.
Inquiries have been conducted, Councils have been dismissed and currently the State Government is conducting a review of the Local Government Act.
One of the terms of reference of this review is: “Local Government elections – electoral rolls, funding and advertising” and one of the questions posed in the first round of submissions was “Should there be restrictions on the donations local government electoral candidates are permitted to receive? If so, what should the restrictions include?”
Approximately 81% of those that addressed this question submitted that there should be restrictions on the donations and there were a number of comments that it was not appropriate for candidates to receive donations from building developers as this could lead to a clear conflict of interest and that donations should be disclosed.
It should be noted that Tasmania is currently the only state in Australia that has no limits on how much a candidate for local government can accept in donations, no restrictions on who can make donations and no requirement whatsoever for any disclosure. This could be considered an invitation to corruption and, as such, should be addressed appropriately.
Despite this strong support for restrictions on candidate’s donations, including one from the Local Government Association, the Draft Bill does not address issues of candidate donations at all.
It takes only a few minutes to make a submission and they should be sent to should be sent HERE before 5.00 pm on the Friday 5 May 2017.
Background information is available here: Consultation feedback
Candidates can legally spend as much as they want on self-promotion in the months prior to the election.
Their spending is only limited by regulation for the few weeks prior to the actual vote.
They never, ever have to disclose to the public where any donations come from or how much they have received.
Local government is big business.
Hobart City Council controls assets of over $1 billion and has an income of over $50 million from rates alone.
Councillors make decisions that have significant financial consequences for individuals and businesses.
With no regulations the temptation may be irresistible for some candidates and those who might profit from their decisions.
There is a very fine line between "donations" and "bribes".
Many state politicians start off in local government: any corruption at this level may be transferred on.