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Lee on PM: Political donations data rekindles call for reform

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Lee Rhiannon 1 Feb 2012

Listen to audio at ABC website.

MARK COLVIN: The latest political donations figures from the Electoral Commission have rekindled debate about cash and influence in government and opposition.

The figures have laid bare the money that vested interests have funnelled to parties and politically-driven campaigns. 

They show that the ALP and the Liberal and National parties raked in more than $200 million in donations in the last financial year. 

The data have renewed calls for reform.

Lexi Metherell reports.

LEXI METHERELL: The Independent MP Rob Oakeshott says the Electoral Commission's data gives voters a reason to be cynical about Australia's democracy.

ROB OAKESHOTT: Many I think are questioning whether the real contest in Australia is ALP versus LNP, or really just what we are seeing is a contest of $90 million versus $113 million. 

LEXI METHERELL: Each year political donors must declare to the Electoral Commission donations over a certain amount. Last financial year the threshold was $11,500.

Groups which fund political campaigns must also make declarations and last financial year big tobacco spent big money fighting plain packaging laws.

The figures show British American Tobacco, Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco spent almost $14 million individually and through the lobby group The Alliance of Australian Retailers.

And BAT (British American Tobacco) and Philip Morris also gave state and federal Liberal and National parties nearly $264,000. 

The Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has reiterated her call for Labor's rivals to stop accepting tobacco donations. 

(excerpt from ABC local radio)

NICOLA ROXON: I think people are very uncomfortable at what big wealthy companies can afford to do in our political system. 

LEXI METHERELL: The Opposition MP Andrew Robb has told ABC Radio's Rafael Epstein the donations don't influence the Liberal Party.

ANDREW ROBB: Plain packaging, despite all the money they spent, it went through and it went through with our support.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Despite the money the tobacco company spent you mean?


LEXI METHERELL: The campaign against the mining tax was winding down last financial year compared to the previous 12 months. Still, the AEC's data shows the Minerals Council and the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies spent a total of just over $6 million on their campaigns.

Clubs and hotels also pulled out the cheque books, after the Independent MP Andrew Wilkie struck a now-defunct pokies deal to help Labor form government.

Clubs New South Wales has disclosed it spent around $1 million last financial year on campaigns and more than $400,000 on donations.

The New South Wales division of the Australian Hotels Association told the commission it gave nearly $860,000 in donations, mainly to the Liberal and National parties. 

MP Rob Oakeshott is concerned about vested interests' influence on public policy. 

ROB OAKESHOTT: We desperately need political donation reform in Australia. It's been promised and it must be delivered. In particular - apologies to Donald Rumsfeld - you know the unknown known of exactly what this sort of money has achieved. 

We know it will make a difference on the major party's political platforms but they are reticent to say where. And that is the frustration, that we see such large amounts of money going into these political parties - a quarter of a billion dollars in just one year - yet they all put their hands in the air, say they're clean hands and say this sort of money is not making a difference. Come on. 

LEXI METHERELL: According to the figures, the Greens received the biggest donation from any one person last financial year.

The founder of the website, Graeme Wood, gave almost $1.5 million to the party.

But Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon still says electoral reform is needed.

LEE RHIANNON: We need to bring in these bans on political donations from corporations and other organisations. That would impact on us and other political parties. What differentiates the Greens from the other parties is that we have been a consistent voice for reforms, whereas Labor and the Coalition at the federal level have turned their back on this issue. 

LEXI METHERELL: She says the former special minister of state, Senator John Faulkner, tried to reform political financing but the Government has turned its back on the idea.

MARK COLVIN: Lexi Metherell.


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