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Disclosure Laws

In 2006 the Howard Government weakened Australia's electoral laws by raising the disclosure threshold for political donations from $1,500 to $10,000, making it much easier for corporate Australia to avoid disclosing cash donations to political parties.

The previous system was inadequate, but it did expose corporations and political parties to some bad publicity about donations over $1,500. All those donations over $1,500 but under $10,000, which were previously made public, are now exempt from public disclosure. Now big donors can hide the money they give to the major parties by making multiple donations of $10,000 to a party without having to declare it.

Under John Howard the political donations system became more secretive. The major parties are spending millions on election advertising and now we have much less chance of finding out who is donating to the major parties to finance their ads.

The Greens, Labor and many academics argued against the federal government’s changes as they made political donations less transparent, not more. That does not mean there were no problems with the former system. Millions of dollars in contributions were not identified under the old threshold of $1,500, but now the disclosure threshold has been increased to over $10,000, a lot more donations are being hidden.

After the election of the Rudd Labor government, legislation was brought before the Parliament in 2009 that would have lowered the disclosure threshold to $1000. This legislation was blocked in the Senate by the Coalition and Senator Fielding.

Following the 2010 election, the Labor government and the Greens, as part of the agreement to support a Labor government, agreed to:

Seek immediate reform of funding of political parties and election campaigns by legislating to lower the donation disclosure threshold from an indexed $11,500 to $1,000; to prevent donation splitting between different branches of political parties; to ban foreign donations; to ban anonymous donations over $50; to increase timeliness and frequency of donation disclosure; to tie public funding to genuine campaign expenditure and to create a ‘truth in advertising’ offence in the Commonwealth Electoral Act.

Legislation enacting these changes to disclosure laws is expected to be passed prior to the next election.

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