ACT News

Labor and Liberal scrap cap on donations, boost public funding

Labor and Liberal combined on Thursday to scrap the $10,000 limit on donations to political parties and boost public funding from $2 a vote to $8 a vote.

The Greens' Shane Rattenbury alone voted against the changes, saying Canberrans would be "rightly outraged". Donations left politicians at risk of corruption, he said, accusing the major parties of having "both hands out for the cash".

The increase in public funding will see about $1.6 million given to parties after the 2016 election, a fourfold increase of the $400,000 in 2012. 

The new laws also remove a restriction on who can donate, opening the way for donations for donations from unions,  business and other groups, after a High Court ruling that forced a similar change in NSW.

Abolishing the $10,000 limit on donations will allow organisations to donate any amount, but donations over $1000 must still be declared.

Mr Rattenbury said the Greens supported more public funding so parties were less reliant on donations, but the major parties were taking both. 

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"What's the plan here?" he said. "Thanks to the ACT taxpayer, 70-80 per cent of party campaign expenses will be paid for from the public purse, and the ALP and Canberra Liberals would like to source the balance from their mates in the unions and in business?" he said. 

The changes would be seen as "an unjustifiable transfer of public wealth to the political class" and add to cynicism about politicians, he said.

Mr Rattenbury, who has run an internet campaign against the changes, attempted a series of amendments during Thursday's debate but was defeated on all.

He tried to limit the amount that can be spent on election campaigns to a total $500,000 for parties fielding 25 candidates, instead of $40,000 for each candidate which allows the major parties to spend up to $1 million.

He tried to keep the spending limit for independents at $60,000 so they were not disadvantaged by the reduction to $40,000 per candidate.

He tried to limit the overall amount of "administrative funding" paid each year to Assembly members. The payment is about $21,000 a year but Mr Rattenbury said with an increase to 25 members the major parties would get a windfall from the payment.

He also attempted to double the fine for not voting, from $20 to $40, in line with a recommendation from Electoral Commissioner Phil Green.

But Labor and Liberals hit back, Attorney-General Simon Corbell pointing to the national Greens accepting a $1.6 million donation from Wotif founder Graeme Wood in 2010. 

Mr Corbell said a bigger fine would not change behaviour, and if the territory had to rely on fines to encourage people to vote there was a problem. 

Liberal leader Jeremy Hanson said nobody had forced the Greens to take $50,000 from the CFMEU, and he challenged the party to knock back all big donations.

"Put your money where your mouth is, stand up here and say you will not take any donation over $5000 so we know that you are as morally pure as you make out to be," he said.

Putting a "punitive restriction" on the amount people could donate would result in attempts to circumvent the system, Mr Hanson said.

"That is one of the elements that went so wrong in NSW is when the grip was too tight what happened is people tried to circumvent the process," he said.

Mr Hanson said the new laws struck a balance. Reducing the amount that candidates could spend on elections would stop the "arms race" on election spending and avoid a United States-style system where inordinate time was spent raising money, he said.

Mr Rattenbury said the Liberals would benefit most from the changes. The Liberals would get $700,000 or more in public funding, as well as raising "another couple of hundred thousand dollars" from donations.

They would go into the next election with $1 million to spend, 50 per cent more than what they spent at the last election, he said.

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