It's time now to track the money
"Dr Yes" ... Tony Abbott. Photo: Rob Carew
AT THE time of year when we look back and gaze forward, let's just cast an eye over one success and one failure (so far) of this remarkable Parliament, which still has time to do a few more things. The achievement is the national disability insurance scheme; the should-be-done item is improving the transparency of political donations and expenditure.
Admittedly the NDIS is not actually achieved yet, but that the ground has been laid is a very big thing. (Let's mention here Bill Shorten, who, when parliamentary secretary for disabilities in the Rudd years, gave the idea an initial shove.)
The expense of such a scheme is huge. Some $8 billion a year, when fully operating, over and above what is being spent nationally. There is also a long lead-in time. With tight budgets and a likely change of government, the risks of such a sweeping program ending up in the freezer are obvious.
But the scheme is, as far as can we can see, ''Abbott-proofed''. Indeed Tony Abbott has enthusiastically erected the protective fence around it himself - on this he's ''Dr Yes''.
Admittedly the shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, is less enthusiastic, stressing the plan must depend on strong surpluses. Queensland and Western Australia have been shy of fully climbing aboard, but Queensland's disability offer last week, while politically pitched, suggests the Newman government is feeling pressure.
Putting in place a stronger and more transparent system on electoral funding is a very different sort of reform - but important for our democratic health. Labor has made big promises but is yet to fulfil them.
The Rudd government brought legislation into the Parliament for tougher disclosure of donations, including a $1000 threshold, but it was stymied in the Senate. Julia Gillard also got legislation through the House. The Senate then had the parliamentary committee on electoral matters produce a report: among recommendations was the $1000 disclosure level (compared with more than $12,000 now).
Labor elder and senator John Faulkner, who introduced the original legislation, urged a hurry-up in his recent speech on political integrity. What Faulkner said about the state of the ALP, especially in NSW, got most publicity but his policy exhortations were equally important. Given the polls, he knows Labor's time is likely running out.
Faulkner noted that in the last four elections more than $180 million has been provided in public funding, most of it to the two major parties. Donations to parties up to a certain amount are tax-deductible; they have privileged access to the electoral roll and privacy exemptions. ''Surely it should be essential that parties meet some agreed minimum standards of openness, transparency and democratic process - all the more so given the key role they play in the determination of governments,'' he said.
Abbott won't be Dr Yes on such changes, but with the Greens now holding the Senate balance of power, the block should be gone. It is not clear why action hasn't been taken earlier. Certainly Faulkner is right: the transparency bar that parties have to reach is too low and the government should act as quickly as possible.