University of Queensland professor of law Graeme Orr.

University of Queensland Professor of Law and author of The Law of Politics, Graeme Orr.

Political donation laws should be driven by principles, not ideologies, says one of the nation's leading experts on the topic.

University of Queensland Professor of Law and author of The Law of Politics, Graeme Orr, said the government risks taking a retrograde step if it follows through with its electoral act reforms, which include changes to political donations.

The government is proposing scrapping donation and expenditure caps, claiming they “unnecessarily restrict participation in the political process”, and increasing the disclosure threshold at $1000 to $12,4000 “to more closely align with the threshold applying at the Commonwealth level”.

Political donations have been a focus of the Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing into Australian Water Holdings, which this week made headlines in Queensland when the inquiry was told Nick Di Girolamo had been asked to donate $5000 to a LNP trust in order to meet the then-lord mayor Campbell Newman.

Mr Newman denied knowing about the donation request and, through a spokesman, said he would have declined the meeting had he known about the donation solicitation.

Professor Orr, who wrote a submission to the parliamentary committee reviewing the electoral act legislation urging caution, said he believed people “have a broad and cynical sense that political donations are to buy favour and influence”.

“I think they are unduly cynical when they think every politician and party is like that, but I also think it is reasonable for people to assume the worse of large scale, especially private, donations,” he said.

Professor Orr said the principles behind democracy went someway to explaining people's ill-ease with donations.

“...In a democracy, money shouldn't be able to buy you influence," he said.

"You know that it can and that larger corporations and unions have got more general social influence, but the idea of 'one vote, one person, one value' is that all citizens should be treated equally.

“And the idea that one can bankroll, whether it be for ideological reasons or to buy influence or favour, is highly problematic.

"And if we are going to be pouring more public money, so called clean money into the system, there is every reason why we should be staunching the flow of potentially corrupting money.”

Professor Orr said while no system was perfect, those based on "consensus and principles" were potentially more palatable.

“In South Australia, they have just come up with a very principled set of reforms where Labor, the Greens and the Liberals sat together and agreed on a system for 2015 - and that will include caps on political expenditure if a party accepts public money, for instance, as well as having continuous disclosure of any sizeable donations,” he said.

“That system will actually give a bit more money to the smaller parties who need it because they don't attract a lot of donations. And that is a system, which whether you like it or not, has been done on the basis of consensus and principles.

“Whereas in the current Bleijie reforms in particular, I see a lot of self interest, a lot of feather bedding of the major parties, and back steps being taken which will certainly benefit the Liberal-National Party most of all because A, they are in power, but also they are the party with the strongest business connections.”

Parliament is yet to vote on the changes to the electoral act.