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Surcharge to Support the Political Process

One of the big issues for all democracies, including Australia, is the corrupting effect of political donations from corporations and other organisations.

When companies make political donations they are not doing it out of generosity, to support democracy in Australia. They want a return. A decision to go their way. A regulation or law rescinded or not implemented. It may not be anything specific.  A party which receives significant donations from an organisation over the years will begin to factor that into their decision making when considering new policy. The party will not want to upset their corporate donor, to risk losing that donation which may impact on their operational ability. Often corporations can get massive returns on their "investment" - a few hundred thousand dollar donation can result in the overturn of a decision, or a policy that would benefit Australia but not the corporate donor not being adopted. A favourable decision could impact on the company's bottom line by millions of dollars. But it could have a much more detrimental impact on Australia as a whole. While the company and the political party wins, Australia as a whole loses.

Political donations from companies and organisations are a corrosive force in our democracy. They must be either banned or limited to such an extent they are not large enough to change a political decision.

However the political process is expensive. Running a political party is expensive. They need money. If it is not from the donors then it has to be from the taxpayers. It will be expensive but the cost of not doing it is more costly.

I propose a tax surcharge on all taxpayers, individuals and companies, to pay for the running of political parties. I don't know what size the surcharge would be, but probably a fraction of a percent. For many companies this would result in a saving as they would be banned from direct political donation.

How the money would be distributed would have to be determined but would be based on the number of votes the party - or political candidate - receives, and whether they were elected. Parties /candidates that are elected would receive a higher amount with payments spread over the years between elections. An unelected candidate might receive a smaller one off amount, once their vote hits a certain threshold.

Donations from private citizens to political parties would be allowed with the annual amount strictly limited and full real time disclosure once the annual value is over a certain modest amount.

Organisations (let's call them Political Action Organisations - PAOs) could be set up to campaign on a single issue only. They would not be able to be set up by political parties or candidates. They could be an already existing organisation - but not a company. They would not be able to accept funding from political parties, affiliates or candidates. They also would not be able to donate to political parties or individual candidates. They would not be able to accept funding from companies. Their sources of funding would be fully transparent in real time - published on both their own website and a centralised website.

The PAO could run an advertising campaign in support of their single issue. The PAO would not be able to attack or support a candidate or party, only an issue. For example there could be a climate change action PAO that would advocate for greater action on climate change and for people to vote for candidates that support climate change action - but they would not be able to name the candidate nor the party that supports - or doesn't support - their aims - though they could publish on their website surveys that compare and rate the parties/candidates policies in relation to the single issue. The way this was done would have to be regulated. The PAO would need to be registered as a PAO before it can operate and their issue of interest fully disclosed.

Lobbyists

Professional lobbying is also an issue. While the power of the lobbyist will be significantly lessened as they will not be able to back up their lobbying with political donations they may still have more power to influence than the average voter. I would certainly ban their ability (and everyone else's ability) to wine and dine or to offer any other gift to politicians or candidates. It would be difficult to ban them meeting with politicians - everyone has the right to meet with a politician. However there has to be transparency in their meeting with the politician. To that end I would make it a requirement that the politician's diary be published on line after the event - published in the following week. (It couldn't be published before the event as there could be security issues.) If the meeting was with a constituent the published diary would not necessarily publish the name of the constituent if the constituent didn't want it published. For other people, including lobbyists, the name would be disclosed, as well as the company or PAO if relevant and a brief overview of what was to be discussed. All correspondence would be subject to freedom of information access.

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