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Get your own house in order, Mr Turnbull

Soon after his election in October 2004, in an email to a Greens Woollahra councillor in February 2005, Malcolm Turnbull wrote that he believes “no political donations should be allowed unless they are: from citizens and/or persons on the electoral roll (ie, no companies, unions, associations etc); subject to a cap; and donors should certify that the donation is either their own or their spouse’s money and has not been given to them by a third party”.

After the Liberals lost the NSW and Federal elections in 2007, then shadow federal treasurer, Malcolm Turnbull, joined the NSW Opposition Leader, Barry O’Farrell, in calling for changes to the laws on political donations, and a ban on corporations or unions donating money to parties.

This followed the Herald’s revelation that NSW Labor raised $24 million in the four years leading up to the state election in 2007 and spent $16.7 million on the election campaign, while the state Opposition was only able to spend $5.3 million.

Mr Turnbull said the democratic system was not working properly when there was such a disparity between what government and opposition could muster for election advertising.

This was somewhat hypocritical as, in 2007, when the electoral boundaries changed making Turnbull’s electorate potentially a less safe seat for the Liberals, the Wentworth Forum was established as a “corporate marketing” enterprise carried out by Mr Turnbull’s wife, Lucy Turnbull, and the NSW Liberal Party.

Regarded as Australia’s most sophisticated political fund-raising machine, the forum offered membership packages that rewarded the most generous supporters with greater access to Mr Turnbull.

It cost $5500 to be a “member”, $11,000 to be a “sponsor”, $16,500 to be a “patron”, $25,500 to be a “benefactor” and $55,000 to be a “governor”. In 2007-08 the forum raised over $1.4 million.

Former Liberal Party Treasurer, Michael Yabsley, was instrumental in setting up both the Millenium Forum and the Wentworth Forum, fundraising bodies which raise millions of dollars by selling access to Liberal leaders. After resigning after the 2010 election, Mr Yabsley called for a complete ban on political donations by big business, trade unions and property developers.

“The only donations that should be allowed should be from real people, Australian citizens. And those donations should be capped by legislation at a modest amount … maybe $500.”

In an email sent to Peta Seaton, then Premier Barry O’Farrell’s cabinet chief, Yabsley cautioned that political scandals may otherwise force the change.

“It is an accident waiting to happen,” he warned.

“I am not contending here that there is wholesale political corruption based on the payment of money, or even that political donations provide some cheap and easy way to get a result from government,” Yabsley’s email continued. “Suffice to say there are perceptions, and occasional realities that … call into question the integrity of public policy and decision making.”

“I think it fails the smell test,” he told The Power Index more bluntly. “I’ve always felt somewhat queasy about the whole process. As I have gone through more than three decades of political funding I have always worried about the perception [of it]”.

Yabsley was adamant that spending should be cut back. “I actually believe that the money and the messaging involved is pretty unseemly. I think it’s out of control. We’re not selling soap powder, we’re not selling pet food. This actually goes to a fundamental question of the integrity of government.”

As the NSW ICAC hearings revealed, Mr Yabsley’s concerns were justified.

On Wednesday, the Liberal Party was refused access to $4.4m in government campaign funding after the NSW electoral commission ruled it operated a huge, illegal slush fund during the 2011 state election campaign.

The dispute panel said the NSW Division of the Liberal Party was still refusing to supply details of donors who made payments of $787,000 via the Free Enterprise Foundation which was “used by senior officials of the Liberal Party and an employed fund raiser to channel and disguise donations by major political donors some of whom were prohibited donors.” The panel rejected the Liberal Party’s claim that the Free Enterprise Foundation was a charity.

ICAC has been prevented by a series of legal challenges from releasing its own findings on the epic inquiry into NSW political donations which resulted in the resignation of 10 MPs including premier Barry O’Farrell over a gift of wine.

The Electoral Commission said it had offered the Liberal Party the opportunity to make a full disclosure of donors for the 2011 election campaign but decided to freeze access to the $4.4 million because the Liberals had not complied.

And they want to call a double dissolution election on kickbacks, corruption and union governance?

What a joke! Get your own house in order Mr Turnbull.


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  1. Phil

    Now is the perfect time to elevate demand for a federal ICAC. Forwarding this to my federal LNP rep with cc to ALP & Greens. Unaddressed corruption replicates as a cancer on the body politic and I get the feeling this cancer is consuming the conservatives in particular, hence the focus on their traditional enemies. Indeed, those trade unions engaged in corruption must be cleaned up, but blind Freddie can see that this LNP strategy for what it is – faw, political opportunism. Let’s ‘Lift the lid’ on corruption, right across the board.

    Lift the lid – three word slogan?

  2. Kaye Lee

    Transparency and accountability are things the Liberal Party like to talk about but hate to engage in.

    They went after Julia Gillard like rabid dogs for her supposed connection to a 20 year old union slush fund yet refuse to disclose details of their own illegal slush fund despite being directed to by the Electoral Commission – just as Tony Abbott refused to answer questions about his slush fund to bring down Pauline Hanson.

    They splash Dyson Heydon’s findings about unions all over the press but fight tooth and nail to keep ICAC’s findings secret.

    As they rail about financial corruption in unions, we hear that the Victorian Liberal Party director stole $1.5 million of party funds.

    Even before the election, Abbott vowed to dismantle the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission because Cardinal Pell did not want scrutiny of the Catholic Church’s dealings.

    The Libs have fought hard against disclosure of the tax paid (or not) by private companies and multinationals.

    I truly hope the crossbenchers stand firm with the Greens and demand a Federal ICAC and changes to the laws about political donations and election spending and advertising.

  3. z

    it is a political system problem that donation to political party without transparency

  4. Miriam English

    Corruption in Australian politics absolutely must be addressed. Neither of the two major parties wants a proper investigation — a federal ICAC. Of course that can only mean one thing: they are both corrupt.

    Those in the LNP have had their hands caught in the till so many times it is obvious why they don’t want to be exposed. I’m sure those in the Labor party have things to hide too, though I can’t help feeling they are in a less dangerous position than the LNP. It is more in Labor’s interests to clear the air. They should vote with the Greens for a Federal ICAC. And the results from the NSW one should be released. I had no idea this was being kept deliberately buried (thanks, Kaye, for this revelation).

    I had thought the main reason for the attack on the construction union was an ideological one: to crush one of the strongest unions. Could it be that the LNP is going after them because they’re one of the strongest financial supporters of Labor? A ploy to take money away from Labor? Labor is putting itself at risk accepting the money, but they can’t reject it in the current corrupt politics because LNP will keep accepting bribes from the likes of Gina Reinhart, rapidly outpacing Labor’s fundraising efforts. However if the union organised all its members to make individual donations to Labor and gave an incentive of union fee reductions as a thankyou for all that did, they could avoid the problem, so long as the union didn’t require such donations from members.

    Labor should endorse the federal ICAC. They almost certainly have much less to lose than the LNP.

    Why do religious extremists have such power within the LNP? Why can’t Malcolm simply tell them their views are not representative of Australians and that they should go suck eggs? Money. He is really turning out to be quite the hypocrite.

    I actually think all elections should be paid for only from the public purse with very strictly limited funds. There should be absolutely no donations allowed — even $20 from private citizens should be unacceptable. That slope is too slippery and too steep. It leads too quickly to ever-increasing corruption. If a party can’t win based on the merits of its policies then it doesn’t deserve it. And media propaganda by assholes like Murdoch should be classified as illegal — he should be fined hundreds of millions of dollars for corruption each time he does so. You can bet our elections would suddenly become about actual policies instead of nasty public smear campaigns.

    The last thing we want is for Australian politics to go down the plughole like USA politics. At the moment Australian politics is circling the drain, but we might yet save it.

    Get money out of politics!

  5. Douglas Pye

    For a veritable age, the buying of Political favours has been rampant – and this is aside from (and on top of) the plethora of lobbyists utterly swamping politics … and journalism !! …..

    It’s time for the pretense to be dropped … the Emperor IS naked! ….. and the public knows this !

    The group / party which finds the guts to put this forward in a no nonsense fashion can expect to really capture attention … and winning margins !!! …..

  6. Terry2

    So, when this ‘huge, illegal slush fund’ was established who was the Treasurer of the Liberal Party NSW Division and responsible for party finances.

    It’s on the tip of my tongue …………I know, it was Arthur Sinodinos but he probably won’t recall that.

  7. Kaye Lee

    For 60 years they have had a ban on paid political and religious TV advertising in the UK specifically to try to stop the distortion of public debate in favour of the rich.

    The ban has all-party support. Even the wealthiest parties and MPs have said consistently that they don’t want ”American-style ads”, they don’t want candidates being pushed into close relationships with donors and they don’t want those with higher financial resources hijacking the political agenda.

    Instead, the British laws require broadcasters to give free airtime to any political party that can show significant levels of electoral support.

    These blocks of free airtime used to be up to 20 minutes long but are now usually a more watchable length of 2½ minutes.

    This means that all the major parties, not just the richest ones, are given an opportunity to put their case. During the British 2010 election, blocks of airtime were given not just to Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats but also to 17 other parties.

    Because free airtime is provided, and because Britain also has campaign spending limits that restrict how much parties and candidates can spend during elections, elections in the UK are cheaper than in many other countries.

  8. Steve Laing

    What do they need all this money for? To waste on vacuous advertising to try and con the easily led. Give them a couple of grand for a website which they can write the content for themselves (with plagiarism checkers to prevent blatant party central copying) and then the electorate can do their own research on the actual capability of their candidate. Door knockers? Volunteers. Less stupid pamphlets please. Given I can only vote for my local candidate, I want to know what they are like, not their party (particularly give “the LNP are a broad church” – surely we need to know which pew our local f*cker actually sits in?).

    We have a right to know much, much more about our local candidates if we are to drag this institution out of the current morass of lobby fodder which certainly the right wingers throw up there.

  9. Kaye Lee

    “Politicians are each given a $100,000 printing allowance to cover the cost of communicating with constituents.

    But the funding is allocated over a financial year. With the 2015/2016 financial year already three-quarters gone, some MPs are worried they will have to dip into their own pockets to cover the cost of reaching the voters in a campaign that could stretch from May until early July.

    Parties only pick up the cost of election campaigns once the parties’ official campaign launches have taken place.

    Campaign launches have been taking place later and later in the life of a campaign.

    In 2013, the Liberal Party waited until two weeks before election day to hold its campaign launch. The Labor Party launched its campaign on the Sunday before election day.”

  10. Kaye Lee

    From the same article….

    “All of this comes on top of the estimated $1 million a day cost for recalling Parliament in April. The cost is incurred by the 3000 politicians and staffers who return to Canberra when Parliament is sitting. Travel, accommodation and other expenses are covered by the taxpayer.”

  11. jim

    Ha ha haa the fn Liberals are increasingly looking stupider and stupider day by day as well…..imo they are just that stupid along with mean nasty and very un-Australian great post and correct to the letter,….here; A dispute panel of the NSW Electoral Commission chaired by Keith Mason, a former NSW Appeals Court Judge, rejected a Liberal Party request on Wednesday for access to the cash arguing the NSW Division of the Liberal Party was still refusing to supply details of donors who made payments of $787,000 via the Free Enterprise Foundation

    Read more:
    Follow us: @FinancialReview on Twitter | financialreview on Facebook

  12. jimhaz

    I’m for putting a limit on electoral spending caps as a first step. Set at half or less the last federal election. It must be much lower than in recent years.

    This would rid the need to seek out funds by immorally abusing their position as ministers with access lures – something no one else is allowed to do in any job (other than the cash for comment public traitor brigade on 2GB and so on).

    I do want unions to be able to support the ALP, and it would be unfair to allow unions but not business orgs to donate to the LNP. I would place a secondary cap on this side of things as well, set at 1/3 of the rate of the last election.

    No doubt Murdoch and co would not allow this to occur.

    A cap scheme would still be scammed, particularly on the spending limit side of things, but at least pollies should never have any excuses for dodgy funding practices.

    Union funds given to the ALP must always be openly published (and with lower caps of much lower value). I was really very disgusted that union funds were used to prop up a clearly corrupt State ALP, regardless of leader, during the Obeid years.

    As for the “$100,000 printing allowance” cut that by 75%. I groaned everytime a got a pointless letter from Joe Hockey or Berejiklian selling the LNP.

  13. Möbius Ecko

    Haha. Put this in the “you have to be kidding” basket.

    NSW Libs threatening to sack staff if they don’t get their $4.4 million in funding.

    This mob of Liberals would have to be the joke of the century if not for the fact the comedy they are foisting on the public has serious consequences. It’s funny until you poke an eye out.

  14. Kaye Lee

    Let me get this straight….

    The Liberals are threatening to sack their own electoral staff if we don’t cough up for their election campaign and the only reason the money is being withheld is because they refuse to provide information about their financial dealings?


  15. anne rainbow

    Great article! And Miriam English I love your comments!

  16. Miriam English

    Möbius and Kaye, hahaha 😀 I so hope they carry out their threat. I would laugh long and loud.

    Anne, thanks. [blush]

  17. Kaye Lee

    By Ben Eltham @beneltham
    ” I’m just going to make a few points about Arthur Sinodinos.
    1. He’s Cabinet Secretary – the guy who takes the minutes on the executive
    2. Sinodinos is therefore in one the single most important roles in Australian executive government
    3. Sinodinos was a director then chair of Australian Water Holdings at the time the Obeid family bought a 30% stake. He says he didn’t know
    4. While Sinodinos was deputy chair of AWH, the company donated $70k to the NSW Liberal Party. He says he didn’t know
    5. When AWH donated to the Liberal Party, Sinodinos was also Treasurer of the NSW party, which accepted the $. He says he didn’t know
    6. When Sinodinos was chair of the finance committee of the NSW Libs, the party accepted $600k from the Free Enterprise Foundation
    7. The NSW Electoral Commission found that the Free Enterprise Foundation was a sham charity – a laundry for donors to remain anonymous
    8. Contrary to media reports, ICAC has not “cleared” Sinodinos. Operation Spicer has yet to report.
    9. ICAC testimony established that property developers donated to the NSW Libs via the FEF. This is unlawful under NSW electoral law
    10. To sum up: How is Arthur Sinodinos still in cabinet? “

  18. Möbius Ecko

    The ABC’s love affair with Turnbull continues unabated. This morning on ABC News 24 they reported that Turnbull is differentiating himself from Abbott, and one thing he’s doing to set himself apart is ‘city deals’.

    OK it was not an Abbott policy but neither is it a Turnbull one. Yet again Turnbull is taking someone else’s idea and staking it as his own. This is a UK Policy, like his 30 minute city idea was taken from Labor a while back.

    From stolen slogans from overseas TV to continuing Abbott policies, stealing Labor’s and other’s ideas Turnbull hasn’t an original thought and it’s disingenuous for the ABC to not mention the origin of Turnbull’s supposed original policies.

  19. Kaye Lee

    Our local Mayor got so pissed off with Lucy Wicks claiming credit for everything after she read out a list of “achievements” in Parliament that he gave her a very public dressing down.

    “Ms Wicks stood in Parliament on Wednesday to speak about 12 major projects and initiatives, but failed to mention that council has planned, driven and is delivering at least nine of these for residents on the peninsula,” Cr McKinna said.

    She quickly said “The peninsula growth statement was simply about recognising the needs of the community, and how the Turnbull Government is working to meet these needs. I want to place on record my appreciation for the work that Lawrie, the council and all our civic leaders do for our region.”

    They are all doing it.

  20. Möbius Ecko

    When you have a government that has nothing but failure to show for its time in office then all they have to promote are other’s achievements and ideas.

  21. Miriam English

    I guess they’ve realised that after, what, nearly 3 years in office? In the lead-up to the election continuing to blame Labor for their own lack of achievement is wearing a bit thin and have decided to start talking up positive things in an attempt to make themselves look good to voters. Unfortunately for them, they haven’t actually done anything positive, so the next best thing is to take credit for others’ ideas and accomplishments.

    I could almost feel sorry for them if it wasn’t their own negativity and incompetence that put them in this position.

  22. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Why is Operation Spicer of the NSW ICAC taking so long to report? Every day we wait, Sinodinos retains his government position and all the perks.

  23. Kaye Lee


    There have been court challenges against releasing the information, plus they wasted a lot of time on the Margaret Cunneen affair, which also brought into question the extent of their jurisdiction, a result which might mean they cannot act on some of their findings.

  24. Pingback: Poor little rich companies: No money for tax. Plenty for political donations. | Progressive Conversation

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