State funding problem, not solution

Brian Rudman thinks the solution to the Peters debacle would be state funding of political parties.

What does it say about our democracy when the big two political parties – and some of the minnows – are dependent for much of their funding on private handouts from a few rich, anonymous businessmen. ..

Last year’s Electoral Finance Act has done away with the secret slush funds. Its big shortcoming is it failed to provide the political parties with an alternative source of funding.

But it hasn’t stopped parties getting money from their members which is the best way to ensure they stay in touch with their supporters.

Democracy is surely the loser if parties don’t have the money to develop and promote new policy. And be able to critique others.

The problem this year is not that parties have no money, it’s that the EFA prevents them from using it.

In 1986, the Royal Commission on the Electoral System recommended a form of state funding very similar to that already in existence in Australia.

Noting the increasing cost of the political process, the commission said “too great a reliance” on outside funders like trade unions and corporations would “be detrimental to our democracy and might … lead to corruption of our political process … ” Nothing’s changed.

In Australia, any political donation over $10,500 has to be declared by donor and receiver. State funding is provided based on votes cast. At last year’s federal election the payout was $2.70 a vote cast. It’s a cheap price to pay to keep the millionaires at bay, and democracy working.

But rather than being the solution, state funding would create a problem by distancing politicians from their supporters.

Democracy requires participation of the people and that would be handicapped if we hand over  responsibility for funding parties to the taxpayer.

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