Voters in dark on donations

by Chris Griffith
Written 21 January 1996


my face


The Fitzgerald Report vividly related how, during the headiest days of the Bjelke-Petersen era, companies that gave hefty donations to the National Party often won lucrative tenders for the state's major projects.

Construction of the Bundaberg Maternity Hospital in 1983, major road upgrades, and the states massive railways electrification project in 1983-1986 all were awarded to companies who "coincidentally" filled the National Party's campaign coffers.

To overcome the brown-paper bag phenomenon, the Fitzgerald report recommended law requiring the origins and amounts of sizeable donations to be public.

But this law will be of little use to Mundingburra voters who next month will decide the fate of government on all our behalves.

First, the law does not require disclosure as donations occur. On February 3rd, Mundingburra voters will not know the implied and unwritten deals that some candidates may have agreed to in return for financial support.

However, Mundingburra voters will also not know the donations made six months ago during last July's state election, because the political party returns where most donations are declared are compiled only annually.

They will appear in the 1995-96 party returns, not to be released until February 1997. By then, we may have had another election.

But some donations information is now available, namely the personal donations to candidates. These represent a small minority of the funds that flow during election time as most donations are passed directly to the parties.

In returns published this month by the Electoral Commission of Queensland, only 36 last July's 290 candidates acknowledged receiving personal donations.

Of the registered parties, only 7 ALP, 6 Liberal, 3 Citizens Action Party, 2 Democrats and 1 Green Party candidates detailed personal donations.

Of the leaders, Premier Wayne Goss listed a solitary personal donation of $100. Opposition leader Rob Borbidge and Deputy Leader Joan Sheldon declared none;

Gladstone Independent candidate Liz Cunningham furnished a very detailed breakdown of her personal donations. She declared donations of $10,120 from 90 people, including $1,000 from The Oak Development Company;

Liberal candidates Kerrin Woods (Currumbin) and Myles Thompson (Cairns) disclosed the highest donations -- $14,138 and $11,297 respectively.

Kallangur candidate Royna Joyner received a donation from Call to Australia for $495. Gympie Independent Inge Schilling declared a $1321 from the All Australia Alliance;

Mt Gravatt MLA Judy Spence was one of few Labor MP's to declare personal donations. She declared $1034.80, including $400 from the CEPU Plumbing Queensland Branch and $50 from the Australian Automobile Association. Motor associations were active in donating to several candidates.

This exercise suggests there is a vast room for improvement to Queensland's political donations' legislation.

It could be changed to guarantee that all donations are public knowledge within three months of an election. And individual candidates could be required to ring-in their donations to the electoral commission as they receive them. This information would then be known on polling day.

Under current law it is also possible to donate thousands of dollars to a party and still maintain anonymity, provided the donations are broken into instalments each under $500. It is a loophole open to anyone or any corporation which can organise routine payments through electronic bank transfers.

The commission last week also released official details of the public funding given to parties after the July 15 poll.

All parties were eligible to receive .08203 cents for each primary vote. However parties had to prove they had spent the money before receiving their full entitlement.

The ALP received its full entitlement of $837,042.18, as did the Liberal Party, $443,712.37, the National Party, $512,337.96, and the Citizens Action Party, $8,722.24.

The Queensland Greens received only $53,195.08 of its $55,079.66 entitlement.

The Australian Democrats failed to register as an official Queensland party in time to qualify for public funding. Some Democrat candidates nominated as independents, and therefore became eligible for public funding as independents.