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21st century democracy needs defending

By Lee Rhiannon - posted Friday, 15 July 2011

The last few weeks have seen a series of Labor heavyweights willing to go public about the woes of their party. Faulkner, Dastyari and Richardson have all raised a range of significant problems with the way the party is, or is not, working. A common theme though is the real and dire need for Labor

to reconnect with its membership and the community more broadly.

Interestingly none of these Labor heavyweights have been calling for the Party to reassess its corporate connections. This is deeply relevant to Labor's future – it goes to the very heart of who they are, what they stand for and who they speak for.


There is a link here. It is not just a need to look again at how they involve and speak to their supporters but to understand that the more they appear to be beholden to corporate interests, the greater the gulf appears to be from their membership. Our very recent political history in NSW can attest to this.

According to media reports the 2011 Ipsos Mackay Report 'Being Australian', just released, reveals a growing and pervasive view amongst those surveyed that 'big business is undermining our way of life'. This is a view that is growing stronger in the community and one that the Greens encounter every day when we speak to voters.

How Labor interacts with the business community needs to change if Labor is to be true to its valuesof social justice to help restore people's confidence in MPs and the democratic institutions that are so vitally important to the society we live in.

A decade of political donation scandals, easy access of lobbyists to politicians, and the multi-million dollar advertising campaigns that corporations engage in when they don't like a government policy has shaken public confidence in Labor and the democratic process. Importantly it has also shaken confidence in many to trust the motives and actions of some of the largest companies in Australia, companies that could be playing a strong leadership role in shaping a better country.

Hostility, scepticism and misgivings towards some companies are common to shareholders, consumers and employees. Surely this can't be good for business?

When former NSW ICAC Commissioner Jerrold Cripps left the Commission he commented that political donations and lobbying by former MPs ''are activities that are unmistakably conducive to corrupt conduct''.


The need for electoral funding reform is demonstrated every time another political donation scandal breaks. We did makesubstantial and meaningful inroads into this with recent legislation in NSW but nationwide reform is essential and long overdue. However, reform of party involvement with the corporate world needs to be more far reaching.

How does 21st century democracy manage lobbyists, corporate campaigning, and concentration of media ownership?

Lobbying is big business with sundrycampaigns undertaken by lobbyists, economic consultancies and public relations agencies specialising in government work. It is true however that some of them engage incarry out important and ethical work.

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About the Author

Lee Rhiannon MLC is a former Greens member of the NSW Legislative Council and is running in the 2010 Federal Election as the NSW Greens Senate candidate.

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