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Keeping political parties honest

By Natasha Stott Despoja - posted Friday, 15 February 2002

Cleaning Up Political Donations

History shows that power, politics and money go hand in hand.

Ever since partisan appeals were etched in the walls of ancient Greece, elections have cost money, and ever since the first political donation changed hands, money has been used to influence electoral outcomes and the process of government.

The Australian Democrats have a long and proud history of demanding openness and accountability in party finances. We strongly oppose the suspect fundraising practices of the major parties which allow the identities of large donors to be concealed.


The Democrats believe that:

  • political parties should be required to return donations from trusts, clubs and foundations if they do not fully disclose the true source of the donation;
  • donations from overseas entities (but not individuals) should be banned;
  • a ceiling of $100 000 should be placed on the amount of money any corporation or organisation can donate to a political party;
  • any donation over $10 000 should be disclosed quarterly (instead of annually) to the Australian Electoral Commission for publication on the AEC website;
  • companies or organisations that make political donations should be required to disclose the donations to their shareholders or members.

We have consistently and persistently moved amendments in the Senate to address the deficiencies in our funding and disclosure laws. We are the only party committed to changing the politics of party financing.

The Democrats have determined that, until legislative reforms take place, we will voluntarily disclose all donations above the legal disclosure level (currently $1500) on our website on a quarterly basis, rather than leaving it to the Electoral Commission’s annual report.

Making Political Parties Accountable

Branch-stacking and preselection abuse occur in many political parties. Internal corruption thrives in political parties because of a lack of transparency and accountability. The Australian Democrats believe that political parties must be made accountable.

Political parties are absolutely integral to Australian society and economy. They wield enormous influence over the life of every Australian, yet they are among the least regulated of all Australian organisations. There are none of the very proper and necessary safeguards for political party regulation that are in place for corporations under the Corporations Law, for instance.


This lack of regulation belies the millions of dollars in public funding received by political parties and the enormous public power they exercise.

The Democrats believe that:

  • The Commonwealth Electoral Act should require standard items to be set out in a political party’s constitution, in a similar manner to the Corporations Law requirements for the constitutions of companies. The mandatory provisions will require parties to meet minimum standards of accountability and openness in their internal procedures;
  • Many constitutions are currently secret. All political party constitutions should be lodged with the AEC and be made available for public and media scrutiny;
  • Important ballots, including preselection ballots, should be able to be overseen or be conducted by the AEC to ensure proper electoral practices are adhered to;
  • The AEC should have greater powers and resources to give closer scrutiny to branch stacking and preselection abuses.
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This is the Australian Democrats' party reform policy, launched for the federal election in October 2001.

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About the Author

Senator Natasha Stott Despoja was the Australian Democrats spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Attorney-Generals, Science & Biotechnology, Higher Education and the Status of Women (including Work & Family). She is a former Senator for South Australia.

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