Justin Field, Shoalhaven Greens
Even small donations to council candidates and parties in local government elections can have a substantial influence on the result.
However, under new NSW legislation only individual citizens listed on the electoral roll can now donate to political parties and candidates - and only to a maximum of $5000 to a political party or $2000 to any one candidate. No longer can corporations or any organisations, including developers, make political donations. The Greens have long championed such changes which were passed by the O’Farrell government earlier this year with the support of the NSW Greens.
This reform, while largely a response to the perception that political donations were buying influence at the state level, will have a significant impact within local government and the upcoming council elections in September will be the first to be conducted under these new laws.
“Corporate fundraising and the ability to buy advertising and saturate local streets with election flyers should never be the measure of a local candidate.”
In the past, even a few thousand dollars donated by an organisation could significantly boost a local campaign by funding election materials such as flyers, posters and advertising in local papers and on local radio. When the donor was an organisation with a specific interest in council decisions such as rezoning or local development, the potential for a conflict of interest was substantial. Add to this the fact that there is often less media scrutiny of local council decisions and the circumstances become ripe for a ‘cash for decisions’ culture to grow - or at the very least the perception that political donations could buy influence.
While individuals can still donate under the new laws, the direct relationship between a donor and their business or property interests will be more transparent. This was often not the case under the old legislation, which allowed individuals with financial interests in business and property to donate behind the name of their organisation or corporation and claim the donation as a ‘business expense.’
This new ban on corporate and organisational political donations will dramatically reduce money spent on September’s local government election campaign and this will benefit voters. The Greens believe policies, not advertising dollars, should determine election results and that now candidates running in local government elections will have a much a clearer field to represent community interests.
There is still the need for future reform to donations laws as they relate to local councils such as capping total expenditure allowed by political parties and candidates and improving the auditing and compliance regime. However the reforms to date are a great step towards ensuring local government remains truly local.
Corporate fundraising and the ability to buy advertising and saturate local streets with election flyers should never be the measure of a local candidate.
Justin Field is running as a Greens candidate in the Shoalhaven Local Council Elections. Read more at www.justinfield.wordpress.com