Sunday, 24 August 2014

Shorter Tony Abbott: Liberal Party fraud & corruption all Labor Party's fault

It is becoming harder and harder to tolerate the arrant folly on display when Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his ministers trot forth their justifications for unlawful behaviour, bad policy, foreign relations gaffes or garden variety political fibs. 

This assertion quoted in The Guardian on 18 August 2014 has to be the most brazen example so far of their blame Labor mantra:

In the wake of the resignation of two NSW Liberal MPs over corruption allegations, the prime minister has said the “problem” was the former Labor NSW government banning property developer donations in the first place…..
“Who exactly is a developer? That can sometimes be a difficult question. [They] also introduced legislation to limit the total amount of donations and political parties need to raise money,” he told 2GB on Monday morning…..

As with many of Abbott's utterances, this was a distortion of fact which a look at Hansard records quickly dispelled.

The NSW Legislative Assembly Hansard of 1 December 2009 gives a clear definition of property developer:

Meaning of "property developer"
The Bill defines a property developer to be:
(a) a corporation engaged in a business that regularly involves the making of relevant planning applications by all on behalf of the corporation in connection with the residential or commercial development of land, with the ultimate purpose of the sale or lease of the land for profit, or
(b) close associates of such a corporation.
Any activity engaged in by a Corporation for the dominant purpose of providing commercial premises at which the corporation or a related body corporate will carry on business is to be disregarded for the purpose of determining whether the corporation is a property developer.
A close associate of a corporation includes:
(a) directors and officers of the corporation and their spouses, and
(b) a related body corporate of the corporation (within the meaning of the Corporations Act 2001 of the Commonwealth),
(c) persons whose voting power in the corporation or a related body corporate is greater than 20% and their spouses.

That same day Hansard records the bill being passed in the Lower House and the current Coalition Premier of New South Wales (then Shadow Treasurer), along with the rest of the Opposition, supporting this election funding reform:

Mr MIKE BAIRD (Manly) [6.31 p.m.]: The Opposition does not oppose the Election Funding and Disclosures Amendment (Property Development Prohibition Bill) 2009 as we strongly support the need for comprehensive campaign finance reform. From day one the Leader of the Opposition said that transparency, honesty and accountability should be returned to government in this State…..
However, I acknowledge that both sides of politics have received donations from areas and industries that have caused concern within the community and potentially removes objective assessment of legislation or reforms. The community has the perception that when particular groups or individuals fund a party it is difficult
for politicians to make objective assessments. That perception problem must be addressed. The problem is across both sides of the political divide. I accept that there are many in this place who do not have a potential conflict; nevertheless, the perception remains and it is difficult to determine whether people are being influenced
by donations. In my inaugural speech 2½ years ago I noted that donations were at a corrosive level in this State and that significant donation limits, combined with stronger public funding, can ensure that electors are properly informed and have confidence in the integrity of the electoral process.....

That property developers appearing before ICAC are well aware of the fact that they are property developers within the meaning of relevant legislation is nowhere better illustrated than by former Newcastle mayor Jeff McCloy’s High Court writ which reportedly states:

‘‘Each of the first plaintiff (Cr McCloy) and third plaintiff (North Lakes Pty Ltd) is therefore a property developer within the meaning of section 96GB(1) of the Elections Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act.’’

By March 2014 NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption investigations Credo and Spicer were exposing the the degree to which politicians, political parties, lobby groups and individuals were flouting state election funding and donation disclosure laws.

 On 27 May 2014 NSW Premier Baird announced the formation of an expert committee which would investigate and recommend to government further reforms to NSW election funding laws.

A background paper produced by this committee gives an Overview of Australian Election Funding and Disclosure Regimes.


New South Wales

In 2008, in-kind campaign contributions (including the provision of offices, computer equipment and vehicles to candidates for little or no payment) were capped at $1,000. In 2009, political donations from property developers were banned in response to public concerns about corruption and undue influence in the NSW planning system. This ban was later extended to prohibit donations from the tobacco, liquor and gambling industries.

In 2010, the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act 1981 (NSW) (the NSW Act) was further amended to impose caps on the value of political donations to parties, groups, candidates, elected members and third-party campaigners. As a result of these reforms, the largest donation a single donor can make in a financial year is $5,000 to a political party or group, and $2,000 to a candidate, elected member or third-party campaigner (adjusted for increases in the CPI). The applicable NSW donations caps for the 2014-15 financial year are $5,700 for donations to parties and groups and $2,400 for donations to candidates, elected members and third-party campaigners.

The shift in New South Wales toward caps and bans on donations culminated in the O’Farrell Government’s 2012 amendments banning political donations from corporations and other entities. This ban was recently declared invalid by the High Court on the grounds that it impermissibly burdened the implied freedom of political communication under the Commonwealth Constitution. The result of the High Court’s decision is that section 96D of the NSW Act applies as it did before the 2012 amendments.

On the basis of this outline it would appear that the majority of witnesses giving evidence at Operation Spicer hearings are either in breach of state electoral funding and donation laws or have knowledge of these breaches and, fraud and corruption are systemic within the NSW political system.

A system which has been advantageous to Prime Minister Abbott through donations received from the Warringah Club and Warringah Forum. 

It would appear that Abbott's statement of 18 August this year is merely a reworking of an excuse he found successful in the past, when his political fund-raising arm was found to have breached electoral laws and one of his principal donors (a property developer) failed to make required disclosures.

Unfortunately for Tony Abbott the Australian electorate now has a better understanding of how political donations are solicited and his tired old 'ignorance of the law' excuse will no longer be tolerated by a great many voters.

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