Monday, 12 September 2016


TONY  WATCH is an irregular post series recording Abbott’s efforts to bring down Malcolm Turnbull and re-install himself as prime minister.

Once again the fiscal shenanigans of our politicians have been brought to the electorate's attention, reminding us all of this:

"Non-Australian individuals, businesses and even governments may donate to political parties, “purchasing access and influence far greater than that of ordinary (Australian) citizens”, writes Marian Sawer. Sawer also points out that other democratic countries ban corporate donations, those from foreign interests, or require shareholder approval for company donations while Australia does not." [The Australian Collaboration (2011) Democracy in Australia – Electoral donations and campaign finance in IDEA Political Finance data for Australia]

Like a hound that had scented blood, on Thursday 9 September 2016 former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott was making sure he was in the news either being compared with or confronting the current prime minister - safe in the knowledge that Turnbull overseas on official business would not be able to quickly respond.

Independent Australia, 9 September 2016:

Back in 2008, before rolling Tony Abbott for the leadership, Turnbull supported political donation reform, telling Parliament:

 "This is a big, big, moral issue. I would love to see a day when only individuals on the electoral role were able to give money to political parties with an annual cap".

Since the 1980s, Australia has become known for its laissez-faire or lackadaisical attitude to the role of money in politics. At the federal level, Australia introduced public funding for political parties to reduce reliance on private donations but corporate donations have continued to grow — reaching $202 million in 2013–14.

Disclosure to the Australian Electoral Commission is required for donations of over $13,200 but there are no source restrictions or limits for donations.

So we have the situation where companies seeking access to government and favourable treatment of bids for contracts or licenses are quite lawfully making large donations to political parties. Australia’s political finance regulation falls way behind international standards, as can be seen in the global database maintained by the Institutional Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).

To take just the issue currently in the headlines, Australia has not even taken the step of banning donations from foreign interests, unlike 114 other democracies. See IDEA's Political finance bans and limits here…… 

In the early hours of the morning there was a somewhat hypocritical Tony Abbott seeking to land a blow on his arch-nemesis Malcolm Turnbull with this stance on a topical political issue.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 September 2016, 12am:

Former prime minister Tony Abbott has outlined a sweeping plan for reform of Australia's political donations system that would ban payments from unions, companies and overseas donors.

In comments that will ratchet up pressure on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to act on reform of Australia's donations laws - rather than punt the problem off to a parliamentary committee - Mr Abbott spoke exclusively to Fairfax Media about the need for a major re-think of the current system.

While opposition leader in May 2013, Mr Abbott backed out on a donation reform deal struck with then-prime minister Julia Gillard after an internal party and public backlash.

That deal would have handed political parties and elected MPs more public funding but also, crucially, reduced the disclosure thresholds for anonymous donations from $12,000 to $5000.

There are strong calls for donation reform from various sides of politics following the Sam Dastyari affair.

While opposition leader in May 2013, Mr Abbott backed out on a donation reform deal struck with then-prime minister Julia Gillard after an internal party and public backlash.

That deal would have handed political parties and elected MPs more public funding but also, crucially, reduced the disclosure thresholds for anonymous donations from $12,000 to $5000.

But in the wake of the Dastyari scandal, Mr Abbott said: "I think it is time to look at donations reform again.

" We need to look long and hard at restricting donations to real people on the electoral roll. To that end, there should be no union donations, company donations or foreign donations, " he said.

" Obviously we don't want influence buying, we don't want subversion of our system. The best way to ensure the system is straight and clean is full transparency. The best way to have transparency is to have real-time disclosure, or near-to-real-time disclosure."

Mr Abbott encouraged people "to donate to the Liberals, or the party of their choice - that's a good thing - and if they want to do it substantially that's great, as long as there is that transparency".

"Plainly we do need to subject any changes to scrutiny to ensure there are no unintended consequences, but in the wake of the Dastyari affair, this does need to be looked at again."

Mr Abbott did not specify whether the Turnbull government should appoint an independent panel of experts to examine donations reform, as the NSW government did in 2014, or whether it should be left to a parliamentary committee…..

Mr Turnbull said that "ideally" donations should be limited to people on the electoral roll but only hinted that a parliamentary committee could look at the issue.

"So you would exclude not simply foreigners but you would exclude corporations and you'd exclude trade unions," he said.

"It is a very complex issue, however, and it is something that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters should look at very carefully."

The committee, however, has not been formed, has not been asked to examine the issue and routinely has had its past reform recommendations ignored.

After the 2013 election, the committee undertook a routine review but devoted just 10 pages of the 192-page report to the issues of donations. It made not one recommendation to reform the system or improve transparency.

After the 2010 poll, the committee examined how the political donations system in Australia could be improved and made a sweeping series of recommendations - including lowering disclosure thresholds and banning foreign money.

Mr Shorten said the Prime Minister was "hardly one to throw rocks about political courage".

"I say to Malcolm Turnbull: be prepared. Next week you can either work with us or oppose us but, by hook or by crook, Labor is going to propose legislation which will ban foreign donations."

Labor's donations reform policies include reducing the disclosure threshold from $13,800 to $1000, banning anonymous donations over $50 and banning foreign donations.

The Greens and sections of the crossbench also back donations reforms, including lowering donations thresholds and stopping foreign donations……

Not content with a single left to the jaw, Abbott swiftly followed on with this jab in The Australian on the same day, on the subject of the so-called Healthy Welfare Cards aka restricted bank debit card being trialled between 1 February 2016 and 30 June 2018 at three test sites.

The Australian, 9 September 2016, 12am:

Tony Abbott has called for an ­expansion of the government’s healthy welfare card and says criticism that it is racist could ­derail it and ignores the fact the debit system has been backed by indigenous people.

Writing in The Australian after spending five days in the remote East Kimberley town of Kununurra, Mr Abbott has challenged parliament to keep the trial going “long enough for a proper evaluation”. He has also renewed his controversial push for people to be given their full family tax benefit payment only if their children have a good school attendance rate, saying trials could work in places where the community wants to tackle truancy…..

Unlike the incumbent Prime Minister, Abbott as a backbencher can conveniently ignore the fact that these tests results may be potentially skewed due to accompanying supportive wraparound welfare services, that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has raised concerns about income management infringing human rights based on the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to social security and the right to privacy and family and that not all indigenous communities are in favour of this move by federal government.

His pugilistic propensities not yet satisfied, Abbott hit out at Turnbull a third time later in the morning.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 September 2016, 9am:

Former prime minister Tony Abbott has accused the ABC of bias over its July coverage of abuse in Northern Territory juvenile detention system and suggested that his successor Malcolm Turnbull responded "in panic" at the TV program.

Mr Turnbull announced there would be a royal commission the morning after the Four Corners broadcast, which depicted shocking scenes in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, and the government formally established the inquiry the next week.

Just over a month later, Mr Abbott has called the ABC report "pretty one-sided", joining ousted NT chief minister Adam Giles in criticising it despite the federal government's praise.

"Yes, it was a shocking report but it was only telling one side of the story and, when the rest of the story started to come out, it appeared that things were not nearly as black and white as the ABC presented them," the former prime minister told 2GB radio……

All in all a pathetic performance on Abbott's part - reminding the nation as it does of his justifiable sacking in September 2015 rather than acting as a showcase for his 'leadership' qualities.

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