Call for new Legislative Council MPs to disclose campaign donations

Twelve Legislative Council candidates could have spent up to $210,000 - but are not required to tell voters where their support came from
 August 11, 2020
Published:  August 11, 2020
Are undisclosed campaign donations opening the door of the Legislative Council? Image: Mark Horstman.

An electoral reform group has called on newly elected members of the Legislative Council to voluntarily disclose all campaign donations over $1000.

Under Tasmania’s Electoral Act, candidates for the Legislative Council seats of Huon and Rosevears were allowed to spend up to $17,500 on their campaigns. The 12 candidates for the two seats could have spent up to $210,000 on their combined campaigns but are not required to disclose the source of any donations.

Roland Browne, a spokesperson for Election Funding Reform, a group pushing for greater political donations transparency and caps on both donations and spending, called on the winning candidates to voluntarily disclose donations over $1000.

“They should disclose these donations because just about anywhere else in Australia they’d need to.  It’s time for leadership and for newly elected representatives to set an example,” he said.

“There must be disclosure of donations to Upper House candidates. For example, Victoria requires disclosure for Upper House elections.”

“With parliament heading towards dealing with the extension of the poker machine licence to Federal Hotels there has never been a more important time for disclosure and donation caps.”

Liberal candidate for Rosevears Jo Palmer, who is widely tipped to win the seat, declined to comment on whether she would voluntarily disclose donors who contributed over $1000 to her campaign. “Until there is an official announcement for the seat of Rosevears I will not be doing any media. I just need to wait and see the result,” she said.

Tasmanian Inquirer attempted to contact Labor’s winning candidate for the seat of Huon, Bastian Seidel, but received no response.

The Tasmanian Electoral Commission will finalise the election results shortly after the August 11 deadline for the receipt of postal ballots.

Gutwein accused of dragging feet on donations reform

Tasmania remains the only state that does not regulate donations for state or local government.

At his first media conference as Premier in January 2020, Tasmanian Inquirer asked Peter Gutwein whether political donations disclosure would improve under his leadership. “We operate under the national disclosure rules but those matters are being looked at and it is certainly something that I intend to turn my mind to,” he said.

“When governments anywhere dither on this sort of reform, it raises the question: what have they got to hide?” Andrew Wilkie, Independent MP for the federal seat of Clark.

The Commonwealth Electoral Act regulates political parties registered for federal elections only, and does not apply to Legislative Council candidates.

In April, at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in the state, the Gutwein Government committed to introduce political donations disclosure laws for council candidates as part of a package of local government reforms.

But he has done little to address the lack of disclosure for state parliament.

A review of Tasmania’s Electoral Act began in June 2018 but the final report to Attorney-General Elise Archer has not been released.

At a media conference with Election Funding Reform on July 10, the independent MP for the federal seat of Clark, Andrew Wilkie, accused the state government of dragging its feet on political donations reform.

“When governments anywhere dither on this sort of reform it raises the question: what have they got to hide? What does this state government have to hide?” he asked.

But Gutwein was dismissive of the urgent need for reform. “I have been dealing with a pandemic and, to be frank, the state election isn’t due until 2022, so we’ve got plenty of time to deal with those matters,” he said.

Since the March 2018 state poll, elections have been held for seven of the 15 seats in the Legislative Council.

A spokesperson for Gutwein did not respond to a question from Tasmanian Inquirer on whether legislation requiring political donations disclosure would be in effect for the May 2021 Legislative Council elections in the seats of Derwent, Mersey and Windermere.

“The electoral review final report is currently being considered by the Government.  However, this is complex reform and I’m sure most Tasmanians would want the Government’s focus right now to remain on our response and recovery from COVID-19,” Gutwein’s spokesperson said.

Bob Burton is a Hobart-based author, researcher, editor and freelance journalist. He is the Editor of CoalWire, a weekly bulletin on global coal industry developments for the US-based non-profit group Global Energy Monitor. His freelance journalism has been published in a wide range of news outlets from the British Medical Journal to the US-based PR Watch.

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