Restoring trust in politics: tougher penalties, more transparency, less influence from donations

Published 14th October, 2014

NSW Premier Mike Baird today announced new measures to restore trust in politics in the state, including tougher penalties for candidates who breach donations laws and more transparency by requiring parties to disclose donations before the next election.

Mr Baird said the reforms, to be in place for the 2015 election, will reduce the influence of donations by lowering the current caps on donations and spending, and increasing the amount of public funding.

“This package sends the strongest possible message to all current and prospective political candidates – comply with the law or face up to 10 years in jail,” Mr Baird said.

“I share the community’s disgust at what has unfolded at the Independent Commission Against Corruption and am determined to take every necessary step to restore trust in the political process.

“This package puts penalties in place that reflect the serious nature of the offences and are in line with community expectations.

“Breaking donations laws is not an administrative oversight – it is corrupt conduct.”

Legislation to be introduced into Parliament today will:

  • Broadly double penalties for a range of offences under the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosure Act;
  • Prohibit third party arrangements being used to avoid donation and expenditure caps – carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment;
  • Allow for prosecutions for all future offences to be commenced up to 10 years after the offence was committed – up from the current three years; and
  • Require parties to disclose political donations received from 1 July 2014 to 1 February 2015 – this disclosure must be made within one week of the end of this period to the Electoral Funding Authority, to be made public before the election.

Mr Baird said a new, fairer public funding model will be introduced to reduce the corrosive influence of donations in the political system.

Under changes to be introduced, the government will lower caps on political donations and spending caps for political parties and third party campaigners while a new model of public funding will be introduced that rewards performance rather than spending.

The package will lessen the corrosive influence from donations in the political process by:

  • Reducing the caps on political donations to what applied for the 2011 election – ($5,700 to $5,000 for a political party, from $2,400 to $2,000 for candidates);
  • Reducing spending caps on electoral communication to what applied for the 2011 election ($100,000 per party for every seat contested, down from $111,200);
  • Reducing spending caps for registered third party campaigners to $250,000 (from $1,166,600) and to $125,000 (from $583,300) for non-registered third parties;
  • A new public funding model rewarding performance rather than spending, based on a scheme similar to the methods used nationally and in Queensland and South Australia;
  • The level of public funding to be determined by a dollar per vote model; and
  • Payments will only be made up to the applicable spending cap and only after the spending is proven and audited.

“This is an historic and important change to clean up politics in this state by reducing the reliance on donations for election campaigns and increasing public funding,” Mr Baird said.

Mr Baird said the package reflects the expectations of the Expert Panel on donations reform led by Kerry Schott in its Interim Report, and what is achievable prior to the 2015 election.

The Expert Panel is due to deliver its final report to the Premier by 31 December 2014 on options for long term reform of political donations.

Published 14th October, 2014