Malcolm Turnbull on the hustings.
Malcolm Turnbull on the hustings.

Call for election donations to be disclosed in real time

Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos has urged that political donations should be disclosed in "continuous real time".

Sinodinos, who has been under pressure over donations when he was NSW party treasurer, said on Friday: "I think the time has come to do that because I think that will be a major step forward in transparency."

He also said inconsistencies between federal and state provisions on donations should be looked at.

The NSW Electoral Commission is withholding A$4.4 million in public funding from the NSW Liberal Party after raising questions about the source of some funds channelled through the ACT-based Free Enterprise Foundation, an "associated entity" linked to the Liberal Party, before the 2011 state election.

The NSW law prohibits donations from property developers, who were among the donors.

The state Electoral Commission said in March the party's NSW division was not eligible for the payment because "it failed to disclose the identity of all major political donors in its 2011 declaration".

Sinodinos has declined to attend a Senate inquiry, prompted by the NSW Electoral Commission action, into political donations and associated entities.

His comment about real time disclosure - a view he previously put when he appeared before the Independent Commission Against Corruption - comes after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told The Conversation that political donations reform was "a big and complex issue and one that deserves closer attention" and suggested it would be looked at by the next parliament.

"I'm very interested in the issue, I can assure you, but it is one where there are real challenges," he said.

Turnbull, who raised the issue of donations reform in his early days in parliament, said in an interview on Thursday that in "an ideal world" there would be limitations on campaign expenditure, with donations limited to individuals on the electoral roll, who were subject to an annual cap.

But there were real constitutional problems, with limitations on any parliament's ability to restrict anyone from spending money in an election campaign, he said.

There was also the need to take account of third parties - including corporations, industry associations and, very relevantly, trade unions.

If restrictions were put on the ability of individuals to donate to political parties but there were no restrictions on third parties' spending, the result could be the problems seen in the US, he said.

Finding an effective level playing field was a challenge and "I'm sure it's one that parliament will return to after the election", Turnbull said.

This article was first published here at The Conversation

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