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Don’t Waste the Opportunity to Fix Our Political System

Patrick Gorman MP

My left arm has been broken twice and my right arm once. I was a clumsy kid.

The truth is you don’t always come back stronger. At best the recovery takes a while.

As Anthony Albanese has noted “the pandemic is like an x-ray, it shows what is broken”.

2020 has seen a virus that hasn’t just taken lives. It has broken some of our democratic institutions.

The fractures are everywhere. The Liberals wanted a part-time Parliament. Elections are increasingly pre-poll and postal. Scott Morrison’s National Cabinet papers won’t be released until 2040.

Australia Needs a New Wave of Political Accountability

Labor members have been heartbroken by what they have seen in the Victorian branch.

Worse, the Victorian Liberal Party have treated Australians like fools. Pretending their rort-infested multi-level-marketing branch stacking is completely above board.

The pandemic has also felt the full impact of Clive Palmer’s cash splash.

In my electorate of Perth, Clive Palmer is unavoidable. He has two or three pages of ads each day in The West Australian, he is Australia’s biggest spender on political digital

Palmer was named most absent MP 2 years running

advertising and in Western Australia and Queensland, his media profile bigger than the Liberal opposition leaders.

The guy who spent $89 million helping to re-elect Scott Morrison isn’t finished yet.

It is easy to despair. Worry that democracy isn’t as inevitable a political system as once thought.

For me, I am optimistic that democracy can come out stronger from this pandemic.

There is an opportunity to improve Australia’s democratic outcomes for the long term.

Ban the Handling of Cash by Political Parties

Sadly, cash and branch stacking go hand in hand.

If our local coffee shops can reject cash payments then so can our political parties.

Cash is ugly and unaccountable when it comes to politics. There is a reason you can’t take more than $10,000 cash out of Australia.

A decade ago, the Western Australian Branch of the Labor Party banned cash payments for almost all memberships.

“What about the raffle?”, I hear you cry. A tap-and-go payment system will capture 95 per cent of the payments and give you proper accountability.

Let Fixed Four-Year Terms Be a Lasting Change From the Pandemic

I know this year has made it feel as if the Liberals have been in office forever. A four-year term might feel like too much ScoMo for anyone.

Canberra needs the certainty that the states are starting to enjoy. Federally, we are just months away from the election speculation that consumes what is already on average a short election cycle.

Australia is pretty lonely when it comes to three-year terms. Across the world, only Mexico and the Philippines have bicameral parliaments with three-year electoral cycles.

A world experiencing a pandemic, in search of certainty, stability and true policy leadership may be the best opportunity to make this much needed reform happen.

Introduce Audited Financial Accountability for Political Parties

I took over a cash-strapped branch in Western Australia as Party Secretary. Two years later we won an election and matched the Liberal Party’s campaign spend. Fixing finances is hard. But it is doable. And accountability helps make it happen.

I have always been impressed that the NSW Labor branch publishes its audited financials. They are proactively a public document.

Sadly, when it comes to financial statements, your local school P&C is more open and accountable than our political parties are.

Public accountability should be the standard. The Australian Electoral Commission should publish audited financials of all political parties.

This would also ensure there is sunlight shone on fringe and minor parties like Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party.

More to Do

Labor already has a long-standing set of policies for electoral reform. A disclosure threshold of $1,000 and disclosure within seven days of receiving a donation are the essential first steps.

The next steps are to deal with the challenges of unaccountable cash, terms that are too short, and political parties who don’t let the sunlight touch their finances.

Then we can start healing the broken bones of our democracy.

Patrick Gorman is the Labor MP for Perth Facebook Twitter


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