Don’t ban donations, ban donations from crooks

“It’s the Bjelke-Petersen era again,” is the meme every time a centre-right party moots a policy on just about anything in Queensland.

But the hecklers, invariably from the left, forget that Bjelke-Petersen was just a late twentieth-century riff on the themes of the previous half a century’s Labor corruption.

Petersen was accused of stifling free speech, but his free speech critics of the day are silent now as their comrades implement restrictions of their own.

When it comes to institutionalised corruption of the electoral system, Labor has over a century of form.

The latest elaboration of the theme is the introduction into state parliament of the “Local Government Electoral (Implementing Stage 1 of Belcarra) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2018”.

This bill will prevent property developers, their employees, consultants, spouses, and, possibly, relatives, donating money to the party or candidate of their choice, or asking anyone else to give them support.

It is an opportunistic overreach to a report by the state’s Crime and Corruption Commission, introduced as retrospective legislation just prior to the last election, robbing the LNP of an estimated $519,524.45 to fight that election.

With Labor holding government by one seat, and the margins in two of those seats less than 0.71 per cent, who knows what difference that half a million might have made.

Bjelke-Petersen adapted a pre-existing Labor gerrymander to sandbag National Party seats. Rather than a geographical rort, the current Labor party is in the process of imposing an industry-based one.

Building, construction and real estate represent around 15 per cent of the state economy but will be almost invisible from the state’s democracy.

As always, the public is sceptical, but unheard.

Which is why the Australian Institute for Progress commissioned Reachtel to conduct research on Queenslanders’ attitudes to issues arising from the CCC’s original report, and the commissioner’s appearance before a parliamentary committee to examine the proposed bill.

The ban is justified by the CCC on the basis there is a widespread public perception that property developer donations are corrupt.

This is despite the fact there hasn’t been a successful prosecution of a property developer for corrupting a politician since George Herscu in 1990, and the failure of the CCC to find any since despite numerous complaints and now Operation Belcarra.

Indeed, while charges have been made this year by the CCC against 13 people, two of them former mayors, to date not one property developer has been arraigned.

The “research” to justify this claim was that it was made by many of the organisations and people who made submissions to the CCC. But as these organisations are anti-development, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

At the same time the commissioner incredibly claimed that there was no public perception that union donations were corrupt.

So we tested these claims in the first of our questions and found that while there is a suspicion that some property development donations are corrupt (73 per cent), the suspicion is even higher for gaming (76 per cent) and still very high for unions (63 per cent), alcohol (60 per cent) and lawyers (51 per cent).

If the test is public perception, then singling out property donations is wrong on the terms of the people promoting the ban.

At the very least it must include donations from gaming, unions, alcohol and lawyers. This would be inconvenient for the ALP, which takes significant funds from unions such that it equalises the LNP’s advantage from property.

But that is only if you accept their terms.

We had a suspicion that the public would see it as unjust that a whole class of people should be punished for the undetected sins of a few of their number. After all, who punishes all their children because one of them smashed the window, or thinks the whole class should be kept in because Johnny or Joanna scratched the top of the desk?

Sure enough, 60.5 per cent of respondents thought you should “catch and convict those who bribe politicians rather than banning all members of an industry…from donating,” and only 15 per cent of them didn’t. The public gets justice, even if politicians and commissioners don’t.

We asked one final question. Despite the CCC Commissioner’s avowed lack of awareness of union corruption, one union in Australia, the CFMEU, is so notorious that even Labor former prime ministers like Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and Kevin Rudd think it should be disaffiliated from the ALP.

In other words, they believe it has a corrupting influence.

So what did voters think about “…any corporate entities, such as companies and unions, who commit significant illegal acts”? Eighty-eight per cent agreed they should be banned from donating, and only four per cent disagreed.

It doesn’t get more definitive than that.

So what we have in Queensland is an anti-democratic fix, based on only allowing those people the ruling party likes, to participate fully in the exercise of free speech.

Ironically, while the moves are justified on the basis of restoring faith in the system, it will increase public cynicism and have the reverse effect.

Both the Queensland government and the CCC have damaged their legitimacy. We wait to see what group will be the next to be nobbled.