BF, PHAA Intern
In a perfect world, public policy decisions should be made in the public good, and in the interests of public health. But the reality is that such policies often go against the interests of powerful corporations, leaving affected businesses to make use of any tools at their disposal to protect their interests.
And while there is nothing inherently wrong with individuals or corporations lobbying for what they want, issues arise if lobbying if it is done in secret, involves corruption or misconduct, or if it involves unfair access or influence. Similarly, political donations have the potential to threaten the integrity of public policy, particularly when it is unclear who is funding candidates, parties or campaigns.
The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters’ (JSCEM) Inquiry into the 2022 Federal Election provides an important opportunity for reform to strengthen regulation in Australia’s electoral process.
In its submission (#322) to the JSCEM Inquiry, the PHAA makes the following recommendations to improve transparency, integrity, and fairness.
- Supports the ‘real time’ disclosure of political donations and a reduction of the disclosure threshold to a fixed $1,000;
- Calls for an outright ban on political donations by business interests where there is evidence of harmful products, services or industrial processes;
- Supports the establishment of electoral expenditure caps with regard to the public funding of parties, candidates and corporate influence campaigns.
PHAA believes that ideally, donations to political parties by corporate interests should not occur at all. In the absence of general bans on corporate political donations, PHAA alternatively supports low-level caps on the amounts of corporate donations, similar to caps already in place in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and the ACT.
Reducing the disclosure threshold and timeframe for federal political donation disclosure would also significantly improve transparency in our political processes.
Ban on harmful donations
Corporations that earn revenue from products harmful to public health, such as tobacco, alcohol and gambling, make sizeable donations to political parties and candidates to build relationships and influence policy decisions. There is clear evidence that the alcohol and tobacco industries use monetary donations as part of aggressive lobbying tactics in seeking to delay regulation, including the introduction of mandatory health warnings.
Ideally, the PHAA supports bans on all donations from business sectors for which there is clear evidence of association with harmful products, services, or industrial processes, as outlined in the PHAA’s Unhealthy Political Influence policy statement, adopted in 2021.
Electoral spending and lobbying
Political donations serve an important purpose. Bans on some corporate donations and limits to political donations should be achievable without diminishing the democratic process. The limits PHAA has proposed could be complemented by appropriate and transparent financing from other sources. The public funding of elections and political parties could be increased, for example, to allow for operational costs, engaging members, promoting policy positions and running election campaigns.
Similarly, lobbying has its place. But – just like donations – the process must be better regulated. Reforms, such as requiring lobbyists to register and disclose meetings, introducing a cooling off period for ministers and their staff before entering some corporate roles, keeping a record of former government employees and the introduction of a strong federal integrity commission, would help improve transparency .
Restoring faith and integrity in our democratic processes is possible. We just need a willingness for change.
 Tham, Joo-Cheong, Money and Politics : the Democracy We Can’t Afford, Sydney, N.S.W: University of New South Wales Press Pty Ltd, 2010
 NSW Electoral Commission, Caps on Political Donations, NSW Electoral Commission, 2022, https://www.elections.nsw.gov.au/Funding-and-disclosure/Political-donations/Caps-on-political-donations
 Victorian Electoral Commission, Political Donations, VEC 2022, https://www.vec.vic.gov.au/candidates-and-parties/political-donations
 Electoral Commission Queensland, Caps on political donations, ECQ, https://www.ecq.qld.gov.au/election-participants/state-election-participants/candidates/caps-on-political-donations
 Elections ACT, Funding, expenditure and disclosure, ACT Electoral Commission, 15 June 2021, https://www.elections.act.gov.au/funding_and_disclosure
 Muller, Damon, Election funding and disclosure in Australian Jurisdictions: a quick guide, research report prepared for the Parliament of Australia, Canberra, 16 February 2022, https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp2122/Quick_Guides/ElectionFundingStates
 Kypri, Kypros, Jim McCambridge, Narelle Robertson, Florentine Martino, Mike Daube, Peter Adams, and Peter Miller. ‘If Someone Donates $1000, They Support You. If They Donate $100 000, They Have Bought You’. Mixed Methods Study of Tobacco, Alcohol and Gambling Industry Donations to Australian Political Parties. Drug and Alcohol Review 38, no. 3 (2019): 226–33
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 PHAA Political Economy of Health Special Interest Group, PHAA Position Statement on Unhealthy political influence, Public Health Association of Australia, 2021 https://www.phaa.net.au/documents/item/5353
 Ratcliff, Shaun, and Darren Halpin. Dark Money and Opaque Politics: Making Sense of Contributions to Australian Political Parties, Australian Journal of Political Science 56, no. 4, 2021: 335–57, https://doi.org/10.1080/10361146.2021.1935452
 Drury, Alice, Selling Out: How powerful industries corrupt our democracy, Human Rights Law Centre, 31 January 2022, https://www.hrlc.org.au/reports/2022/1/31/selling-out-how-powerful-industries-corrupt-our-democracy
 Wood, Danielle and Griffiths, Kate, Who’s in the room? Access and Influence in Australian politics, September 2018, https://grattan.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/908-Who-s-in-the-room-Access-and-influence-in-Australian-politics.pdf