NSW Premier Mike Baird is in favour of taxpayer-funded elections. Photo: Edwina Pickles Liberal Party state director Tony Nutt has been in negotiations with the ALP and the Greens over possible changes to election funding laws. Photo: Jessica Hromas
Labor and the Coalition are at loggerheads over how to overhaul NSW political donations laws in time for next year’s state election, with legislation due to come before the Parliament next week.
Liberal party state director Tony Nutt has been in negotiations with representatives from the ALP and the Greens over the shape of possible new funding laws following allegations of illegal donations aired at the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Premier Mike Baird said in August he wanted a proposal ready to unveil by the end of September, but it is understood that the slower-than-anticipated negotiations were the reason this deadline was missed.
As previously reported by Fairfax Media, Mr Baird and Mr Nutt are considering a system that caps and reduces the amount of private donations that may be raised by parties, coupled with guaranteed taxpayer funding at a rate based on each party’s election result.
Mr Baird is an advocate of full taxpayer-funded elections, but experts warn such a system would be vulnerable to a challenge in the High Court, hence the inclusion of some capacity for private donations in models under consideration.
The Greens, in a bill to be introduced by Balmain MP Jamie Parker next week, are pushing for a 10-fold increase to penalties for breaches of donations laws to $110,000, criminal sanctions and an increase to the period within which prosecutions may be pursued, from three years to 10 years.
The party also wants the amount of money that can be spent in each seat reduced, smaller caps on donations to parties and candidates, and more regular reporting of donations.
However, Labor appears determined to push for a system that would ban private donations.
Last week, opposition leader John Robertson restated his commitment to full taxpayer-funded elections.
“If the Greens are serious about meaningful donation reform they will support Labor’s push for the full public funding of NSW elections,” he said.
Mr Robertson is sticking to his position, despite the views of experts who warn such a system would almost certainly be unconstitutional because it would restrict freedom of political expression.
Last December the High Court found a ban on donations from corporations and associations introduced under the former premier Barry O’Farrell was unconstitutional for this reason.
A Labor source insisted the party was open to reasonable incremental reform proposals.
The government is expected to bring forward its bill when Parliament resumes next week. It will pass the lower house where the government has a significant majority, but will need support in the upper house to become law.
If Labor opposes the bill it could still pass with support of the Greens or three out of the four MPs from the Shooters and Fishers Party and the Christian Democratic Party.
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