JASON GORDON: Don’t hold your breath

JEFF McCLOYWHEN water wants to go somewhere, it’ll find a way, as we found during the April storms.
杭州龙凤

It doesn’t matter how many towels you stuff under the timber sliding doors, how many fingers in the dyke, how tiny the hole in your shoe, irresistible force will win.

If Mike Baird doesn’t know that already, there’s a fair chance he’s about to.

The Premier, seemingly kissed on the backside by a rainbow, led the state Liberals out of last year’s ICAC scandals without so much as a bruised hip, but politics can be a bit like whack-a-mole. Knock one on the head with a mallet, and another pops up. And sometimes you can’t keep a bad one down.

Since Jeff McCloy’s infamous run-in with the ICAC, calls to reform political donations laws have been getting louder and more toxic.

Salim Mehajer, the unnaturally-smooth deputy mayor of Auburn who obviously couldn’t afford live unicorns for his wedding, had the drums banging at the Premier’s door again last week.

Fairfax Media revealed that Mehajer had failed to tell election funding authorities about who funded his election campaign, how much was in it, and how much it cost to nail pictures of his head all over town. He got whacked with a couple of $1100 fines, slightly less than one of his Louis Vuitton shoes.

Mehajer is an independent and is not Baird’s problem, but the issue of political donations is.

Travel rorts at a federal level aside, it’s local councils where a deepening distrust of elected officials has become the not-so-silent creeper.

Baird knows the laws have to change, and with his party suffering the most knocks by recent scandals, he has to lead the charge.

Local government elections will be held late next year, with growing expectations of a federal poll as early as next March. Baird has promised to take the issue to a meeting of Australian governments later this year, but there appears little chance of turning reform around before we next go to the polls.

Talk so far has centred around tighter limits on how much can be donated to parties and candidates. Sure, that’ll help, but for cynics like me, that sort of reform won’t touch the sides. Unless we can see a real-time register of who’s donating to who, keeping the bastards honest will remain as difficult as finding unicorns for weddings.

No one should be in the business of predicting High Court judgments, but I’ll take a crack at what the High Court might make of Jeff McCloy’s challenge to what he says is a breach of his constitutional rights. That is, he should be allowed to donate to whoever he likes, regardless of what he does for a crust. He’s also challenged limits on donation amounts.

McCloy, as we know, was unhinged by the ICAC for illegally donating to the campaigns of three Liberals before the 2011 state poll.

Having sat through the High Court hearings, I find it difficult to see McCloy losing the first challenge. You can’t ban one person, in this case a developer, from exercising the same democratic right afforded to everybody else. But the second claim is a tad messier. If we work on the idea that donations buy influence, does the size of that influence change in accordance with how much you can afford to donate? Yes, to hazard a guess.

Regardless, aren’t we better off knowing that he’s donated in the first place? Only then can we determine if he’s simply backing a horse he likes, or if he’s backing a horse that’s returning him something way over the odds.

There is no evidence to support the theory that McCloy got any return at all, despite him breaking the law, but the issue is bigger than McCloy alone. Take a look at the electoral funding returns of the Liberal and Labor candidates and you’ll see, almost like magic, that their entire campaigns were funded by a donation from their party or branch. In other words, how the hell do we know who donated to the union, to the party, to the state office, to the federal office, to the local branch, to fund the candidate?

Real reform needs to start from the ground up and it’s going to be a difficult mole for Baird to whack into oblivion any time soon. Because regardless of what shape that reform takes, and regardless of how political donations are governed, that same cynic in me suggests that ways around them will soon follow. Like water, it will find a way.

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