Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

Parties, money and their masters: who do office holders serve?

It’s hard not to be disturbed by the allegations emerging from the inquiry into Australian Water Holdings (AWH) by New South Wales' Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). The proceedings have…

Arthur Sinodinos stepped aside as a minister in the Abbott government in the lead-up to his appearance today at the ICAC inquiry. AAP/Daniel Munoz

It’s hard not to be disturbed by the allegations emerging from the inquiry into Australian Water Holdings (AWH) by New South Wales' Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). The proceedings have painted a picture of NSW politics as increasingly tainted by corruption and extensive networks of money and influence. These networks run from unions and companies (both public and private) to parties, parliaments and ministries.

As the latest high-profile politician to take the stand, the allegations against Liberal Party senator Arthur Sinodinos have revealed yet another series of potentially damaging relationships and financial transactions. Among these are suggestions that during Sinodinos' time on the AWH board, A$76,000 was donated to the Liberal Party and billed back to Sydney Water under the guise of providing water and sewage infrastructure in northwest Sydney.

At the time, Sinodinos also held the position of honorary treasurer of the NSW Liberal Party.

The allegations against Sinodinos hang on the extent of his knowledge and involvement in the allegedly corrupt dealings of AWH. However, the inquiry has also highlighted a much broader problem that potentially threatens political integrity. Conflicts of interest arise when party officials also hold senior positions on companies that have a financial interest in government contracts, or companies that could potentially benefit from political connections.

When parliamentarians enter public office they are required to disclose their financial interests in the hope that transparency might build a solid foundation of parliamentary ethics. This guards against conflicts of interest and minimises the risk of corrupt behaviour. In some states, declarations also extend to MPs’ families and their spouses.

Typically, parliamentarians self-regulate. Registers and codes of conduct are designed to influence behaviour in line with public expectations and ethical practices, but they do not have legislative force. A breach, therefore, may be of little consequence.

Parties offer back-door access to power

The public duty of parliamentarians and ministers is at least reasonably clear. What is far murkier is where political parties and their high-ranking officials are placed within these networks of influence. Some party positions yield considerable strategic and financial power. However, whose interests officials serve is not always clear.

It is common for party presidents, directors, treasurers and secretaries to also hold office within companies, unions and interest groups. In itself, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Such overlaps between party members (office holders or ordinary members) and outside groups are an important way in which parties maintain connections with their support base. They may even help to generate policy ideas.

For the Liberals, this membership overlap would traditionally include business organisations. For Labor, it is unions. After all, political parties are the parliamentary voice of organised interests.

The ICAC inquiry involves a who’s who of NSW politics, including former premier Morris Iemma. AAP/Paul Miller

As the ICAC inquiry has shown, the values underpinning our democracy are threatened when influence can be bought through political parties without having to comply with the guidelines that regulate direct access to governments.

Political integrity can be threatened by donations to parties or payments for access to politicians at party fundraisers. Disclosure laws catch these donations, but thresholds are high, reporting mechanisms are clunky and disclosures lags well behind expenditure.

Laws cannot address the influence exercised by party officials when they act as “middlemen”. This is particularly a problem when no payment is involved.

What is not regulated – and rarely acknowledged – is the culture of fundraising within the major parties and the norms governing these practices.

As private, voluntary associations, political parties are generally not required by legislation to reveal the interests of their senior office bearers. Nor is there a culture of party members demanding transparency in these matters. The Greens, with an internal policy on donations, stand out as an exception.

For many parties the desire to win elections trumps other concerns. And to win parties need to raise money and keep supporters and donors onside. This is what drives party politics in Australia.

Who calls parties to account?

Because parties and politicians are so intimately related, we tend to think that parties are quasi-public bodies. Parties support their candidates' campaigns and we vote for parties rather than individuals at the ballot box. At the very least, we believe they play at least some sort of a public function.

Since the establishment of public funding in Australia the law has also been moving in this direction, but not far enough to allow any sort of legislative intrusion to regulate potential conflicts of interests within political parties.

Achieving reform in this area is not straightforward. Legitimate disagreements exist over the public duty of parties and their role as campaigning organisations designed to further the interests of their members and supporters (which includes donors). Whose interests a party should serve is a debate that has existed since parties themselves.

The more immediate question here is whose interests should party office holders serve: those of their party or their company? If we want to see greater transparency and more ethical practices established, agitation for change needs to come from within the parties. This needs to be driven by the membership, which in a voluntary association is the only real source of accountability.

Join the conversation

125 Comments sorted by

    1. Andrew Brown

      M. Professional Accounting, B. Arts (Public Policy & Sociology)

      In reply to Judy Wagner

      the converse question might be how often does regulation not work...

      Those with means, intent and or incentive always seem to find ways to subvert or manipulate processes to suit their own ends

      report
    2. Norm Stone

      Farmer

      In reply to Judy Wagner

      Since I allowed the foxes free access to my poultry not one has, as per the conditions, choked on feathers. This is, in any case, the advice I have been given by my department.

      report
    3. John Zuill

      logged in via email @me.com

      In reply to Judy Wagner

      Actually it works all the time. No one notices when someone makes the principled decision to decline an opportunity to engage sharp practice. No notices when people simply do not position themselves so as to be accessible to interested parties bearing cash. Honesty is everywhere. Its just not celebrated. How could it be? Its what you are supposed to do.

      report
    4. John West

      logged in via email @outlook.com

      In reply to Judy Wagner

      "The more immediate question here is whose interests should party office holders serve: those of their party or their company?"

      How about the public?

      report
    5. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Andrew Brown

      Regulation works all the time mate, in the utilities industry there is a strong record of where health and safety regulation has saved lives

      report
    6. wilma western

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to John West

      This is an odd question. The Sinodinos issue wasn't about a conflict between the interests of Liberal party officials and AWH. It's about possible fraudulent claims to Sydney Water, and attempts to exercise illegitimate control over elected politicians in order to make lots of money for individual people .

      There are means by which either employees or directors of companies can be disciplined if they are found to be acting to the detriment of the company. It's a matter of disclosure, transparency…

      Read more
    7. David Pearn

      Follower

      In reply to Judy Wagner

      To me the fundamental problem is an underfunding one.
      In particular the example of ASIC in Australia or the SEC in the US, where both have shown to to be incapable of any sort of real oversight.
      My observation has been that the conservatives have demonstrated lip service to oversight, simply employing underfunding as a strategy.

      report
    8. Graham Bell

      Scrap-heaped War Veteran

      In reply to Judy Wagner

      Isn't "self-regulation" a synonym for "licence to steal and defraud"?

      report
    1. Svargo Freitag

      Manager

      In reply to Margaret Smyth

      When our forefathers created democracies, they recognised and addressed the importance of separating politics from military, church and judiciary. Today commerce and media have become so powerful that now they also need to be separated from politics unless democracy is lost to moneytocracy. We need a true statesman, which is unlikely in the established party system, or a party dedicated to this single issue. As long as both parties can and will accept donations from the same bank or mining company, they will serve them and not us...

      report
    2. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Svargo Freitag

      The forefathers of america were genius, they recognised that there may come a time when the federal government becomes corrupt to it's core and is unable to fix itself

      Thats why they introduced an article 5 convention of the states, where the states can go around the federal government and directly introduce an amendment to the constitution to fix things.

      Every generation of Americans has introduced an amendment to the constitution to create a more perfect union except one.....this one

      10 states are already introducing a bill to call for an amendment this year, 50 state legislators are already signed on

      report
    3. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to Michael Shand

      Better be careful with statements such as "Every generation of Americans has introduced an amendment to the constitution to create a more perfect union except one.....this one"

      I mean, if now all before have worked to get this perfect union, then why is the result like it is?

      report
    4. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Yoron Hamber

      Not a perfect Union - a MORE perfect union

      What about the 19th? that prohibits the denial of the right to vote based on gender?

      What about the 15th? that prohibits the denial of the right to vote based on race?

      No? does nothing for you? because the world is a fantasy utopia you think that these haven't made a huge difference in the personal well being of hundreds of millions of America Citizens?

      report
    5. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to Michael Shand

      "Don't get mad, get even" :) As for the amendments I agree, they are working to make it a better place. But it's not a 'perfect union', if it was you wouldn't be frustrated. A lot of is about how seriously those living at that place and time takes it naturally, and how much they understand its importance.

      report
    6. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Yoron Hamber

      "MORE" perfect union

      much like the PERSUIT of happiness

      more perfect union is part of the Preamble to the United States Constitution - I didn't come up with it, I am quoting the constitution

      report
    7. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to Michael Shand

      I see, you're quoting it? Well, it's a good thing to aim for. As long as it is about democracy, one can actually mean a lot of things, depending on ones thoughts on what a 'more perfect union' should be. And I guess some of those results from other thoughts might have produced the NSA ideas of what democracy mean. The right to no privacy, and no integrity, world wide. Then combined with NSA:s right of holding divine justice, and infinite storage, in their hands, indefinitely.

      report
  1. Terry Reynolds

    Financial and political strategist

    The situation in Sydney politics and the extent of corruption has always caused me dispair.

    It is obvious the moment you get off the plane at Sydney airport and drive into the city by bus or taxi. The ramshackle pavements, kerbes, and roads. The grotty look of so many parts of Sydney or the long standing corruption within the NSW police force and ministry.

    As we all turn our heads down on ANZAC day in a few weeks, as we think of tyhose that sacraficed their bodies and lives for this great country, it is coloured by the criminal self interest of so many Australians that only serve their hip pocket at everyones elseses expense.

    report
    1. Graham Bell

      Scrap-heaped War Veteran

      In reply to Terry Reynolds

      My oath, Terry Reynolds.

      It is axiomatic that where corruption thrives, that place always looks grotty and neglected.

      report
  2. Suzy Gneist
    Suzy Gneist is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Multi-tasker at Graphic Design & Montville Coffee

    If we want to implement real democracy, we cannot base it on hierarchical institutions of any kind, whether parties, unions, companies... The structure imposes itself on the system and a hierarchy is "self-regulated" from the top only. Of course it doesn't work in a democratic way.

    report
  3. Stephen Ralph

    carer at n/a

    Are these enquiries getting anywhere?

    Obeid and co. seem to have been accused of corruption for years and years, and yet nothing materialises.

    Are the enquiries themselves a form of quasi-corruption, with the intention of never getting firm results b/c the rot runs too deep and wide to convict.

    To the untrained observer the corruption "seems" to be patently obvious, yet the whole circus goes on and on and on.

    Is it b/c the accused have good lawyers, or is this just a sideshow.

    report
    1. Ted O'Brien.

      Farmer.

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      In the interests of workplace safety, miners must submit to drug testing.

      What would be the result if court workers were submitted to the same drug testing?

      report
    2. Jim Howe

      Neurologist at Neuropalliative rehabilitation

      In reply to Ted O'Brien.

      And politicians at work too, Ted. Denis Skinner, long serving Labour MP in the UK, who represents what was once a 'mining constituency' in Yorkshire, never goes into the members bar or drinks alcohol when in the Houses of Parliament. The miners can't drink on the job, so MPs shouldn't!

      report
    3. wilma western

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      It seems to be a matter of (a) getting admissible evidence and (b) finding actual law-breaking rather than exerting undue pressure, and ( c) proving that those pressured did not abide by the guidelines /rules of their job ( e.g. planning approvals etc).

      If an executive donates money to an incorporated body and does it with the compnay's approval, how is that either illegal or unethical? Sure,the incorporated body might not be acting in the interests of the groups it's affiliated with, but why would that be a crime? What's the legal definition of a bribe?
      On the other hand , if a company underpays workers or does not pay due tax etc and gives money to someone who can protect them from penalties ...that looks like bribery I guess.

      report
    4. Graham Bell

      Scrap-heaped War Veteran

      In reply to Ted O'Brien.

      Drug Testing for decision makers and policy draughters as well as on court workers? Heck, I've been calling for RBT in Parliament for years now.

      report
    5. Doug Hutcheson

      Poet

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen, sadly Lie Detectors don't actually work. What a wonderful world it would be, if we had infallible lie detectors strapped to every witness, every defendant, every complainant and every politician. For one thing, lawyers would be out of a job, as would peddlers of religion.

      report
  4. Craig Myatt

    Industrial Designer / R&D

    A few points. Firstly, freedom of political speech as recognised by high court decisions over time arises from S7 & 24 of the fed constitution, indicating that the house of reps and senate are elected by the people. I reckon a further implication arising from s7 & 24 is that it is really only electors who should be the main influence in policy matters, not corporate persons.

    This leads to my second point that bribes are very often not monetary, and while I am not referring to any particular…

    Read more
    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Craig Myatt

      I note that on Foreign Correspondent last week the man who spent time in a Dubai prison accused of fraud, stated that when they originally approached Alexander Downer for help, he asked for $60k.

      In an interview AD stated he withdrew the demand and worked for free. But the idea of the money being raised in the first instance is interesting.

      Those who hold any sort of political office in Australia should be banned from the lobbyist "industry".

      Like Caesar's wife they should not only be above suspicion, but seen to be above suspicion.

      But too often it's a pig in a trough situation.

      report
    2. Craig Myatt

      Industrial Designer / R&D

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      There is a real problem with the libs, though, as we can see with the recent food labelling issues, with alcohol and response to violence and with fossil fuels. There is a problem.

      report
    3. Graham Bell

      Scrap-heaped War Veteran

      In reply to Craig Myatt

      You are right when you say "bribes are very often not monetary .... ". Several years ago, I was asked to sign off on two distinct and relatively minor dodgy matters. I declined to do so and, as a result, got an informal reputation for not being a "team-player(??)" and my career certainly did not leap ahead because of that .... despite a rock-solid record of excellent team-work.

      It probably wouldn't hurt to take a look at what happens to those who refuse to take part in corrupt practices. After all, look at what has happened since the role of whistle-blowers was recognized.

      report
    4. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Graham Bell

      Graham, people who whistle blow often get sacked. I was sacked for refusing to endorse a false and misleading benchmark which was to be presented to a customer. The man who sacked me was eventually disciplined, but I still lost my job. I would do the same again.

      report
    5. Craig Myatt

      Industrial Designer / R&D

      In reply to Graham Bell

      I would strongly suggest this is the "way to the top" in the Liberal party...ensuring that one doesn't appear too interested in the adverse or dodgy dealings of major donors, and if you don't tow the donor's policy line, and we can see clearly what that line is with the politics of climate change and carbon pricing, you won't find favour...(my opinion from this perspective, anyway)

      report
  5. John Newton

    Author Journalist

    It is interesting, to say the very least, that Senator Sinodinos, one of whose government responsibilities is to oversee corporate governance was a shareholder and office holder in a company which, at the very least, exhibited deplorable corporate governance practice.

    report
    1. wilma western

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to John Newton

      And so terribly forgetful, so unaware of the source of rather large donations to his party while he was party treasurer , so unable to work out how the company office bearers could be paid large salaries while the company assets were so small . However it was OK to extract the odd miillion here and there from well-off colleagues/friends who state they warned him the company he chaired could be close to insolvent....amazing really , how such a naive forgetful inattentive type could be Finance Minister.

      report
    2. Doug Hutcheson

      Poet

      In reply to wilma western

      Wilma, "amazing really , how such a naive forgetful inattentive type could be Finance Minister". Yes, he has missed the point about plausible deniability, because his denials are implausible. On the other hand, a good dose of forgetfulness in his ministers suits Our Dear Leader very well, methinks.

      report
  6. Ted O'Brien.

    Farmer.

    Where big money is involved, self regulation can't work.

    report
  7. Julie Crews

    Ethicist at Edith Cowan University

    The allegations emerging from the inquiry into Australian Water Holdings (AWH) by New South Wales' Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) will be yet another example of individuals in positions of influence who will stop at nothing to ensure their self-interests are met. Even if they proven guilty are gaoled they will continue to protest their innocence and abrogate all responsibility for their actions. However, these individuals need a whole system and many 'enablers' to do what they do. The 'weeding out' of a couple of 'bad apples' will not change the culture that has allowed these individuals to thrive.

    report
    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Julie Crews

      Tend to agree Julie, but there are one or two names that crop up continually.

      If guilt is proven, these individuals need to be given substantial jail time to perhaps dissuade others.

      Or is corruption just a way of doing business in NSW?

      report
  8. Andrew Winter

    -

    "political parties are the parliamentary voice of organised interests"

    This is completely true. To think that political parties have the interest of the voter at heart is ignorance.

    We will never have democracy while parties play such a major role in the political process. Opening them up to public scrutiny in reporting is a nice first step, but it would be better to take multiple actions including cracking down on funding, perhaps removing party names from voting slips for example.

    Unfortunately these changes conflict with the interests of politicians, and have no hope of being legislated.

    report
    1. Craig Myatt

      Industrial Designer / R&D

      In reply to Andrew Winter

      I have thought one good way to exercise more democratic control over government is to strongly encourage more independents or smaller parties, so that it forces more minority governments to form. I thought tony Windsor and others really played a very important role in moderating party excesses. More common for that to occur in Europe but it could happen here with policy changes which give smaller parties I ghee profiles.

      report
    2. Craig Read

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Andrew Winter

      If we want that sort of change, we need an Icelandic revolution.

      report
    3. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Andrew Winter

      Totally agree, as a very first step, at the very least, everyone should stop voting for the major parties

      report
  9. Greg North

    Retired Engineer

    " The allegations against Sinodinos hang on the extent of his knowledge and involvement in the allegedly corrupt dealings of AWH."
    It is great that you do include such a caveat Anika for I expect your knowledge of businesses, their boards, non executive directors and chairs would have you appreciating that such directors would have about zero involvement in day to day activities of a company including issuing of invoices and payments.
    " However, the inquiry has also highlighted a much broader problem…

    Read more
    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Greg North

      The buck has to stop somewhere.

      Board of directors get paid to do a job........they either take responsibility or don't take the money.

      ""Arthur Sinodinos pre Senate was Honorary Treasurer for the NSW Liberals does not even mean he was involved in the day to day accounting practices.

      Perhaps so, but as I said the buck should stop with him.
      Bit like TA saying, I don't know what's going on in the Foreign Affairs department, I'm just the prime minister.

      report
    2. Anthony Nolan

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Greg North

      While you defend the indefensible the rest of us are making our own judgements on the commonsense notion of the balance of probability. But keep it up, it's like watching a one legged man in an arse kicking competition.

      report
    3. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Greg North

      "Greg"
      "such directors would have about zero involvement in day to day activities of a company including issuing of invoices and payments." Do you mean that a donation of $76000 is just petty cash? And that a company's board of directors would not be involved in a donation of this amount?

      report
    4. Paul Prociv

      ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Greg North

      And I think, Greg, he was being paid $200,00 for 100 hours work. For that sum, you'd hope he knew a little about the company's ongoing affairs. What else could his work have involved?

      report
    5. wilma western

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Greg North

      Problem is Greg, that Sinodinos was chair of a very small company with very few assets but big salary bills , and he had been warned ( if you believe sworn testimony to ICAC of his erstwhile friend/fellow Liberal ) that AWH was close to broke....yet he was unaware of the big dollars donated to the Liberal Party - via several means. Joe Hockey couldn't act quickly enough to return the donations to his campaign once Sinodinos was called to ICAC.

      report
    6. wilma western

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Paul Prociv

      Now it seems that he did only about 50 hours for that amount.

      report
    7. Doug Hutcheson

      Poet

      In reply to wilma western

      Wilma, "Joe Hockey couldn't act quickly enough to return the donations to his campaign". Goodness! Don't tell me that nice Uncle Joe Hockey could be implicated in anything underhanded, or less than squeaky clean. Whatever is the world coming to?

      report
    1. Craig Myatt

      Industrial Designer / R&D

      In reply to Brewis Atkinson

      That was knocked on the head by the high court...for reasons of freedom of political speech. Google the NSW v NSW Unions case.

      report
    2. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to Brewis Atkinson

      Now, hold on to your hat. Are you implying that democracy might even work? I be flabbergasted.

      report
    3. Brewis Atkinson

      Retired

      In reply to Gregory Crocetti

      Vote for a party with sympathetic ideals - get all your friends to do the same. Join the party and influence their policy. It is only a combination of people and politics that can bring change.

      report
    4. Brewis Atkinson

      Retired

      In reply to Craig Myatt

      Craig, laws and constitutions can be changed - big business use their influence to do so all the time. If enough people want change we can have it. Never, never give up!

      report
  10. Geoffrey Goode

    Retired physicist

    The claim in the article that "... we vote for parties rather than individuals at the ballot box." is unfortunately not correct. Sections 7 and 24 of the Australian Constitution require that senators and MHRs respectively are "... directly chosen by the people ...". The preferences that voters mark on ballot papers ultimately relate to individuals when votes are counted by the returning officer at the scrutiny. The order of those preferences is entirely decided by the voter. Nobody but the voter…

    Read more
    1. John Kampert

      aged pensioner

      In reply to Geoffrey Goode

      Nice theoretical statement. But human affairs are not run on the lines of physics or chemistry.

      How many voters access the Group Voting Tickets (GVT) at the Electoral Commission's website to see what happens to their vote on their "party/candidate''s" directions once the candidate over achieves (or doesn't achieve) a quota?
      The GVT data makes you realise that party interest rules everything. Voting for an individual does not happen in our electorate based non-proportional voting system.

      The only western country with something approaching democracy is Switzerland, as the discussions in the Swiss press show when a referendum stops and reverses the political elite's wishes.

      report
    2. Craig Myatt

      Industrial Designer / R&D

      In reply to John Kampert

      ...and the other cool thing about Switzerland, I hear, is that they get to have mini-votes on many issues. Wouldn't it be great to have a mini-vote on a range of policies for climate change, or banks, or mining? It would be fantastic to make politicians actually make policy work at that level, rather than having to "bundle" bad with average policies, or worse, pick a party because they are the least bad...

      report
    3. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      It's not a mini-vote. In Switzerland, a referendum can be called at Canton, Federal level or Gemeinde (council) level. And yes, they have a lot of referenda.

      report
    4. Craig Myatt

      Industrial Designer / R&D

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      I read about their system in a book by my friend Albert sedlmayer called Futurequest. Sounds exciting doesn't it? I think he may have been trying to get to the potential for technology like mobile phones or the internet to take mini-polls. It really would improve what the High Court say is the the People of Australia's governmental control. I would certainly like to think that the government is in control, and not serving some personal, corporate or even foreign interest.

      report
    5. Craig Myatt

      Industrial Designer / R&D

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      Well, if you want to control the government...as a citizen...you have to put in the time to read the latest Bills coming through Parliament, make yourself known to your local, State and federal members, and do what I do...make submissions to the Parliament! If you don't get in there and exercise democratic control by doing those things...you really can't complain about someone else getting to "run the country". Just kidding...but everyone really expresses their opinion based on the news and on government policy at least at elections, if not in forums like this. It is a good idea to understand the notions of how to influence policy as a citizen.

      report
  11. Dustin Welbourne

    PhD Candidate in Biogeography + Science Communicator at UNSW Australia

    We only have to look to the US to see where we are heading. It is hard to deny that the US system is not completely bought. Maybe we should take a leaf from http://www.wolf-pac.com/ and nip this problem in the bud now.... and by nip in the bud I mean cleave the cancer.

    report
  12. Frank Moore

    Consultant

    Political parties in Australia are now quite old. Really old.
    Their operatives in power have colluded to entrench themselves in power, writing and rewriting electoral laws to exclude others and favour themselves.
    They use legislation to gather up taxpayers funds to entrench themselves.
    They write "terms of reference" and set up "independent committees" of tame administrators to set and reset their moneys and other rewards.
    They offer taxpayer funded positions for journalists - compromising that…

    Read more
    1. Gregory Crocetti

      Science Educator at Scale Free Network

      In reply to Frank Moore

      Frank,
      an interesting segue to the ABC here...which is hard to disagree with.

      As noted above, The Greens have a very progressive and admirable position on donations to political parties....which they fairly apply to themselves.

      Therefore, can I suggest that when talking about the corporate corruption of political parties....we all at least refer try to refer use language that reflects this - e.g. 'major political parties' (which doesn't allow for PUP?) or 'political parties other than The Greens'...or similar.

      Given the topic of this Conversation, I think it's important - no matter what people think of The Greens' other policies - that surely we at least acknowledge this.

      report
    2. Paul Prociv

      ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Frank Moore

      Frank, it might be especially bad in NSW, but it's certainly not restricted to just there. The Fitzgerald Inquiry provided a glimpse some time ago into Queensland affairs, and it seems we are sliding well back into that scenario again. There exists in society a class of people who must believe they have a God-given entitlement to wealth, and who are driven by an intense desire to bury their snouts deep into its trough. They seem to move freely between the corporate and political sectors, and entry is effectively provided through elected office.

      report
    3. Frank Moore

      Consultant

      In reply to Paul Prociv

      Paul Prociv, deals have been done based on slush funding all my adult life and the state of Australia reflects those dealers and the compromises they have made to our nation - our ecology and our economy.
      And many career minded folks at Uni latch on to a party that will best serve their "needs"...
      (They do opine however that they are making massive sacrifices for the "good of the community" etc - then, when a part time directorship comes up for grabs for a tidy 200 k a year, it's easy to see it as "compensation" for all those self less dedicated hours!)

      report
  13. Dustin Welbourne

    PhD Candidate in Biogeography + Science Communicator at UNSW Australia

    "It is common for party presidents, directors, treasurers and secretaries to also hold office within companies, unions and interest groups. In itself, this is not necessarily a bad thing." If ever there was a definition of "this is a bad thing" then this would be it.

    The advantages the author points to here can be achieved without someone straddling multiple ponies. In fact, a first year course on sampling theory would tell one that getting all your information from one group will result in a biased sample. So again... not necessarily a bad thing?

    report
    1. wilma western

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Dustin Welbourne

      Anyone active in any political party or pressure group ( such as Greenpeace) usually has a real job. It would be against the right of a citizen to be actively participating in politics if there was a ban on simultaneously holding an official position in a party, pressure group, etc.

      The issue is more about transparency of both donations ( and their size) and lobbying. There is a real need for "watchdog" groups and greater transparency and good "insight" journalism.

      The more 'grey areas" tolerated in political influence, the sooner the rot sets in.

      report
  14. Chek Ling

    retired engineer

    There is a solution. Limit political donations to individuals only, and cap it, say at $500.
    Fund political advertising through the budget, at a level say at 30% of what is now spent through donations of all sorts. The reduced size of spending will eliminate all the Hollywood style extravaganzas and make political parties stick to the essential facts. (Cigarettes are either good or bad. Skip the Marlborough country.)
    Such an approach would rid us of most of the corruption we now see in political…

    Read more
    1. Craig Read

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Chek Ling

      Donations are just part of the problem. Limit them, and they'll find a way around them.

      Senators (like all politicians) are effectively our employees. We should find a way to treat them as such. If we have the power to punish them when they're not doing their job, it won't matter who is funneling them or their party money.

      By punish, I mean sack them, restrict their salary or over-ride their decisions when it's clear that they're not representing our wishes. Give each electorate that sort of power over their (so called) representatives, and politicians will start respecting what voters want ahead of business and unions.

      report
  15. Pat Moore

    gardener

    Thanks Anika for hitting the nail on the head.

    Individuals organised into office-bearing roles of political parties on gaining government are power-wielding representatives of undeclared networks going back through the fabric of the community. Unorganised citizens, not part of these class-based/old school/tribalised (predominantly male) networks are giving these invisible, undeclared cryptic organisations power over our lives and country on the basis of a naïve, misplaced faith in a democratic…

    Read more
  16. Anthony Nolan

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    "What's good for M & M Enterprises will be good for the country."

    Milo Minderbinder.

    Modified: "What's good for the Sinodinos, Obeid, (my) family will be good for the country".

    Because the system works. For us at least. After which 'fuck you Jack'.

    report
  17. Andrew Fisher

    Worker

    It would be nice to have access to the details of the private fortunes of people in power, both before and after they hold office. Clearly this would be only be possible in the cases of public office, but I am sick of even those who's interests are supposedly transparent raking it in, often at the public's expense.

    I knew things were going to get worse when Howard invented the nonsense of the "perceived conflict of interest" vs the "actual conflict of interest" , and the media bought into the…

    Read more
  18. Joseph Phillips

    Self employed

    We are certainly careering down the path of a banana republic with the increasing number of cases of politicians and unionists feathering their own nests. No sign of responsibility or ethics at all.

    report
  19. Fred Moore

    Builder

    Finding blind spots in Australia's NW defence profile using Malaysia 370 as a pawn and cutting Australia's heart out via essentially a hostile takeover of our oil refining capacity, Asia has set Australia up for a cakewalk imminent military takeover.

    We're all gonna die.

    But its worth it if we get to see our "Immigrant First", "Casino Foremost" and "Electors= Pigs" politicians cop it in the neck while they are asleep at the wheel. MP's are consumed with grand scroogesque privatisation schemes of assets that belong NOT to politicians but to the PEOPLE.

    Like all thieves their crimes will be their undoing.

    Australian History?

    Lost in the sands of time with all the other unfit evolutionary failures.

    report
    1. Venise Alstergren
      Venise Alstergren is a Friend of The Conversation.

      photographer, blogger.

      In reply to Fred Moore

      Just to be a little bit fair Fred. We just do not have the population to support our vast distances-nor the waterways which could service interior habitation.

      I deeply understand, and agree with, your paragraph three.

      However, I would remind you-please-that ever since the late nineteenth century the PEOPLE have put it about that only fools and capitalists believe in a good education. And there was always sport to fall back on if you were a total and complete idiot.

      How can this country expect to succeed in our vast area of Asia where so much emphasis is given to education? And, they have the population as well.

      THE PEOPLE are not an isolated special group who should receive preferential treatment. They are a part of our community and it's time they realised it.

      report
    2. Fred Moore

      Builder

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      So what are you saying Venise? Because Australia is so remote, vast and dry, Corrupt, gerrymandering, Thieving, Governments and an inept, blindsided military are justified.

      I don't see the logic. All I see is stupidity and Two fisted, fat head OPPORTUNISM.

      The PEOPLE?

      The PEOPLE for example Paid for their power infrastructure via their taxpaying ancestors (who would have bequeathed it forward) and any current taxpayer over the age of 35 or so who have made significant tax contributions…

      Read more
    3. Venise Alstergren
      Venise Alstergren is a Friend of The Conversation.

      photographer, blogger.

      In reply to Fred Moore

      ""MP's are consumed with grand scroogesque privatisation schemes of assets that belong NOT to politicians but to the PEOPLE. ""

      1) I used the word 'people' in the manner to which you appeared to use it.

      2) I said, in my previous comment that I agreed with you.

      3) I would have added words like corrupt, thieving, lying, shonky, scum, cretinous..all these and more, however, I thought we were both assuming this to be the case.

      4) All governments-but especially the LNP and even more especially the Liberals believe in one simple slogan...

      "" OPPORTUNITY WITHOUT ACCOUNTABILITY. ""

      report
  20. Anthony Nolan

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    SMH's live blogging of Sinodinos in the stand is a cracker!

    report
  21. Venise Alstergren
    Venise Alstergren is a Friend of The Conversation.

    photographer, blogger.

    Obviously Arthur Sinodinos regards himself as being mentally superior to his inquisitors. This is evidenced by his oh so cutesy pie retorts and his limited ability to be a self-deprecating joke.

    Hubris is not clever Mr Sinodinos, and yes, you are a joke, but not for the reason you think.

    report
  22. Craig Read

    logged in via Twitter

    Our democracy doesn't function as a democracy any more, and it hasn't for some time. It doesn't help that our "style" of democracy is modeled on one created by a monarchical society.

    I think it's time we rewrote the book on democracy. Took it beyond ideas like citizens initiated referendum. I'd like to see us develop a secure means of electronic voting and allowed individuals to vote on policies they care about. If a senator votes against their constituents 3 times in succession, the senator should be booted out the same way an employee would (in the private sector) when they don't do what their employer wants.

    While we're at it, the Australian people should either limit politician salary and entitlements based on minimum wage, or get to vote on whether they get pay rises (same as shareholders do).

    report
  23. Michael Shand

    Software Tester

    Great that someone is addressing this topic but you are far too nice/naive about politicians and corruption

    More articles on this topic please, the major parties do not represent us, they have no interest in representing us

    report
  24. John Kelmar

    Small Business Consultant

    In the run-up to the forthcoming Senate election in WA it has been reported in the press that the candidates are promoting party policies rather than what each individual candidate will do for the people that they are supposed to represent.

    It has also been made clear that if candidates don't follow the party line, then their career has ended.

    This is much the same in the workplace when whistleblowers (who only expose illegal activities and unsafe work practices) are dismissed for their actions, rather than being rewarded.

    report
  25. David Coles

    logged in via Facebook

    Parties are, or should be, controlled by their members. As membership declines, many of those who remain are the most dedicated and it seems that many are dedicated to a particular issue or, perhaps, themselves. While this situation continues we will continue to receive the same poor quality.

    There are 2 clear options. Either find a way to destroy the current system or get off our collective behinds and sort the parties out. A move in this general direction was the direct election of the ALP leader.

    report
    1. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to David Coles

      ALP 2004-2005 raised $64.8 Million

      Mainly Sea Eagles 2013 revenue $16 Million

      Neither of them are going to let you have any significant sway in the management of the team, you might get to vote for who is captain but that's about it, stop voting for the major parties

      Signing up to a political party is the equivalent of giving your vote away up front, neither are dumb enough to let their members have any real sway

      report
  26. John Zuill

    logged in via email @me.com

    The clientocracy triumphant!

    report
  27. Tim Mather

    Veterinarian at Veterinary Advisory Services

    As a recent arrival in NSW/ACT from Western Australia I have been somewhat surprised at the level of corruption and incompetence demonstrated by all levels of Government on this side of the Country. Of course as a Western Australian I am used to corruption having lived through the Brian Burke years and worked on race tracks while Laurie Connell and his mates were active. The difference between the States seems to be how they both reacted to the situation. NSW has had a long history of corruption dating back to the Rum rebellion of 1806. Both political parties have demonstrated their happiness to continue this level of corruption and incompetence to a larger or lesser extent. It is the public who condone the behaviour and the courts who allow the laws to be transgressed. My question for this debate is when will all you people begin to get really angry about the way you are being governed? WA changed, when will you on this side of the country?

    report
    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Tim Mather

      I've seen quite a few programs on the corruption of West Australian police. It certainly gives NSW a run for it's money.

      report
  28. Maree Elizabeth

    logged in via Facebook

    world bankers/EU and the vatican are who they serve.

    report
  29. Michael Phillip Kivinen

    Security investigator

    There is no alternative to people in power that do corruption to better their position as they want a good life and not a life of struggle that they inherently give to others by their gained power and money and who are less fortunate than them selves. They see the masses as stupid, and not deserver a better life, and it follows the old saying' of kings of old that the masses are and always be the beasts of burden, with little or no intelligence, and are wasting what is not an unlimited resources…

    Read more
  30. Yoron Hamber

    Thinking

    Awhhh.
    "The more immediate question here is whose interests should party office holders serve: those of their party or their company?" A very interesting question for all holding office. Just one thought.

    How about them trying to represent the voters too?

    report
    1. Whyn Carnie

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Yoron Hamber

      The way Parties work is to get wannabe politicians into the position of being held to the terms of their in-house Constitutions. This means any obligation to the electorate must be suservient to the iniquitous clauses and penalty arrangements of the Party which is strictly controlled by the President and Executive committee.
      A run of the mill MP who values his Parliamentary pay will do whatever it takes to retain Party preselection and election funding. Preselection committees are often stacked with Party stooges along with local Branch membership.
      Ordinary Party Members who feel aggrieved by the activities of their chosen MPs are quickly eliminated should they attempt to rock the party boat.

      report
  31. Graham Walker

    IT Architect

    Parties, money and their masters. Who do office holders serve? Well in one particular party's case I guess they are their own masters and they are there to serve themselves. We at least Clive is, without a doubt, there to serve himself. I still find it hard to believe that people voted for a mining magnate who seems intent to use his position in power to help his company get out of paying money that every other company bar one other in Australia has fronted up in accordance with their requirements. How can anyone expect that cooky guy to represent any interest other than his money and his company when it all comes down to it.

    report
  32. Doug Hutcheson

    Poet

    Those who seek high office have, almost by definition, a high opinion of themselves and, all too often, it is themselves, their families and their cronies they serve (in that order). Show me an altruistic politician and I'll show you a person in conflict.

    report
    1. Rotha Jago

      concerned citizen

      In reply to Doug Hutcheson

      In the row over Senator Sinodinos, it is surprising to me that little attention is paid to the high cost of corruption to NSW State coffers. Mr Hockey (while assuring us that we must pay more taxes), shows no interest in discovering the high cost of corruption to Commonwealth coffers either.

      Everyone is at it. Everyone. The Liberal, Labor, and Nationals all own buildings which rent space out to Government Departments in Canberra. Government Departments have their buildings sold from underneath…

      Read more
  33. Philip Impey

    Architect+Urban Designer

    They're all in it to some extent. The ALP does sweetheart legislative deals with the union movement to make it easier for labor cartels (unions) to have a monopoly on the provision of labor.
    The union movement does big business in the provision of WH and S services to employers who will find themselves strikebound if the government's WH and S rules aren't adhered to. (jobs for the bruvvers)
    The green industry thrives from government handouts and grants to industries who donate to the Greens.
    And as for the PUPs- don't get me started.PUP senators should absent themselves form voting on issues to do with the mining tax as the Greens should on the CO2 Tax.
    And lets not forget the biggest single corporate donation in Australian history was to the Greens- who seem to be the most vociferous when it comes to objection to political patronage through donations.

    report
    1. Rotha Jago

      concerned citizen

      In reply to Philip Impey

      That huge donation was not followed up, Why? Why do The Greens seem to be unable to get ongoing support from serious conservationists?
      The Liberals in the days of John Howard allowed Terrain Natural Resource Management to set up shop all over Australia to apply for
      environment monies and distribute them. They are a "Not for Profit Company" and they get 10% off the top of all the environment money they apply for. How is that for efficient money management?
      What do they spend their considerable…

      Read more
    2. David Pearn

      Follower

      In reply to Rotha Jago

      It seems to me that the Greens have an image problem and are portrayed as extremests by the overwhelming Murdoch media.
      They are simply not seen as a conventional political party, more as an extreme pressure group with single issue causes.
      They have to present instead as a sound financial management group with a more broad vision than just the environment, even though it is a fundamentally important area to be taken seriously.
      The ALP vote decline is the Labour Left rising under another flag.
      It's extremely difficult to see the ALP ever regaining power in its own right without its old leftists ......the Greens.

      report
    3. Rotha Jago

      concerned citizen

      In reply to David Pearn

      The Greens do well in the cities. In the country, apart from a few dedicated supporters they do not do well.
      When I came to the country I found out why.
      They adhere to rules and campaigns which often do not originate in the country.
      Their support for farmers against Coal Seam Gas is laudable.
      But why don't they care about herbicide use by Councils?
      Why do they not promote Organic Farming or Permaculture or Peter Andrew's Natural Sequence Farming?
      It is all very well to "Save Whales" but what of the millions of litres of herbicide which pollute the sea? And why have wars on weeds?

      report
  34. Shaun King

    Designer

    Get rid of the "parties" system and return to a parliament full of independant candidates representing their electorate. The instructions on how to do it, are in the Constitution.

    report
    1. Whyn Carnie

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Shaun King

      If only we could do as you say, that would be the first step in the return to the Democracy our founding fathers had in mind. Democracy has no place for bully parties and power hungry party bosses who elect their stooge PM/Premier for us.

      Then replace council mayors with the local MP and support him with elected councillors. Give MPs a real job. Most of them are spokesmen for the Party not the electorate.

      report
    2. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Whyn Carnie

      Probably a worthwhile suggestion worth exploring.....

      get rid of a costly layer of government, and as you say give the pollies a REAL job.

      No time then for quaffing red wine and caviar - just beer and skittles.

      report
    3. Shaun King

      Designer

      In reply to Whyn Carnie

      "Then replace council mayors with the local MP and support him with elected councillors."

      what a good idea. the solution is so simple.

      we need a grass roots movement to begin the transformation from plutocracy back to democracy, the Australian way. and while we're at it, we could even "ask" the original peoples of the land, what role they would like to play, and how they'd like to play it.

      report
    4. Whyn Carnie

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Shaun King

      I have floated the idea with sitting pollies and to a man they don't like it. Same politicians who pooh hoo the idea that their job is missing a job description. Overpaid to do as they please or at least as the party pleases.

      report
    5. Rotha Jago

      concerned citizen

      In reply to Whyn Carnie

      Whyn and Stephen,

      Be careful what you wish for.
      "Separation of Powers" as a concept, is a proven recipe to limit the ability of one faction (especially one company or business interest) to take over Government.
      We know all about it here. One man is the local Mayor, Chairman of the local committee of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and Chairman of Terrain NRM (they apply for and dispense environment funding. His reign has lead to disastrous deterioration in this environment, lack of transparent representation, and an enormous rise in Government expenditure and local dependance on subsidies.

      report
    6. Whyn Carnie

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Rotha Jago

      The best committee is the three man committee. One is in USA on a study trip, one is in hospital with a broken leg and the other must stand up and be counted.

      Herbicides don't kill us, nor do cage eggs. They are the freshest. and layers make good crab bait when their egg sacs are empty.

      report
    7. Rotha Jago

      concerned citizen

      In reply to Whyn Carnie

      Whyn,
      There's none so blind....
      Concentrating power in the hands of a few is seldom a good idea.
      Even if it works in the short run, it destroys the next generation.

      It is easy to recommend "efficient" forms of government when your
      knowledge is limited and your experience non-existent.

      report
    8. Whyn Carnie

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Rotha Jago

      My suggestion does nothing to concentrate power in the hands of a few. It is merely a way to revert back to the original constitutional numbers of politicians.

      I presume your last sentence is somehow supposed to indicate I have less knowledge and experience than yourself. Fail to see how that should detract from making suggestions tho'. Most of us in our lifetime proceed along paths that take us from the known to the related unknown, often with astounding results.

      Our forefathers managed to cobble together Federation without previous experience.

      report
    9. Rotha Jago

      concerned citizen

      In reply to Whyn Carnie

      Your remarks about "The best committee" led me to think that you considered one decision maker is better than three.

      Attempts to reduce the size and number of representatives do not
      improve democracy. Local mayors and councillors are the hardest working
      representatives of all. To further burden them with State responsibilities
      is crazy.
      Also people who advocate getting rid of State legislatures are missing the implications of this merging of roles and powers.
      The sheer size of this country is never considered, nor the lives of the people who are prepared to go into public office.
      Wealthy companies, local or international are always pressing their "solutions" on representatives, bureaucrats and the media.
      There is already endemic corruption. We should be thinking of ways to allow
      representatives to be better informed. The public also needs to be much better informed about the existing system and systems. The companies are very well informed.

      report
    10. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Rotha Jago

      What state are you in?

      While I agree with you that getting rid of states would be a mistake, Australia is way over governed, and getting rid of the Federal government, while keeping the federation would (probably) work.

      However I would get rid of councils, in their present form as well.

      report
    11. Whyn Carnie

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      In Queensland an earlier labour led government decided we would be better served by less government so it abolished the Upper House and set out to strengthen local government or councils. In Qld councils are the operating arm of the State Government and are merely mouthpieces for the Minister for Local Government. Mayors are elected quite separately from Councillors. Council CEOs wield the power over council employees who Councillors are not even permitted to address directly in the course of their…

      Read more
    12. Rotha Jago

      concerned citizen

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      I am in far north Queensland.
      Councils here have recently amalgamated. This is Cassowary Coast. From north to south about two and a half hours highway speed driving. Four country towns, and numerous villages, most of them not on the Bruce Highway, which connects Townsville and Cairns. ( and numerous cities , towns and villages south to Brisbane.)
      Why nobble the people's representatives ? Why ask them not to form parties for example, when alliances of all other kinds are essential?

      report
    13. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Whyn Carnie

      Whyn: Sounds pretty much the way the NSW system works — mayors being overlords had been abolished for some years when I got involved with fighting a council in 12990/91.

      The concept of councils setting policy — within the bounds of the Local Government Act — and having ‘professionals’ to do the administration is good in theory.

      All NSW councils have a Local Environment Plan, (LEP), and I suppose these days the Local government Act is available on line. With these you can work out what…

      Read more