Big bucks for political parties: How Australia's politicians are selling us out

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Political donations are theft from ordinary Australians, says Frank O'Shea.

You are just an ordinary worker, strictly middle of the income road. Your wife works part time, but her hours are curtailed by the need to be there when the kids come home from school. She is not a trendy or a feminist and, if an outsider asked her, she would describe herself as a housewife with a part-time job.

You may not realise it, but you are typical of the majority of Australian households. You know nothing about the stock market, or company tax, or negative gearing. You are managing to meet your mortgage payments and wonder what the television people mean by disposable income. You just trust that those who run the country are doing so in a way that makes life easier for you and your family.

And then you hear that one political party received more than $95 million in donations last year; the other one got about $71 million. You accept that you are no academic genius, but you understand the way the world works. And you wonder what those clever people do with the $95 million. You contributed none of that money and, if the truth be told, you don’t know anyone at work or among your friends who contributed either.

Actually, when you come to think of it, the problem is not what they do with all that moolah, but what they do for it. And, again, because you are a simple person, you understand that if you give somebody money, you'd expect that person to do something for you. That’s the way the world works: your friend fixes a door hinge for you, so you buy him a drink; your wife helps out a neighbour and gets a sponge cake for a thank you; you drop your son’s friend off to school and his father takes you to the football a few times a year.

So you can only imagine what you would be prepared to do if someone actually gave you $95 million. You strongly suspect the folk in government must be feeling grateful to those who gave them all that money. Look, we said you are no genius and have only a vague idea what a government could do to thank those donors, but you feel they will get something for their contributions and you will miss out.

It’s actually worse than that. It isn’t just that they get something that you don’t: they get something at your expense and that of others like you. In other words, each of you pays a small amount of the reward which those donors receive. You pay it in small cutbacks in benefits to which you are entitled; in the rundown of your children’s school, in the roads that, in the old days, used to be free; in a dozen little helpings that enable the top ten per cent of the population to recoup a profit on the donation they have made to the political party.

And it doesn’t matter very much which party we are talking about, although you may feel that a party whose leader makes a particularly large donation has an unfair advantage. It certainly wouldn’t be allowed in football.

Most political donations come from businesses or from individuals involved in a business. These are people who hire accountants.

In case you don’t know about accountants, let me give you a brief rundown. They are highly educated men and women who have graduated from universities supported by the tax you pay; their job is to ensure that the people who hire them pay as little tax as possible. One of the ways they have of doing that is to persuade their clients to make a donation to a political party. This will, of course, be tax deductible — but more importantly, it will mean that the party in question owes them. And that is a comfortable position to be in.

The really bright accountants work for big companies who pay no tax at all, even though they make billions. You probably think that the politicians you elect are clever people who are up to all those tricks by accountants, but the truth is that they don’t have a clue either. Like you, they operate on the simple principle that if you give me money, I will do something for that money.

Anyway, I have been rattling on too long. It’s almost nine o’clock and you need to get to bed so that you can be up early in the morning to take the kids to school and then get on that toll road to work.

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