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Make it all in, or all out, for political donations

By Graham Young - posted Friday, 13 April 2018


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There’s no way around using blanket categories like “property developers”, “unions”, “big end of town”. You have to be able to generalise to discuss, but often the generalisations obscure the truth.

Take “property developer”. Last week the ABC highlighted the fact the LNP returned a $5,000 donation to Mr Brian Flannery because one of his companies is involved in property development.

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Flannery had a low profile and had done nothing illegal, but suddenly he is cast in the role of villain – not just a “property developer” but possibly “shady”, else why would the LNP be returning his cheque? 

So who is Flannery? He’s one of Queensland’s richest men with an estimated net worth in 2016 of $823 million, and Chair of the Mater Group Board.

He’s a miner, which is where most of his interests still lie, but he and his wife own KTQ Developments, a property development company which grew out of her interest in real estate

So his wife’s business makes him a “property developer”, which means he’s allowed to vote in elections, but can’t donate even a few dollars.

While $5,000 may sound a lot to most of us, when you take into account the fact that in 2015/16 the net wealth of the average Australian family was $929,400, to Flannery, who is 885 times richer, $5k is like $5.65 to you and me.

It is also paltry when compared to his charitable giving which in 2015 amounted to $2.57 million.

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Which raises the question: If he gives $2.57 million because it is a good thing to do is there any reason to suggest his $5,000 is in anyway corrupt?

People like Flannery have a big stake in our community. His $823 million isn’t locked-up in a bank vault somewhere so he can wallow in it when he wants.

Each of those dollars is invested in something that employs Australians, and pays taxes

It’s reasonable that with so much invested he should want, and be entitled, to participate fully in Australian politics. It would be peculiar, if, with so much at stake he couldn’t.

Flannery’s story is similar to other rich donors. What they give is, in their terms, chump change, and is frequently dwarfed by their other charitable works.

The largest property developer donors tend to be large well-respected companies, like Springfield Land Corporation, Consolidated Properties, Lancini Group, Denmac Nominess, Meriton, Walker Corporation. They see it as part of their commitment to the community.

Property developers don’t donate much more than the average corporate donor. On average a property developer donors donate $6,240.45 annually. Not a lot different to Flannery’s $5,000, or the average corporate donation of $5,901.35.

So despite what the public might suspect there is little evidence to suggest corrupt motives in most donations.

Except when it comes to the union movement, who are untouched by this legislation. The largest donor is United Voice who contributed $303,631.77 between 2016 and 2017, 8.6% of the ALP’s income.

According to United Voice boss Gary Bullock the union had “won some fantastic commitments from Labor” and now “want to see the new Palaszczuk Government restore their faith, just stick to their word”.

In other words, they’ve bought commitments in return for support. And you can see it in full-view. They boast about it, and the results are there with public service salaries rising and everyone else’s stagnant.

The ban on property developer donations is a huge breach in democratic and legal principles. People like Brian Flannery are being vilified because of what someone else in the same business might have possibly done.

The CCC is currently prosecuting a couple of mayors over alleged corruption. Good. That’s their job. But the idea innocent parties should be persecuted because the CCC can’t find anyone to prosecute is absurd.

It is the worst sort of mob rule.

The government knows this, and appear to have made sure it got all its property donations in before the bill became effective, with half the amount raised coming in during the three days before the ban was imposed. That gave them one leg up on the rest, and the fact that more property developers donate to the LNP than them, gave them another leg up.

In a close election it’s possible this gave them the winning edge.

There is a parliamentary committee currently examining this legislation. Hopefully there are some courageous government back-benchers who are prepared to stand up for principle.

At the very least it should be all in, or all out. Otherwise we don’t live in a democracy.

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An edited version of this article was published in the Courier Mail.



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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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