23 Aug 2016

Foreign donations could be 'skewing' Australia's democracy

11:15 am on 23 August 2016

Momentum is building to consider a ban on political donations from overseas, after an ABC investigation of Chinese-linked payments to major parties.

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Nick Xenophon wants political donations from foreign donors banned. Photo: 123rf

Between 2013 and 2015 Chinese-linked companies and individuals made more than $5.5 million in donations to both Labor and the Coalition.

The donations include $850,000 given to the ALP by a businessman whose address is shared by a centre for retired Communist Party officials.

Former treasurer Wayne Swan has warned foreign donations could be "skewing" political decision-making.

"I certainly think we should be having a stronger debate about the role of political donations and how that potentially is leading to political decision-making being skewed in favour of foreign countries," Mr Swan said.

"I'm all in favour of that, and I'm all in favour of looking at tighter control in that area."

He has an ally in Independent South Australian senator Nick Xenophon, who wants to make overseas payments illegal.

The influential crossbench senator said he was writing to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters to ask for immediate action.

"114 countries have banned political donations from foreign donors, it's high time Australia was the 115th," he said.

"The fact that we're still in a minority of nations that don't think that this is important I think speaks volumes for our lack of action and lack of consideration of what this can do to our democracy."

Professor George Williams from the University of New South Wales Law School said Australia's political finance laws are in "very bad shape" compared to other nations.

"We have a system that's open to the possibility of undue influence and of determining outcomes that aren't in the best interests of the community," he said.


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