BEING responsible for the Greens’ democracy portfolio is a busy task.
Not only because there are constant scandals relating to donations, corruption, bribery and lobbyist activities that deserve our scrutiny and attention, but also because the challenge to translate that steady stream of scandals into broad political support for reform is immense.
First – the rolling scandals.
When 10 NSW Liberal MPs were caught up in an ICAC inquiry into illegal political donations and slush funds it was no isolated event.
In the past fortnight alone we have heard: WA Liberal MP Steve Irons used public money to attend his own wedding, the newly elected Mayor of Logan in Queensland received over $50,000 in donations from a company that did not legally exist and former resources minister Ian Macfarlane has been appointed to the Queensland Resources Council, a move which he denies is a potential breach of the Ministerial Standards.
The biggest story of the past week on this theme of undermining democracy is about Stuart Robert.
Mr Robert resigned from the Malcolm Turnbull ministry in February over his involvement with Paul Marks of Nimrod Resources.
Prior to Mr Robert travelling to China where he oversaw a Nimrod deal, Mr Marks had donated $1,681,341 to the Liberal Party, and after the trip he donated $940,000.
Six months later Mr Robert is in the news again. His relationship with property developer Sunland is the subject of a special investigation.
A few weeks back former Labor frontbencher Sam Dastyari spent an undignified week in the spotlight deflecting questions about his relationship with major donor Top Education Institute, before resigning and going to the backbench.
Meanwhile, the Coalition tried to milk the scandal for all it was politically worth, while simultaneously insisting the issue not about donations.
“That is a different conversation,” Liberal Senator George Brandis said.
The Greens take the opposite view.
These scandals are symptoms of much bigger problems that exist within the political system.
These are not isolated incidents.
They should not be treated as unfortunate stop-gaps in a political party’s public relations strategy.
They are serious warnings about the way our democracy is failing.
The challenge is extracting these scandals from the 24 hour news cycle, and the cosy world of Canberra, and getting the necessary reforms in place to change the way the system works.
Unsurprisingly, those most resistant to that change are those that benefit from the system as it currently works.
The Greens are continuing to work for a federal anti-corruption commission, tighter regulations around lobbyist activities, bans on overseas donations and donations from for-profit organisations and strict caps on everything else.
Until the Coalition and Labor back the changes, some will continue to exploit the public purse for personal gain.
The real losers are not political parties, of course, but rather everyday people forced to watch as the corporate interests, lobbyists and their chequebooks trump the public interest.