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Paul Murray: Independent’s fraught stance on campaign cash

One of the threads that binds the purportedly disparate group of well-financed independents running against Liberal MPs at the coming Federal election is their demand for a Canberra-based anti-corruption commission.

The corruption-buster push among the “Voices Of” independents had its roots in the successful campaign by former national AMA head Kerryn Phelps for the Sydney seat of Wentworth, which she held for just seven months after the resignation of deposed prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, before the Liberals reclaimed it in 2019.

Phelps chose three main policy targets: climate change, asylum seekers and a Federal body loosely based on the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption.

A Federal ICAC is likely to play a role in this election because Labor also sees mileage from the Coalition’s intransigence in progressing its plans for a national integrity commission.

So a report just last month by the NSW ICAC should be of interest to those trying to improve standards of integrity in Australian politics, particularly in the vexed area of campaign donations.

Kate Chaney, tells potential voters that she supports a ‘robust’ Federal integrity commission.
Camera IconKate Chaney, tells potential voters that she supports a ‘robust’ Federal integrity commission. Credit: Danella Bevis/The West Australian

The most high-profile independent candidate in WA, Curtin’s Kate Chaney, tells potential voters that she supports a “robust” Federal integrity commission and is appalled at the “destructive influence of vested interests in Australian politics”.

She has a strange way of showing it.

As I pointed out in a column in February, last year, political donations that would be a criminal offence in NSW and Queensland are accepted as a celebrated involvement in the democratic process in WA.

It’s as if human nature — and therefore political behaviour — changes dramatically as you cross the Nullarbor. Who knew?

But it’s something Chaney may do well to consider as she continues to campaign on integrity issues while successfully courting powerful business people for donations.

NSW’s ban on property developers making political donations was part of a suite of transparency measures designed to expose and outlaw the influence of vested interests on politics which had been uncovered by ICAC.

In its latest report, ICAC explains the laws with this quotation: “These reforms are about putting a limit on the political arms race, under which those with the most money have the loudest voices and can simply drown out the voices of all others.”

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