Independents still waiting for funding law reforms

THE Federal Government's relationship with independent MPs is set to sour further, with a crucial promise to reform political party funding laws unlikely to be delivered by the end of this year.

Wide-ranging reforms to the way political party and campaign funding is reported were part of the agreement Prime Minister Julia Gillard signed with the independents to form government in 2010.

Among the changes proposed were lowering the donation disclosure threshold to $1000, down from more than $12,000; banning anonymous donations over $50 and rules to increase timeliness and frequency of disclosure of political donations.

But despite the government agreeing to make the changes by the end of this year, no legislation has been tabled in parliament.

As part of the agreement, independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor stipulated an inquiry into political funding be completed and report to parliament no later than October 1, 2011.

But the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquiry missed the deadline by more than two months, reporting on December 9 last year.

The inquiry did recommend numerous changes, several in line with the agreement between the government and the independent MPs.

Several of the committee's recommendations were also almost markedly similar to recommendations from several other inquiries into political party funding, including one which reported in June 2009, which the government did not respond to.

While Special Minister of State Gary Gray was meant to file the government's official response to the 2011 inquiry by June 9 this year, he has not yet done so.

In a statement Mr Gray tabled in parliament in June, he said the delay was caused in part by the committee's investigation into the Australian Electoral Commission's analysis of the Fair Work Australia report on the Health Services Union.

The Electoral Commissioner provided a list of possible matters related to that investigation that also had some bearing on the electoral reform Ms Gillard promised the independents more than two years ago.

But after considering those issues, the committee reported on all matters in September this year, and the government response has not been forthcoming.

It is understood Mr Oakeshott was waiting for a meeting with staff from the Prime Minister's office to explain the delay.

Mr Oakeshott asked questions about the delay in August, an answer to which was given in October, but that answer only referred to Mr Gray's previous statement to parliament.

With just four parliamentary sitting days left this year and no government response yet released, the government was unlikely to legislate to change the funding laws, reneging on the 2010 agreement.

Mr Gray released a statement last week which said the government was "still considering these reports, including possible legislative amendments".

He also said the government was "committed to reforms to increase transparency and accountability of the electoral process, including reforming the funding of political parties and election campaigns".

Mr Gray did not respond to further questions on when the government's response would be filed, or when any possible legislative changes would actually be tabled.



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