OPINION: Solve climate change through electoral donation reform

Fossil fuel companies have bought Australian politicians.

climate change opinion

I recently had a conversation with a friend who only casually follows politics.

She was utterly bewildered.

It was the start of Australia’s horrifying summer of bushfires. The news was showing the visceral apex of warnings over decades that a changing climate would cause more frequent and severe natural disasters. Siberia and the Amazon Rainforest were also on fire, and we were hearing from every credible source that this was only the beginning if governments did not take immediate action. And yet the Australian government had not announced any believable efforts to reduce carbon emissions and prevent the world from warming any more than it already has.¬†

“I just don’t understand why they won’t do anything,” she said. “Do they actually …¬†want¬†Australians to suffer?”

Feeling cynical, I replied: “Because fossil fuel companies give them money, I think.”

We sat in silence.

What is the sum total of the donations from coal, oil and natural gas interests to either the Labor or Liberal parties? No idea. In Australia, parties only have to disclose donations above $13,800.

If I were a major party, I could receive millions of dollars in donations from a coal mining company. But if that donation was split into lots of $13,750 – funnelled through separate fundraising bodies for good measure – I wouldn’t have to tell the public about a single cent.

In 2016-17, the Liberal Party only told the public where 18 per cent of its total private donations came from. The Labor Party only disclosed 11 per cent.

What about the state government – are they accepting donations from fossil fuel interests? Couldn’t tell you.

The same rules apply, and only 20 per cent of $25 million donated to political parties in Tasmania over the past ten years has been revealed to voters.

We like to think of ourselves as an enlightened Western democracy, but these donations are bribes. They consist of money given to politicians in exchange for policy that allows companies to make significantly more money than they donated.

It’s not a law of physics that election campaigns have to be funded by private money. A fair system of capped, taxpayer dollars distributed to election candidates could be developed. Yes, yes – we hate giving our taxes to politicians. But it would be better than politicians getting their campaign money from corporations that have one goal: to increase their profits, whether or not that comes at the expense of ordinary people.

With climate change upon us, the alternative is too awful to bear.

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