Senator Pauline Hanson has denied any impropriety after the Electoral Commission announced it would investigate her party over the alleged funding of a private aircraft worth $100,000.
We are told there is nothing to see in the Liberal Party siphoning cash from their MPs’ taxpayer-funded electoral allowances, purportedly to fund the party’s voter analysis entity, Parakeelia Pty. Ltd.
Labor leader Bill Shorten, exposed by evidence at the unions royal commission that he had failed to disclose a $40,000 donation from labour hire company Unibilt, is allowed to make a ‘corrected’ disclosure years after the event.
The New South Wales Electoral Commission last year withheld $4 million in public funding to the Liberal Party after it failed to open its books on money from property developers routed through its federal slush fund entity, the Free Enterprise Foundation. Developer donations are illegal in NSW. After disclosure, $586,992 was withheld.
All are entitled to the presumption of innocence, of course.
While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared this week public trust in the integrity of Australia’s electoral system was paramount, persistent allegations of breaches indicates regulatory slackness has been breeding arrogance from the powerful.
Neither the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) nor the Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ), to which the latest allegations against Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party have been directed, have adequate enforcement powers to instil any fear of the consequences of non-compliance.
Prosecutions are unheard of. Current penalties are wrist slaps almost always avoided by corrections to disclosure or the refund of disputed monies.
The formal investigation arose from the ABC Four Corners’ Please Explain program which, through documents, emails and on-camera informants, alleged non-disclosure of a Jabiru light plane used by candidate Pauline Hanson in the 2016 double dissolution Senate election.
It was piloted by One Nation director James Ashby.
Two party officials who raised questions about the plane have resigned.
One of these officials, Queensland treasurer, Ian Nelson, told Four Corners James Ashby had asked him not to declare the identity of the source of a large donation and to list it as ‘anonymous’, in breach of the disclosure rules.
Four Corners also raised allegations that candidates in both Queensland and Western Australia were being financially pressured to hand over large sums of money to One Nation by way of fees payable, printing charges, mandatory donations, the mandatory forfeiture of 25 per cent of moneys raised per vote from running at the WA election.
Australia sees rorts, rorts and more rorts
The AEC and the ECQ do not have provisions in their legislation for public hearings which, as has been seen with the Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales, which has the great public benefit of bathing any corruption concerns in the disinfectant of sunshine.
Invariably more witnesses and evidence emerges from the public hearing process leading to educative lessons, legislative reform and future compliance.
And this week Brisbane’s The Courier Mail newspaper, which had bagged the ABC as biased against Senator Hanson, joined the ABC’s public interest journalism by publishing the audio and transcript of a tape recording involving James Ashby in discussion about invoicing creatively to maximise public funding.
Both Mr Ashby and Senator Hanson dismissed the “illegal” tape as mischievous, any such “bad choice of words” not being acted upon by the party, its members or officials.
The Australian Federal Police and the Queensland Police are reportedly examining the leaked tape posted online by The Courer Mail.
When can we expect AFP or Queensland Police search warrant raids of One Nation offices and bank accounts?
Just when the public will get to find out if their electoral system is being systematically gamed by candidates or political parties is unknown.
The 24-hour news cycle can be relied on to quickly change public attention to other events and incidents, sensations and scandals.
But such is the consistency of allegations that there is now momentum for enforcement teeth to be added to the powers of the guardians of our electoral integrity.
The great Australian perception of snouts in the trough will continue unless the regulators have real enforcement power … or there is a federal ICAC.