Donations debacle must be fixed right now

HERE reads some common sense on the vexed question of political donations. “It is important that any changes made in Australia to funding and disclosure arrangements at the Commonwealth level are not merely a reaction to incidents or calls for reform, but a considered and carefully designed approach to help ensure transparency and accountability." Hasten slowly, as they say.

Yet just how much time is needed for careful consideration? How many "incidents" will be allowed to pass, and how many calls for reform will be ignored?

The sensible caution quoted above was penned by Daryl Melham, the former Labor MP, who in 2011 was chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM). Never heard of this committee?That's hardly a surprise. A more toothless tiger you won't find.

But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in the wake of the latest donations scandal, this time involving Labor senator Sam Dastyari, now wants the public to have faith.

He wants people to believe this obscure committee is the right place to mull over much-needed reform on political donations. So we ask: would that be to finally implement the 2011 report, with its 268 pages of detailed assessment and 30 sensibly crafted recommendations?

Or would that be to resuscitate an earlier 2008 green paper on donations and funding, with its 99 pages of detail? Or is the plan to start over – again? Forgive our cynicism, but yet another inquiry seems to be yet another excuse to limp on with a clearly broken system.

Mr Turnbull has relished the chance to belittle his opponents over revelations that Senator Dastyari turned to a Chinese political donor to pick up the bill for office over-spending.

There is no disputing Senator Dastyari deserves every barb that comes his way, as did Liberal Arthur Sinodinos before him in questions about donations. But it seems abundantly clear the Prime Minister also has little intention of acting to fix the problem at the core.

No one pretends reform of donations law will be easy, that loopholes will not be found in a bid to thwart to any change. But vested interests are the only true obstacle to even modest changes that will instil greater transparency.

Mr Turnbull has all the reports he needs at hand to set this system straight. It is well past time for leaders to act.

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