Revelations at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) hearing at the end of August that an Aldi shopping bag filled with $100,000 was delivered to Labor’s Sydney headquarters in March 2015 are further proof that a federal ICAC, with a lot more power than its state counterpart, is urgently needed.
The donation — which was reportedly handed over by billionaire property developer Huang Xiangmo — was banned under state electoral funding laws.
The donation was allegedly for booking the entire top table at a Chinese Friends of Labor fundraising dinner for Labor, at which then-party leader Bill Shorten was a keynote guest. It is alleged that the $100,000 was covertly broken down into $10,000 lots in an effort to circumvent funding laws.
This latest scandal has already led to the sacking of state general secretary Kaila Murnain, who admitted knowing about the donation since September 2016, but took no action. She claims she kept quiet on advice from the party’s legal team.
Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese has admitted that NSW Labor is in a “diabolical situation” and foreshadowed a “comprehensive response of structural reform of NSW Labor”. Whether this will include federal Labor intervention into the NSW branch remains to be seen.
The scandal is part of a history of corruption inside the right-wing dominated NSW Labor machine, which most notably includes the rorts involving ex-Labor MLC Eddie Obeid and other Labor ministers during its previous period in government, nearly a decade ago.
But corruption in state politics is bipartisan. The NSW Liberal Party has also received donations from Huang.
ICAC’s Operation Spicer found in 2016 that a NSW Liberal Party slush fund (“Eight By Five”) was used to “wash” donations from property developers to the party. That corruption scandal led to 10 Liberal MPs being forced to resign or move to the crossbench.
During the 1980s, police corruption under Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s National Party regime in Queensland led to the Fitzgerald Inquiry, which set up the original Crime and Corruption Commission and led to a police commissioner being jailed.
The latest allegations of corruption in NSW add further impetus to growing public calls for a federal anti-corruption commission with powers to investigate politicians, the bureaucracy and their links to big business.
After years of opposition to the idea of a federal ICAC, Labor proposed an independent national integrity commission in the run-up to the May federal election.
The Coalition responded by putting forward a weaker alternative, which would not have any power to examine the activities of politicians or staffers. The Coalition plan also prevents any investigation of past corruption.
With public trust in major parties at an all-time low, we urgently need a federal ICAC with powers not only to fully investigate but also to prosecute.
Green Left Weekly strives to support those who continue to expose the corruption at the heart of the political system.