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Momentum builds for donation reform as business leaders, unions, former Labor cabinet minister say time to act is now

Nationals deputy leader Fiona Nash says she would like to ‘level the playing field’ over political donations. Photo: Andrew MearesA member of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership group has backed reform of Australia’s political donations laws, suggesting unions and corporates should be banned from giving money and real-time disclosure implemented.
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Deputy Nationals leader Fiona Nash told Fairfax Media on Friday that she backed changes to the donations system to “level the playing field in Australian politics”.

At the same time, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Australian Industry Group and third party campaigners GetUp! all backed changes to Australia’s donations system to rebuild confidence and trust in the political system – though those groups split on what changes should be implemented.

Senator Nash’s comments come as momentum for reform builds in the wake of the scandal that engulfed Labor senator Sam Dastyari this week over donors picking up legal and travel bills.

Mr Turnbull on Thursday suggested that “ideally” a range of reforms to the system, such as limiting donations to people on the electoral role and banning unions and corporates would be enacted – though he said the changes would be a matter for the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.

The Prime Minister returns to Australia this weekend after international summits in China, Laos and the Pacific, and as pressure mounts for action on political donations reform.

Senator Nash said her views were broadly in line with those of the prime minister, and cabinet colleagues Christopher Pyne and Steve Ciobo.

“Personally, I’m attracted to the idea of capping donations, and limiting them to persons on the electoral role, though I understand there are some hurdles to overcome,” she said, in a reference to a 2014 High Court ruling on NSW donations reforms.

“The idea of instant disclosure is appealing also. In my opinion, reform in this area would remove any perception that donations lead to favourable policy outcomes.”

Earlier on Friday, Mr Pyne told the Nine Network he backed banning unions and corporates from donating – echoing a call from former prime minister Tony Abbott – but he also added that “you also have to do something about third-party campaigning otherwise the unions will simply give all their money to GetUp”.

However, Labor shadow minister Anthony Albanese said he was “not at all” in favour of banning union donations and focused on foreign donations instead. Labor’s donations policy also includes reducing the disclosure threshold from $13,800 to $1000 and banning anonymous donations over $50.

AiG chief Innes Willox said that reforms to the system were necessary to restore people’s faith in the political system and although change had to be implemented carefully, he was willing to countenance ending corporate donations.

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