Lawyers are calling for reforms to the country’s political donation laws after the ABC’s Four Corners program uncovered links between Mafia figures and senior politicians.
Four Corners revealed that in 2005 Mafia money may have played a role in helping to lobby the then-immigration minister Amanda Vanstone to grant a visa to senior Calabrian Mafia figure.
That figure was Frank Madafferi, a man with an extensive criminal history back in Italy who was set to be deported.
But Madafferi’s Mafia connections paid tens of thousands of dollars into the Millennium Forum, a now-defunct fundraising body connected to the Liberal Party.
Ms Vanstone’s decision to allow him to stay came after those donations.
The Calabrian Mafia is a ruthless and violent criminal organisation that looms large in the Australian underworld.
Clive Small, a former assistant commissioner with NSW Police, said it never donated money without expecting favours in return.
“The Calabrian Mafia doesn’t give anything away. Any penny, any cent they spend is because they expect two cents back,” Mr Small said.
Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.
In response to the findings, NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption counsel assisting Geoffrey Watson SC called for Australia’s political donation system to be overhauled.
“This is a case study of what’s wrong with the system. Well, it’s seriously wrong,” Mr Watson said.
“The point is that for no better reason than the making of donations to a political party, specific representations were able to put [Mafia figures] amongst the most powerful politicians in the land — access which you and I couldn’t get except if we made substantial donations ourselves.”
New rules needed to improve transparency, expert says
A 2009 Australian Federal Police (AFP) report described a “lack of checks and oversight” in the Australian political donations system as “significant” failings.
“As it stands, political parties and candidates can receive significant support and financial contributions through avenues not covered by the statutory disclosure regime,” the report said.
It added that “loopholes” in the oversight system meant it was “difficult to identify any bribery in the form of political donations”.
But Social Services Minister Scott Morrison said the AFP also found there was nothing further to pursue.
“It is important that we have a strong system that has the right checks and balances and is transparent, and I think transparency has improved significantly over the years,” Mr Morrison said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor was prepared to have another look at tightening donation rules.
“Labor is up for reform of political donation laws. We asked Mr Abbott and the Liberal Party to join with us to further improve confidence in our democratic system.”
Professor Ian Ramsey, the director of the Centre for Corporate Law at Melbourne University, said new rules were needed to ensure complete transparency.
“For quite a number of years now, many people, myself included, have really seen significant limitations in terms of our existing disclosure requirements,” Professor Ramsey said.
“In particular, there are important issues about the transparency, how much is disclosed, and also how quickly that information is disclosed.
“Certainly I think there is a real need for improvement.”
Ms Vanstone has been contacted by the ABC but has yet to comment.
You can watch Four Corners — The Mafia in Australia: Drugs, Murder and Politics on ABC iView.