The problem of Ministerial discretion

All this week, The Age has been in campaign mode on corporate political donations. But the problem with their analysis (you don’t need to read it, or help from me, to guess what line they are pushing) was there in the very first paragraph on Monday:

CORPORATE donors to the Victorian Labor Party are almost invariably companies with lucrative public contracts or development, gaming or alcohol interests at the mercy of Government discretion. (emphasis added)*

Isn’t the problem, then, that businesses are at the mercy of Ministerial decisions, rather than that perhaps some try to minimise the risks posed to their income by sending a few dollars the ALP’s way? Wherever possible, governments should set rules of the game that are neutral between businesses, and let the outcome be driven by how they play by the rules, rather than by picking winners or playing favourites.

While it is improper to try to influence a tender outcome or property development approval with donations, there is nothing wrong with backing a party that proposes rules of the game that are consistent with how a business or other organisation sees the world. Renewable energy companies should be allowed to back the Greens, unions should be able to back Labor, and corporate Australia should be able to back the Liberals in their occasional tax cutting mood.
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