Australia needs to sponsor its politicians just as it sponsors sporting teams.
Sponsoring politicians might reduce their scandalous behaviour or at least result in punishment. After all, what’s the difference between a wayward athlete and a wayward politician? The athlete gets punished.
Until the recent election, almost every member of the federal LNP coalition had been involved in some form of corruption or scandal. The former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, cleverly avoided any direct link to scandalous behaviour while in power, but was called upon to discipline or sack his ministers or senators on an almost daily basis. None of them got sacked, some of them got promoted. Members of the Labor Party are far from perfect, neither are many state or territory representatives.
If Australia’s politicians were sponsored, they might be punished for deceiving the people who pay their substantial salaries.
Athletes are punished when they commit an off-field scandal. Australians can find endless examples of athletes, especially from the National Rugby League (NRL), and the Australian Football League (AFL) who have disgraced themselves off the field and done everything from public urination to sexual assault. Many of their stories can be found at http://www.thefrownlowmedal.org.
Players are nearly always punished these days with fines, suspensions or sacking, depending on the severity of the offence. Sporting federations and clubs say the player was punished to protect the integrity of the sport or team, and because the player brought the game into disrepute.
But there is another reason players are punished.
They are punished to protect sponsors.
Corporate sponsors don’t want their brand associated with anti-social or illegal behaviour. Sponsors put direct pressure on clubs, athletes and sporting federations to control their players, or at least punish them when they get out of control. Corporations have even withdrawn sponsorship in reaction to scandal. Sports need sponsorship, and so do politicians.
We need to exert the same pressure on our politicians. We can, because politicians are already sponsored. In politics, sponsors are called donors and most of them are not known to the public. While sponsors adorn the jerseys of athletes, political donors in Australia can remain hidden for 12 months after they have made their donation. In that 12-month period, however, they can enjoy the influence that their donation buys. By the time the public knows who donated to whom, policies and decisions have already been made in favour of the donors.
Maybe politicians should wear their donors’ names on their clothing, just like athletes. The donors who make the biggest contributions, such as fossil fuel companies, could be displayed in bold print on the front of their clothing, and minor donors on the sleeves. Politicians could even conduct press conferences in front of banners displaying their donors’ logos.
Perhaps we could go even further and name sections of parliament houses after those who have made significant ‘contributions’ to Australian politics. Politicians could debate bills from the ‘Gina Rinehart’ stand or the ‘Rupert Murdoch’ stand. At least that would be transparent.
Australia is one of the very few western democracies which does not force political parties to declare their donors at the time of donation. In reality, most everyday Australians never know who donates to their political parties.
If political parties were forced to publicly declare their donors, the donors would suffer reputational damage every time one of their politicians committed a scandal.
If a federal politician has an affair with their staffer and gets her pregnant, their ‘sponsor’ would also suffer damage to their brand.
If a married federal politician is seen fraternising with young women in a bar near parliament house, in full view of foreign embassy staff and the media, his ‘sponsor’ would also suffer reputational damage.
If any politician commits the kind of behaviour that sees footballers get fined and suspended, the ‘sponsors’ would put pressure on the individual politician and their party to ensure the behaviour is never repeated, and to administer a suitable punishment to the offender. Publicly-declared sponsors might help keep our politicians in line, and ensure they get on with doing their job.
If politicians were sponsored by companies which publicly declare their donations, Australia might finally get the politicians it pays for.
Image: Aditya Joshi