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Fossil fuels, gambling and tobacco industries 'corrupting our democracy', says report

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Political influence that would be considered corrupt and illegal overseas is “business as usual” in Australia, a new report has found.

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The report, Selling Out: How powerful industries corrupt our democracy, details how the fossil fuels, tobacco and gambling industries use their wealth to infiltrate Australia’s democracy.

The Human Rights Law Centre report makes clear vast reforms are needed to fix the system, including parliament passing spending caps for candidates, parties and campaigners.

It also recommends professional lobbyists should be required to disclose meetings with politicians and advisers, ministers should publish their diaries and that a strong federal integrity commission with broad jurisdiction be implemented.

HRLC senior lawyer Alice Drury said big industries were “distorting democratic processes to win political outcomes”.

“Australians support reforms to make our communities less addicted and our environment healthier, but the fossil fuels, tobacco and gambling industries are building political power to block sensible regulation,” she said.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. There are solutions that our parliament could pass tomorrow to make our democracy stronger, and ensure our elected representatives listen to us, the people.”

In noting “the more harm an industry causes, the more political power it is likely to have”, the report says community wishes such as decreasing the number of poker machines and limiting smoking are being ignored.

It further recommended requiring timely public disclosure of contributions exceeding $2500 and banning “big, corrupting financial contributions” altogether.

“There is much Australians can be proud of … but the health of our democracy is being seriously undermined by the weak integrity laws that govern corruption, political donations, lobbying and election spending,” it reads.

Australian Conservation Foundation democracy campaigner Jolene Elberth said coal and gas companies had bought political influence that meant the best interests of the planet were disregarded.

“It’s why the Australian government chose a ‘gas-fired recovery’ rather than investing in renewables and why we have an inadequate national climate policy,” she said.

“We need common sense integrity reforms so that our politicians listen to the communities they are elected to represent, rather than the corporations that fund their campaigns.”

The Australian Electoral Commission will publish the latest figures on donations and political spending on its transparency register on February 1.

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