“HIDDEN” political donations and the high number of lobbyists given access to federal parliament were high on the list of topics covered by an online Q&A organised by Voices for Mornington Peninsula.
VMP says it will choose an independent candidate to contest the seat of Flinders at the next federal election.
In November, the seat will have been held for the past 20 years by Liberal Greg Hunt.
VMP says it “seeks to restore and promote a participatory democracy where community voices are represented, and elected members act with honesty, integrity, and accountability”.
The group’s chair Louise Page said about 150 peninsula residents joined the Sunday 19 September online Q&A which followed a screening of the Craig Reucassel directed Big Deal: Is our democracy for sale?
“The film is a wake-up call about the frightening extent to which money has infiltrated politics in Australia and residents then participated in an engaging discussion about a lack of transparency into donations in federal politics,” Ms Page said.
Former ABC broadcaster Tracee Hutchison facilitated the online forum which included speakers Craig Reucassel, ABC Foreign Correspondent reporter Eric Campbell and Warringah Independent MP Zali Steggall.
The Q&A started with Ms Page answering questions about VMP’s finances and candidate selection.
“This led to the panellists discussing political donations and how they are used by a select few to buy access to political decision makers,” she said.
Reucassel said big business lobbyists “far outnumbered” the elected officials in parliament and had “access that everyday people just don’t have”.
Ms Steggall said there were no limits around what could be said in political advertising and how shocked she had been to find “there just isn’t the kind of boundaries that you have in normal advertising”.
Ms Page said the “refreshing openness” of Ms Steggall “struck a chord with the spin-weary audience”.
“For many participants, this was their first opportunity to ask questions directly to an MP and it reflected in the number of questions directed to Zali,” she said.
“Zali explained how the Voices of community groups open the discussion, raise awareness to the issues and they get people engaged in democracy … with a view … to providing an alternate choice to the electorate.”
Ms Page said one participant later described the Q&A as “feeling of being in the company of like-minded people valuing integrity, honesty and transparency in a political candidate”. Others had indicated “appreciation for the tone and professionalism [and] liked the way there was no disrespectful commentary about the current MP [Mr Hunt]”.
Ms Page said Ms Steggall and Craig Reucassel “agreed there must be more transparency in financial political donations”.
“Eric Campbell’s blunt description of the state of mainstream media and reporting in Australia left no doubt that influence and bias has put us on a slippery slope to the darker side of politics,” she said.
“Zali explained how independent members of parliament can genuinely represent their local community. She warned the community not to disconnect with their representatives.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to meet an independent member of parliament and get up close and personal with journalists and media personalities. The positive message from all involved was that the community can be actively involved in the solution and that people are stronger than money.”
Details of VMP and a recording of the panel Q&A discussion are available at voicesofmornpen.org.au/past_events.
The Big Deal will be aired on ABC-TV on 19 October.