New South Wales Business Chamber chief executive Kevin MacDonald today called on the NSW Government to introduce an immediate cap on donations and spending for all candidates in this year’s local government elections in September.

The call was made at the Living Ethics Conference held in Ballina today.

Mr MacDonald said he believed recent donation scandals had hurt public confidence and brought to the surface business concerns about expectations to provide donations.

“Confidence that our governments are making the right decisions for the right reasons is critical in a modern democracy — and I think the evidence is that public confidence is starting to ebb,” he said.

“In Australia we do need to reform the political donations system — both sides agree on it and business does too.

“The fact is there are some businesses who give to political parties because they are nervous if they doe not, and there are also businesses who it should be said donate for no other reason than they support a particular candidate or party.

“My own organisation has given to both political parties at a State and Federal level without any expectations of outcomes, and that is the way it should be.

“the best place to start donation reform is in local government. We should have a cap of $100 for a donation with a maximum amount that can be spent, possibly a figure in the order of $2 or $3 per registered voter.

“I believe such a cap or limit should be imposed immediately so that the 2008 local government elections in NSW this year are totally free from any suggestion of untoward influence.”

Mr MacDonald also issued a challenge to Australia’s business groups and unions, callingon them to vountarily commit to not skirting around the new laws with third party advertising campaigns.

“At a State and Federal level we need similar restrictions and puclib funding of elections — but we also need restrictions on third party participation,” he said.

“What’s the value, for example, of banning donations from companies if the trade unions donate or sponsor advertising to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, like they did in the last election?

“Indeed, I accept that the same argument could quite rightly ber applied to third party advertising sponsored by organisations such as mine.

“I am sure all employer groups would be willing to sign away this right to advertise in politicial campaigns, if trade unions were willing to sign the same agreement. It’s a complex are but one we have to get right.”