Australian PM hit by donations scandal amid snap elections

Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull struggles with donations scandal as he prepares for early federal election

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks at the annual Lowy Lecture, a foreign policy think tank, in Sydney on March 23, 2016.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s ruling Liberal Party has been embroiled in a financial scandal, which is an additional burden for him as he has taken the major political risk of calling an early federal election.

Turnbull faced calls on Saturday to dismiss Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos over donations made to the ruling Liberal Party's New South Wales (NSW) state branch. He has already fired three ministers over misdemeanours in the past few months.

The NSW Electoral Commission said this week that it would withhold $3.3 million in public funding for the party after it failed to disclose the source of donations made in the lead-up to an election victory in Australia’s most populous state in 2011.

The commission ruled that the party’s so-called Free Enterprise Foundation was used by senior Liberal officials to disguise forbidden donors including property developers banned from making political donations to NSW campaigns.

"If these people were illegally donating to the Liberal Party when Arthur Sinodinos was in charge of the money then his position really becomes untenable," the opposition Labor Party's communications spokesman Jason Clare said.

The commission "used loose language which could convey erroneous impressions" Sinodinos, who was the state division's finance director and treasurer at the time, said in its ruling.

"I have never been accused of corruption," Sinodinos said in an emailed statement on Saturday.

"I deny any wrongdoing or illegality," he added.

The scandal has added more pressure on Turnbull just days after he called an early election on July 2, well before it falls due in January 2017.

Since Turnbull came to power in a party-room coup last year, he has consistently carried out opinion polls. His ruling Liberal-National coalition has led Labor in recent polls but they have showed that his period may be ending.

According to a poll released on Monday, Turnbull’s popularity is falling into negative territory for the first time.

If successful, Turnbull's high-risk election strategy will also clear out parliament's upper house, the Senate, potentially giving the coalition a clearer passageway for favoured bills.

In recent years, Australia has become notorious for its revolving door political leadership. If Turnbull was to lose the election, Australia would have its 6th prime minister since 2010.

TRTWorld, Reuters