Wednesday, 10 May 2006
Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005
Mr Deputy Speaker, with all due respect, I find that extraordinary. What I am saying to you is that, if after an election a company profits to the tune of tens and maybe hundreds of millions of dollars and the donations have been very generous in certain electorates during the election campaign against people who were diametrically opposed to the deregulation of that industry, that is the very heart and soul of what this bill is about. Parties will be able to receive $10,000 without having to nominate who they got it from.
I can remember one of my friends with a big company who said, ‘This company does not give money.’ I said, ‘I noticed you at a lot of government and political functions, and I don’t think you get invited there unless you make a donation.’ He said, ‘No, we give them individually.’ So individual names appear and the amount of money is much smaller. It was a very big company and a very naughty company later on, as it turned out—after this friend of mine had left, I must emphasise. So at the very heart and soul of this bill is whether by making political contributions you can buy an IOU from a political party that you can call in subsequently.
I do not deny an industry such as the mining industry the right to back a political party that has a very aggressive attitude to developmentalism. That is not what I am talking about here. What I am talking about here is a fundamentally different situation where you can provide that money to influence the political party in making a decision which they would not normally make. I proudly belonged to a party that had as its very essence the right to collectively bargain. It was inherent in our wool industry, our tobacco industry, our sugar industry and our wheat industry, and we had been the party that instituted that. Every page in the McEwen profile we turned over said that, and it was similar with Doug Anthony. Why did they change their position? I say that the reason lies in the same place as the answer to where the $350,000 came from that was used in the campaign against me in the last election. Where did that money come from? Those are the questions that we want answered.
What is happening here is the door is being closed on ever answering those questions in the future. They are closing the door so that nobody can see what happens behind that closed door. That may be good for the interests of a political party in the short term, but the current government will not always be in parliament, as the other side will be in government some time. Heaven only knows that so many people suffered as a result of similar nefarious activities that took place in the Hawke and Keating administrations. Heaven only knows that Hawke and Keating may have been the kings in that area, though I would not like to say that they are not being rivalled for their kingly status at the present moment.
But the decisions that were made to deregulate those industries benefited greatly certain corporations and reduced us to a situation where we had a suicide every month in the sugar industry. That is what happened to us on the other side of the coin. A lot of those people still have loyalty to the National Party and they believe in the National Party. They still think it is the institution that it once was, and I sort of think really that that is nice. I have never held it against them that they have maintained that. As for the fact that their own lives have been totally destroyed by the actions of that particular party, that is upon the consciences of those people and one day they will have to go to meet their maker and explain to Him what happened there.
But today what we are doing is closing the door so that people cannot see what is going on behind that door. If you are a corporation and you provide hundreds of thousands of dollars of support, you do not do that because you are Santa Claus. You do that because you will get an IOU that can be called in somewhere down the track. That is the nature of political donations.
Quite separately from that, I will reiterate this point. I have said it before but I will say it once again: there are genuine people who believe that it is in the best interests of them, their families, their district and their country to provide donations to a political party. But, to me, they have never been the sorts of people who give $10,000. They are not those sorts of people. They are the people who will give $1,500 or less. What is happening here is that we are extending the figure from $1,500 to $10,000, so that will incorporate the corporate donors, and the corporate donors want something in return. Unfortunately and sadly, I personally believe that they have got a very good return on the investment they have made in my old political party that I was once so proud to belong to. For those who read Hansard, I would say: do not think about what that particular political party is today. Think about the once greatness of that party that instituted the International Sugar Agreement, the party that instituted the wool price scheme that gave us decent prices for our products.
I will finish on this note. When I was burying my father I had to think about the really important things that happened while he was a member of parliament in our area. I thought: the most wonderful thing that ever happened to us in western Queensland—and, I would say, probably in inland Australia—was the wool scheme. As a young man, when I left secondary school I did not see any remote hope that the wool industry could survive. My very first financial venture was to buy sheep for a pet food operation, because I thought that all that sheep could be used for was pet food! You would remember it well, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott. Because of those brave and courageous men—and I name them: Doug Anthony and John McEwen—we were able to enjoy 20 years of prosperity in that industry.
It was only brought down by the likes of Mr Keating. I think that not only was he influenced by very generous donations over a long period but it wove its way into his thinking. He thought that just giving into the big corporations all the time was a good thing to do. He was conditioned to that response. When he abolished the wool scheme, within three years—as you will recall, Mr Deputy Speaker—the price for our product dropped clean in half. Now, to quote Alan Jones, ‘half of that industry has vanished’.
These people who give big donations—in the main; not all of them—are people whom we have to ask very serious questions about. I have had donors who have contributed over $1,500 and they never worried about using their names, because they knew that I believed in the things that they believed in. It was money well spent and they were proud to be able to wear it. They did not have to hide behind closed doors or behind an act that enabled them to remain behind closed doors.