Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2010
I rise to speak on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2010, which once again we find before us. This is now the third time that Labor has tried to ram this flawed, unfair bill through the parliament. Labor tried it in 2008 and they failed. They tried it in 2009 and they failed. And now they are trying to push it through again. This bill is a bad bill because it seeks to entrench a financial advantage for the ALP and the Greens, who are now also the beneficiaries of the some of the unions’ rivers of gold. This is not genuine reform. Mr Rudd promised the Australian people genuine reform. Senators Faulkner and Ludwig promised genuine reform, and yet we are once again presented with this severely flawed bill.
This bill is another example of the suite of opportunistic and ad hoc electoral changes put forward by Labor, this time in cahoots with the Greens. The coalition has always believed that any proposals for electoral reform should be part of a comprehensive package, not released in dribs and drabs. We said that a comprehensive bill should be brought in after the green paper process was completed and the government had issued its response. Yet we have seen seven bills on electoral matters before the House: the taxation laws amendment bill, two earlier iterations of the same bill before us today and four other electoral bills dealt with in July. At the core of the current bill is a cynical attempt to seek partisan gain under the guise of reform. The bill is a deliberate attempt to advantage the Labor Party and the Greens and to entrench that financial advantage. It will disadvantage permanently the coalition, the Independents and the smaller parties like Family First. So once again I say: we opposed the previous bills and we will continue to oppose this bill.
We are not opposed to electoral reform, nor do we disagree with a number of the points contained in this bill, but Labor promised comprehensive electoral funding reform following a response to the two electoral green papers. We have had no response. We have had nothing from Labor. Instead, Labor, having done a deal with the Greens, are again serving up this crusty old bill in the hope that we may now find it appetising. They have done so only because it was part of the cynical deal with the Greens to deliver power to the Gillard government. There is nothing new in this bill, and it is no more appealing than it was previously. At heart, this bill is fundamentally flawed, even though there are some positive suggestions such as the foreign donation ban, which is a legitimate thing to do. We note that it is far more likely to hurt the ALP and the Greens than it is the coalition, but no doubt they will find ways around it. The ban on anonymous donations is welcome, but we feel that setting the limit at $50 is unworkable, when the very decentralised nature of our major political parties will result in an inordinate increase in administrative costs for our parties. We believe that $250 would be a more reasonable figure.
We support prompt disclosure of donations, but we also note the horrendous administrative costs that have afflicted the political parties in New South Wales following the changes in that state. It is notable that both sides of state politics now acknowledge that twice-yearly, eight-week reporting time frames are problematic and that the Keneally government, with the agreement of the Greens, have moved to return to an annual disclosure regime. We do not object to the principle that election funding should not exceed election expenses, but we do question whether it is worth imposing the additional financial and administrative burden on Independents and small parties just to fix a problem that was once seen to have been created by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party. It is well to reflect that Pauline Hanson became our first political prisoner in that she was imprisoned for a strictly party political issue, where she was held not to have registered her party. That was eventually overturned.
Finally, we support stronger penalties for infringements of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, but in so doing we note the most egregious electoral abuses have been those committed by the Labor Party: the multiple cases of electoral fraud in Queensland which resulted in the Shepherdson inquiry, the Gino Mandarino fraudulent enrolment, the Christian Zahra fraudulent enrolment and the Wollongong City Council sex and bribery scandals. Why is there no strengthening of the penalty for falsely enrolling? Why is there no strengthening of the penalties for fraudulently voting? Why have we skimmed over these crimes, if you are serious about electoral reform?
So let us look at what real reform should look like. I am sure there will be a lot of talk by members opposite about the corrupting influence of big donations. Of course, there is not one instance at the federal level of politics, I believe, that you can point to that supports any such assertions. Let me make it very clear. I do not believe that there is a single member of the federal parliament who acts corruptly due to the influence of donations. I do not extend that to the New South Wales Labor government; that is a very different story which is indeed mired in corruption. But legislation for ethical behaviour will not make a corrupt person act ethically.
So what is this bill really about? It is about coercing coalition donors to stop donating to the coalition or to donate to the Labor Party as well. And we all know how it works. We know that companies which donated exclusively to the coalition are subject to pressure from Labor officials to provide balanced funding to the Labor Party or to face repercussions. And we know getting the balance right is one of those expressions that this Labor Party likes the most.