House debates

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2010

Second Reading

7:30 pm

Photo of Mrs Bronwyn BishopMrs Bronwyn Bishop (Mackellar, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Seniors) Share this | Hansard source

If we are going to talk about television advertising, that is a pretty sorry tale, again, from the Labor Party’s point of view. Having first impugned the good reputation of the Auditor-General and then gone on to have someone inquire into him, and to then appoint the person who criticised him to the job that the Auditor-General formerly had, Mr Ludwig then, of course, exempted them from that decision and they simply spent the money anyway—and all ‘in the national interest’. My goodness gracious me! So I repeat: $76.6 million over three years. Direct payment to the ALP from unions amounted to just under $20 million during this period of time. But independent political campaigning by unions added a further $56.7 million to the left of politics through their overt support of either the ALP or the Greens.

So let us put it in perspective. I have been made aware of a leaked financial statement of the New South Wales branch of the AMWU from 2008. On page 3 of that document, under the heading ‘National Council Political Fund’, I note the following items: affiliation fees, $401,846—and I would hazard a guess it was not affiliated with the Liberal Party, the Greens, Family First or Independents; donations, $209,591—and I would also guess that this was not a donation to the Liberal Party, the Greens, Family First or Independents; election advertising, $8,120. This brings the total for one year of overt political expenditure to over $620,000. But the best is the last. There is a specific line item in these accounts which says, ‘Marginal Seat Campaign: $150,352.’ And that is just one branch of one union and the influence that comes their way.

Before the members on the other side and the crossbench get too high and mighty about the evils of corporate donations, let them first reflect on what the AMWU and every other union spends and what influence they get for that money. A list of the top 12 union donations to the ALP in 2007-08 is instructive: Simon Crean’s old union, Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, $1.5 million; Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, $1.3 million; Communications Electrical Plumbing Union, $1 million; Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union, $765,000; Electrical Trades Union, $674,000; Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, $650,000; Maritime Union of Australia, $581,000; Australian Workers Union, $568,000; Health Services Union, $366,000—we are into petty cash now!—the Transport Workers Union, $304,000; Australian Services Union, $244,000; and the National Union of Workers, $236,000. If you want to talk about big money in politics, there is no more powerful influence than trade unions.

What do the unions get for this simple largesse? Union leaders preside over ALP preselections. Union leaders sit on various administrative committees of the Labor Party. The overwhelming majority of Labor MPs are former union officials. I am aware that certain left-wing academics have tried to make the argument that, given the relationship between the unions and the ALP, unions should be granted some sort of special exemption in relation to funding and disclosure laws. I find this argument totally unconvincing. The old myth of the unions as somehow being representative bodies is disproved in both the general—only 17 per cent of workers are now union members—and the specific: official ALP figures show that few union members want anything to do with the Labor Party.

Yet the disproportionate position of the trade unions in the power structure of the Labor Party is worth noting. In New South Wales, for example—and these are ALP sourced figures; as I said, we are greatly indebted to Rodney Cavalier—there were 15,385 financial members of that branch of the ALP as at September 2009. Of these, 4,090 were employed or in receipt of an income but not a member of an affiliated union, 2,444 were members of affiliated unions, 8,400 were students, retired, on home duties, pensioners or unemployed, and 451 were life members. Yet, in delegateships to the ALP annual conference, affiliated unions made up 427 voting members and the party members made up 426. Unions also retain their 50 per cent share of the vote on selection committees. But the key statistic is that New South Wales ALP members who were members of affiliated unions totalled fewer than 2,500 people. That is 0.6 per cent of the total 384,000 affiliated union members in New South Wales. Thus, 99.4 per cent of members of affiliated unions in New South Wales who have actively chosen not to join the Labor Party are still financing political ambitions for the 0.6 per cent who have.

We are opposing this bill, but we are still advocating reform. There are a whole range of other matters which have been left on the backburner and need to be part of a comprehensive approach. In this legislation, is there any mention of donation caps? No. Any mention of expenditure caps? No. Any mention of donation and expenditure caps on third parties? No. Rather, the bill is deathly silent on the intervention of so-called third parties such as GetUp!, Greenpeace, the Wilderness Society, the WWF and the like. We all know who they support, and it is not this side of politics. This bill will return power to faceless men who give secret donations to seemingly innocuous front organisations.

Over the last weekend we saw confirmation that GetUp! received a secret donation of more than $1 million from the CFMEU construction division.


No comments