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

That is right. This is the same GetUp! which previously lectured us about the so-called corrupting influences of big money. The hypocrisy of GetUp! is breathtaking. They rail against union donations yet they are happy to take them. It reminds me of the old Augustine plea: ‘Oh, Lord, make me pure, but not just yet.’ In the final stages of the 2010 election campaign they happily took a secret donation to run an overtly partisan ad which personally attacked Tony Abbott. Surely this evidence puts the final nail in the coffin for GetUp!’s claims of nonpartisanship. GetUp! is simply a pro-Labor front.

GetUp! claims to have over 370,000 members, but what do these figures represent? You just have to click on a button on their webpage in support of any one of their many campaigns and—whammo!—you are claimed as a member of GetUp! Yet, if you take a serious look at the documentation which shows the constitution of GetUp! Ltd, it shows that to get to be a member with any voting rights is extraordinarily difficult. It sets out the requirements that you have to meet to be a director. They include ‘individual with significant credibility and experience in the union movement or industrial field’. You have to be ‘significantly credible and experienced in the Australian environmental movement’. And they like you to be ‘credible with the Australian media or business’. In other words, the connection between the union movement, Labor and GetUp! is very strong. If we go back in the history of it we will see that one of the previous directors of the company was none other than William Shorten, who then lived at Laura St, Moonee Ponds. He has moved. These recent revelations tell you all you need to know—that it is a front organisation for big leftist money.

GetUp! originated with seed funding from the socialist millionaire and pro-Labor supporter Evan Thornley. According to its own figures, the top 22 donors in GetUp! accounted for almost $2 million or a quarter of GetUp’s total funding in the year to September 2010, including another $50,000 of trade union money from the CPSU. If this bill passes you can expect to see a proliferation of third-party organisations funded and controlled by faceless men. Just imagine a future where the political debate in this country is controlled not by your elected members and senators but by the faceless men such as the self-outed Paul Howes.

There is another loophole in this bill which will work in favour of third parties: overseas donations. Under this bill third parties like GetUp! will still be able to get foreign donations provided that the main purpose of the gift is not for political expenditure. This is a farce—the money is completely fungible. An unscrupulous foreign donor simply has to pretend that their donation is for administrative purposes, freeing up money collected locally for political expenditure. Contrast this with the provisions which apply to political parties a blanket ban on foreign receipts for any purpose. This is a massive loophole. It is another reason why this bill needs to be rejected and the government must return to the drawing board. We need to be presented with a bill which addresses all issues raised in the green papers, not just those which favour Labor and the Greens.

There is nothing in this bill which could be considered reform in any sense of the word. Labor’s decision to pick and choose the electoral reform it wants conjured deep suspicion in 2008 and 2009 and even more in 2010, with the colluding of the Greens in relation to this bill. In my home state of New South Wales we have seen the Greens enter into a devilish pact with state Labor to pass Labor’s deeply flawed electoral bill. Yet when Mr O’Farrell promised even more strident laws, the sorts of laws which the Greens have supposedly been pushing for some time, we found the Greens have colluded with the ALP, to their joint advantage and to the disadvantage of the opposition. Some may be loath to impute bad motives, but what explanation other than rank self-interest makes any sense? We all know that Mr Bandt received substantial union funding to help him win the seat of Melbourne.

In response to the New South Wales bill, the New South Wales Greens said, ‘The laws before parliament are far from perfect and the limits are too small, but taken as a whole it is a step forward.’ The unions of course will be able to donate over a million dollars each, and there are 22 of them affiliated in New South Wales. That is a $22 million war chest for starters. The Greens say that they will have to work with the next government to improve the electoral laws and close loopholes. Isn’t it interesting, however, to see how pragmatic the Greens can become when it is a matter for which they gain a direct pecuniary interest? There is no taking the moral high ground or standing true to one’s principles on this issue by the Greens. Surely the Greens are not hiding behind insincere rhetoric to obscure their new-found funding windfall from certain disaffected sections of the trade union movement. Indeed, a cynical person might be tempted to believe that the legislative rush for this current bill was simply an attempt by Labor and the Greens to entrench a financial advantage for themselves before the next election and to set the coalition, Independents and minor parties at respective disadvantage.

Two and a half years ago we were willing to take Labor at their word on a promise that a comprehensive reform bill based on the outcome of the green paper process would be dealt with by the parliament before an election was called, but it never came; it simply never came. Instead this bill—this zombie bill, twice killed by the parliament already—is disinterred by Labor and the Greens and seeks to walk among us like the living dead. We will not support the bill, and I am surprised that the Special Minister of State, who is sitting opposite me at the table, wrote on 8 April 2009 to some of his donors saying:

Many of my friends and supporters were very generous in their campaign donations in 2007 and took advantage of the fact that donations of up to $10,500 did not have to be declared. Currently contributions under $10,900 are below the donation disclosure threshold and do not need to be declared to the Australian Electoral Commission.

Nice one!

But we will work with government. We will not be railroaded. The bill is a cynical attempt to hit the conservative side of politics and legislate a permanent financial advantage for Labor and the Greens. If this bill passes, we will condemn our country to a future where real political debate will be hijacked by third parties. If this bill passes, elected representatives will become the puppets of faceless men who control the union purse strings and can dish out patronage at their whim. This bill deserves to be defeated. The opposition will indeed be opposing it.


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