House debates

Tuesday, 16 October 2018


Electoral Legislation (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017; Report from Committee

5:26 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise as a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters to speak on the second advisory report on the Electoral Legislation (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017, which was tabled yesterday. The matters concerning electoral funding and disclosure have received much scrutiny in recent times—and, in my opinion, rightly so. I'd like to start by acknowledging the work of my fellow Labor colleagues Senator Ketter; Senator Brown; the member for Scullin, who is the deputy chair of the committee; and, in particular, Senator Don Farrell, who, as Labor's shadow special minister of state, has worked tirelessly with the committee to ensure that all views are heard and taken into consideration to ensure that we deliver the right outcome for the Australian people.

It is essential for a properly functioning democracy that donations to political parties are transparent and in line with community expectations. That is exactly what this committee has tried to do over the past months; however, it appears the Morrison government may be more interested in creating back doors for donors than ensuring our donation laws are a level playing field for all. This report is due to further amendments made by the government which were not a part of a bipartisan report which was agreed upon in April this year. I will say that very clearly: this report dealt with some significant foreign donations and reform that the parliament was very keen to deal with and, out of nowhere, without any consultation, any evidence or any advice to the committee—not once raised by the former chair, Senator Linda Reynolds, or any government member—the government dropped in new amendments. They did that without any consultation or any reference to what we were dealing with—completely unacceptable. It seems the Morrison government have since had a change of heart and have instead opted to try and, in my opinion, sneak in changes that would mean donors would gain immunity from state and territory laws prohibiting gifts and imposing obligations to disclose donations, provided there is a connection to federal election spending.

As my federal colleague and friend the member for Scullin noted in the dissenting report tabled yesterday, Labor members of the committee do not support, in particular, recommendation 10 of the report and are deeply concerned that it has been proposed by the government. There has been no explanation given by members of the government or by the chair, and I think it should be of great concern to even members of the government that these provisions have now come in. I would like some answers particularly on what the impact will be in Queensland. These recommendations are especially relevant to my home state of Queensland, and I will give the chamber a little bit of history regarding donation reforms in the Queensland context.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and the state Labor government have been at the forefront, leading the way in disclosing details about how and when political donations are made. The first bill the Palaszczuk government introduced into the parliament in 2015 decreased the donation disclosure threshold from $12,800 to $1,000, which mirrors Labor's federal policy to lower the disclosure threshold to a fixed $1,000, which has been violently opposed by members of the government.

This meant that my home state of Queensland now has some of the most progressive, open and transparent political donations laws in the country. Why was this necessary? I remind the chamber of the toxic dissenting years of the LNP Newman government, which wound back donation laws in Queensland, which was an article of faith for the LNP in Queensland. In fact, the LNP in Queensland are now challenging those laws in the courts, so I won't refer to those. Nonetheless, the LNP have a very poor track record when it comes to open and transparent political reform in Queensland.

But the amendments proposed by the federal government to the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill seek to circumvent these open and transparent state laws by ensuring that Commonwealth laws would not apply to money that is directed towards non-federal campaigns, including state, territory and local government campaigns, as noted in recommendation 10 of yesterday's tabled report. This recommendation would have a significant impact in the Queensland context, where the Liberal and National parties are represented as one entity.

As Labor members of the committee, we do not believe interference with state and territory laws, properly made, which have put in place caps on political donations and bans on particular donors, like property developers, is warranted. We note that some of these provisions potentially affected have been put in place on the recommendation of anticorruption commissions. Professor Tham, of the University of Melbourne, has supported this stance by stating in his submission to the committee that the amendments would undermine the states' ability to 'protect the integrity of representative government from the dangers of political money' and that there are serious problems with proposed sections.

Professor Graeme Orr, an electoral law expert at the University of Queensland, supported this by stating that the coalition had at the last minute included sections that would 'limit existing and future state and territory laws'. He went on further to say that 'this will reduce transparency, which is ironic because the whole point of this bill is it was supposed to be about increasing transparency'.

Once again, there are no explanations from the government. When I questioned the department about where this came from, who dreamt it up and why it was even in our report, when we had not been discussing this in any way, shape or form, there was silence—no explanation. So I'm glad there are members of the government here who will be speaking on this, who clearly are going to outline where this came from and why it was dumped in this. You've got to remember that this report has been going on for months and months. There has been no fanfare from the minister about why these amendments were put into place. There has been no explanation or media release by the relevant minister. The minister was quoted yesterday as saying that the provisions were intended and necessary to clarify the relationship between the federal and state laws. I believe that, on the contrary, these amendments will have quite the opposite effect. They will only create more confusion and complexities between federal and state laws, leading to donations falling between the cracks and ultimately being made behind closed doors.

In closing, I'd like to acknowledge and give my thanks and appreciation particularly to the charities, the non-profit sector and the interested and professional academics who gave evidence throughout this process. I want to say to them: your ongoing contributions to this important piece of legislation are vital and will help shape the future of political donations. Additionally, Labor remain committed to wide-ranging democratic reforms beyond those contained in this legislation, to restore trust in politics. We will continue to pursue the introduction of a national integrity commission and further donations reforms as priorities in line with community expectations. I thank members of the committee and the secretariat for their hard work to make sure that this report has now come so far. But in my opinion we still have more work to do in this important reform area.


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