Thursday, 29 October 2020
Electoral Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading
This bill won't get media attention, but it should. I always say to my community, 'Pay careful attention to legislation when both the majors are pushing it through, and you have one person speaking from each side and you have the entire crossbench'—well, virtually the entire crossbench; all those who are present, including the member for Melbourne—'against it.'
This bill, the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2020, will make donations easier for developers and big donors who may be restricted by individual states' donation laws. We have a system in Australia where most states have tighter donation laws than those at the federal level, and you see here a piece of legislation that is going to weaken that for some of those states. The majors have come together, saying, 'Let's get this through. We've got to get this through. This is important. It's going to make it easier for those big donors, easier for those developers. They're going to be able to go to expensive events and make donations at those state events, and it's going to go to the federal parties, because that's okay.' It actually makes a mockery of the work that many state legislators have done to rein in political donations and try to improve their standing in the community. There are lower disclosure rates in those states, but, of course, federally you can have someone donate $14,300 before anyone in Australia is any the wiser. You can have a family of five donate $70,000 at some glitzy affair, and nobody knows. Nobody knows, because it goes to the federal party.
The member for Clark mentioned money that Crown casino has generously donated to the major parties over recent years. I think $1.7 million is about the tally, if you have a look at the Australian Electoral Commission information. A member in here came up to me after we'd been talking about this, and he said, 'That's not a lot of money.' Who are we kidding in here? The Australian community does not want to see unions and big corporations give over millions of dollars to political parties.
In 2018, a report by the Museum of Australian Democracy found that trust in democracy was on the decline, with satisfaction in democracy having more than halved in a decade, and trust in key institutions and social leaders eroding. When the public has lost trust in politicians, when that is at an all-time low, political donation reform is one way that we can very easily restore trust in this place. What do we see? We don't see legislation to lower the threshold coming to this place, we don't see legislation to put in place a cap and we don't even see legislation for real-time disclosure; what we see is legislation to make it easier for shovelfuls of money to go into the major political parties.
We should be following Canada's rules. In Canada, no man, woman or child can donate more than Can$1,600 to a political party or, indeed, to an independent candidate. They don't accept money from the corporations— corporations can't donate. They don't accept money from unions. That's the kind of transparency, the kind of trust, the kind of system that we need to look at. Also, if a donation over $200 has been received the candidate needs to disclose it. In Canada they manage to run that quite effectively, yet here we don't seem to move. In fact if we do move, we move in the wrong direction. As I said, we can't even get a bill up in here to lower the threshold to a thousand dollars.
We need to get money out of this place, not create more loopholes that mean even more money flows from the big donors. If we in this place—all of us, individually and collectively—truly believe we want to improve the trust the Australian community has in us, we need to get money out of this place, not bring more in.