Thursday, 11 May 2006
Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005
Consideration in Detail
Consideration resumed from 10 May.
Following on from some of the debate last night with respect to these particular amendments, which relate to the eligibility of prisoners to be able to cast a vote, and also the question of the closure of the electoral roll at the time of the issuing of the writs, I want to put on record our position on the issue of prisoner voting. Labor do not support the amendment proposed by the government, but we support the amendment proposed by the member for Calare. We believe the current arrangement, whereby prisoners serving a full-time sentence of three years or less retain the right to vote in federal elections, is adequate for the simple reason that, as these people may well re-enter society during a government’s term, they should have their democratic say in who will be in government at that time. We believe this is a logical approach and a far better one than the one proposed by the government. I note the Special Minister of State trotted out a number of examples which, allegedly, we are in line with by going down this particular track. There is also, as he knows, a range of other examples which are, in fact, contrary to that. It is a situation designed for a political outcome, just as this legislation’s entire basis has been from the very beginning. What we have seen with this legislation, as others have said, is an attempt to bring into place, because of the circumstances in the Senate, an agenda that this government has had for quite some time with regard to a range of issues.
I want to continue on from the question of the closure of the electoral roll and to pick up on a couple of points again that the Special Minister of State at the table made yesterday in response to the second reading debate. He gave a rather detailed, analytical series of figures—for a minute there I thought I was listening to Brendan Nelson—regarding the issue of enrolments and changes to enrolments et cetera. I do not accept all of his figures, as much as I have a good deal of respect for the minister, but the fact of the matter is that, even if we just go off his own figures, ‘the number of electors then that may have been affected under the proposed arrangements is close to 47,000’. That is 47,000 Australians, which is about half a federal electorate. That is the figure we are talking about here, if we accept the position of the minister and the government. They are happy to create a situation where the odds are that they will knock out half a federal electorate by these changes on the basis of concerns about what might happen but which the previous minister has said has not happened and that is any question of large-scale fraud.
My recollection is that only one group outside the government came forth to the Senate inquiry to defend the position of the government on some of these issues. That was that well-known expert on electoral matters, the Festival of Light. Let the light shine on them when it comes to their actually assisting a government to move down to a system which is less democratic. For that, they stand condemned.
A couple of other points I would like to make on the closure of the roll issue go beyond the question of some of the figures that the minister produced last night. I reiterate that numerous experts have made the point that young people will be seriously disadvantaged by these changes. The minister in his speech does not really refute that. He merely makes the point that it is not politically motivated because the electoral studies show that a significant percentage of young people—in fact, 41 per cent or so according to the study—actually voted for the conservatives. Again, this is legislation designed to ensure that when the coalition is not going so well it has that little bit of extra fuel in the tank to get over the line. Let us be really clear about that. In normal circumstances that same study shows that young people do not support the coalition, and have not supported the coalition historically, and that is why they have in this place.
Yesterday I quoted on a number of occasions Professor Brian Costar with regard to this issue. He makes a point on the need to involve young people. We have a problem, and it is not just an Australian problem but a problem internationally, of engagement in electoral systems—engagement in the politics of the day. That is particularly an issue for young people. If we move to a situation where we make it even more difficult for young people to be involved, it is going to create additional problems for the system. Professor Costar said:
Good reasons would need to be adduced to justify the denial of the vote to such a larger cohort of citizens; especially the new enrolees, most of whom would be young people, who need encouragement to become civically engaged.
The government does oppose these amendments to the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005 as outlined in the debate yesterday. I think it appropriate that I make a few additional comments, given some of the comments made by the member for Bruce and the member for Banks yesterday particularly in relation to young people. The member for Bruce just said that I did not refute the fact that young people might be disenfranchised. I did not say that at all. I certainly pointed out the facts and most of the facts that he seems to question come straight from the Australian Electoral Commission. But be that as it may.
I thought it would be appropriate to indicate that. The member for Banks seemed to be suggesting that young people are not engaged in the political process. I thought the House should understand what is happening in engaging young people in the political process. The AEC’s divisional returning officers and other staff in the divisions conduct educational activities for primary, secondary and tertiary students upon request. The sessions cover subjects such as levels of government, voting procedures, elections and enrolment. The School and Community Visits Program also targets specific audiences, including new citizens and Indigenous and non-English-speaking groups. The AEC provides professional development workshops for teachers as well as resources on electoral matters.
There are four electoral education centres—at Old Parliament House here in Canberra, in Melbourne, in Adelaide and in Perth. These centres are visited by thousands of students every year for education sessions. These include information on the history of voting, details on voting in Australia and conducting mock elections. The divisional officers have had 59,261 participants in their workshops to date in 2005-06, and there were 84,911 in 2004-05. In 2004-05 the electoral education centres had 108,493 students and accompanying adults participate in over 2,857 sessions. Information available for sessions conducted so far in 2005-06 at the Adelaide, Canberra and Melbourne centres is that 55,290 people participated in 1,661 sessions. The Electoral Commission is doing huge things to engage young people, and it is progressing to having them on the roll because young people get on the roll when they are at school. More and more students stay at school through to year 12. They get on the roll when they are 17, so they are automatically on the roll for voting purposes the day they turn 18 without their doing anything. It is interesting that at the close of the roll on 7 September 2004, before the last election, there were 65,139 provisionally enrolled 17-year-olds. Of the 65,139 provisionally enrolled 17-year-olds at the close of the roll, 13,803 turned 18 on or before 9 October 2004, so they automatically went on the roll. So much for the so-called disenfranchising that the Labor Party and others claim is happening.
It is also interesting to look at the figures of young people in the days leading up to the election. Like the facts that I gave yesterday, no matter whether you know the election is happening a week ahead, 10 days ahead or four years ahead—the states have fixed dates, so you know four years ahead—the bulk of the people getting on the roll towards election day get on in the last two days. No matter whether the election is 10 days, 20 days or four years ahead, the bulk of people do it in the last couple of days. There is a lot of speculation and a lot of advertising about elections and people leave it until the last minute. It does not matter if you close the roll well before or not, there will still be that rush and this bill allows people more than those couple of days to be able to get on the roll.
This is contrary to what the member for the Northern Territory, who did not understand the bill, said. He said that the roll was going to be closed on the day the election was called. That is not what is in the bill. The roll will be closed on the day the writs are issued. The writs are issued often several days after the announcement of the election. For young people, it is the same thing. The bulk of them enrol in the last two days. Something like 70 per cent of what goes on in the last week happens in the last couple of days. We continue to oppose these amendments. (Time expired)
I want to pick up on a couple of points the Special Minister of State just made. He quoted a range of figures and details with respect to actions of the AEC. I suggest he goes back to the AEC web site and has a look at the Youth electoral study, an AEC publication, and at what that says about the involvement of young people in the electoral process and how they feel about the nature of their place in the political system in this country. I will give him a couple of quotes from that report just in case he does not have time to read it—I know he is a busy man. A key point is:
Young people don’t understand the voting system.
In addition, the report asserts:
Young people do not perceive themselves generally as well prepared to participate in voting.
If he goes to that report, he will find a range of other points. One of the reasons the AEC is involved in education of the voting system, which I support wholeheartedly, is that there is a problem. That is why they are doing it—because it needs to be done—and the response of this government is to set up a situation where it becomes harder for those people to be part of the process.
The minister makes the point that a lot of people change their enrolment details late. Yes, that is true, because it is one of those things which people do when they feel they have to do it. The nature of having to do something like enrol, or ensure your enrolment is up to date, relates to the question of when you have to vote and when the roll closes. If you take time off that, people will miss out. The minister uses terms like ‘the bulk’. He is right about that—the bulk of people will be okay—but there will be a sizeable component who will not be. The further you close down those time lines the greater that number will be.
He makes the point that it does not even matter whether you have a fixed-term government there is still a late rush. There is, but with fixed terms there is a long period of time beforehand when you know when the election is going to be and you know when the roll will cut out, and your electoral system can adjust accordingly. You can through your electoral bodies advertise to ensure people are aware. You can ensure through newspapers, television and radio that people know the date and know they have to do it. But in these situations we are relying on the fact that the AEC is going to come up with a whiz-bang campaign. I would like the minister to point out to me where in the budget papers it shows this massive increase in funding for the AEC to provide for advertising campaigns to ensure that the electorate is aware, once the election is called, that the roll will close within a matter of days. I would like him to show me where that massive increase is in the AEC’s budget, because I could not find it. I challenge the minister to show us where that massive increase is in the AEC budget that will provide the information to ensure that people are aware that the roll is closing.
There is another point with respect to that. You can have a campaign ready to go, but you cannot go with that campaign until you are fairly confident that the election will be called. If the term is a three-year term, as we have, in normal circumstances once you get up to about two years and nine months you would say, ‘It’s not far off, you better start advertising.’ Of course, you still would not have the date. Let us have a look at the nature of election timing in this country. In recent times we have had a couple of governments that have run three years, but history indicates that not to be the case and that many elections are called early. This Prime Minister called the 1998, the 2001 and the 2004 elections. They are the three elections that he as Prime Minister has had responsibility for setting the dates. One of those was massively early; two were on time. So his record so far is one in three. That record would not have allowed—there is no way known—the AEC setting up an enrolment campaign 12 months out from an election due to be called. So it would not have worked in those circumstances.
Is the minister right that people overwhelmingly do these things late? Yes. It is like everything else. When do you tend to pay your bankcard bill? You tend to pay it close to the date when it is due. When do you pay other bills? You tend to pay them—or I do—close to when they are due because essentially that is when you have to do it. But, under this system, people will have less time to be sure about what is going on. Again, it is not just my opinion on this. (Time expired)
I raise a couple of points in this consideration in detail debate on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005. The member for Bruce commented a moment ago about elections being called at particular times. One thing that may well alleviate that problem would be to move to fixed terms in the federal parliament. I was involved in the early nineties in a hung parliament in New South Wales and the Independents in that parliament were instrumental in putting in place a four-year fixed term within the New South Wales jurisdiction. I do not think anybody on either side of the New South Wales parliament—it was a Liberal government in power at the time—would now argue that they revert to the old system. It addressed the uncertainty that the member for Bruce talked about of when an election could be held and a whole range of administrative problems with the Electoral Commission and people knowing when things are happening.
The Special Minister of State spoke earlier about young people. Minister, one of the problems that young people whom I am in contact with have with the political process is that they see failing transparency in the way in which particularly the executive of government is run. This bill adds to that problem, in my view. Donations will be able to be hidden away in various associated entities and other bodies. The transparency of the donation process in particular will be much greyer, and I think that disillusions people who would like to engage in the political process. They really need to know who is paying the piper in terms of political donations.
My main purpose for rising at this stage of the debate is to put on the public record that I will not be supporting two of the amendments that the member for Calare has moved. It is a shame that they are bulked together. I do not believe that prisoners—people who have broken the law and are incarcerated—deserve the vote, but I place on the public record that I do support the seven-day rule that the member for Calare is arguing for. Arguments have been put in the last 10 minutes that actually support that, including an argument from the minister when he said that it is within the last few days that people become aware and then register. His argument is that, if you make it any two days, they will do it in the last few days. I think the seven-day rule deserves support—I know it will be defeated here—but I do feel strongly about the two issues, the prisoner issue and the seven-day rule, being bracketed together and I will not be supporting the member for Calare.
Original question put:
That the amendments (Mr Andren’s) be agreed to.
by leave—I move amendments (20), (21) and (23) to (59) together:
(20) Schedule 1, after item 61, page 17 (after line 27), insert:
61A Section 211
Repeal the section, substitute:
211 Indication of preferences
In elections for the Senate, squares for the indication of preferences on each ballot paper shall appear only alongside the names of individual candidates.
(21) Schedule 1, after item 61, page 17 (after line 27) insert:
61B Section 211A
Repeal the section.
(23) Schedule 1, after item 72, page 19 (after line 26) insert:
72A Subsections 239(1),(2) and (3)
Repeal the subsections, substitute:
(1) In a Senate election a person:
(a) shall mark their vote on the ballot paper by placing consecutive whole numbers starting at ‘1’ in the number of candidate squares equal to the number of candidates to be elected so as to indicate preferences; and
(b) may place further consecutive whole numbers in additional candidate squares so as to indicate additional preferences.
(24) Schedule 1, after item 72, page 19 (after line 26) insert:
72B Subsection 268(1)
Repeal the subsection, substitute:
(1) A ballot paper shall be informal if
(a) subject to subsection (2), it is not authenticated by the initials of the presiding officer or by the presence of the official mark;
(b) in a Senate election, it has no vote indicated on it, or it does not indicate the voter’s first preference for 1 candidate;
(c) in a Senate election:
(i) if a ballot paper contains 2 or more squares in which the same number is written or marked — the numbers and any higher numbers written or marked in other squares are to be disregarded; and
(ii) if there is a break in the order of the preferences indicated in writing or marks in the squares on a ballot paper — any preference after the break is to be disregarded
(d) it has upon it any mark or writing (not authorized by this Act or the regulations to be put upon it) by which, in the opinion of the Divisional Returning Officer, the voter can be identified:
(e) it has upon it any mark or writing (not authorized by this Act or the regulations to be put upon it) by which, in the opinion of the Divisional Returning Officer, the voter can be identified:
Provided that paragraph (e) shall not apply to any mark or writing placed upon the ballot-paper by an officer, notwithstanding that the placing of the mark or writing upon the ballot-paper is a contravention of this Act; or
(f) in the case of an absent vote — the ballot-paper is not contained in an envelope bearing a declaration made by the elector under subsection 222(1).
(25) Schedule 1, after item 72, page 19 (after line 26) insert:
72C Section 269
Repeal the section.
(26) Schedule 1, after item 72, page 19 (after line 26) insert:
72D Section 270
Repeal the section.
(27) Schedule 1, after item 72, page 19 (after line 26) insert:
72E Section 272
Repeal the section.
(28) Schedule 1, after item 72, page 19 (after line 26) insert:
72F Paragraph 273(5)(c)
Repeal the paragraph, substitute
(c) arrange the unrejected ballot-papers so scrutinized, together with the ballot-papers scrutinized pursuant to subsections (3) and (4), under the names of the respective candidates by placing in one parcel under the name of each candidate all the ballot-papers on which a first preference is indicated for that candidate;
(29) Schedule 1, after item 72, page 19 (after line 26) insert:
72G Subparagraph 273(5)(d)(i)
Repeal sub-sub paragraphs (A) and (B)
(30) Schedule 1, after item 72, page 19 (after line 26) insert:
72H Paragraph 273(5)(f)
Omit ‘marked otherwise than in accordance with subsection 239(2)’.
(31) Schedule 1, after item 72, page 19 (after line 26) insert:
72I Paragraph 273A(3)(a)
Repeal the paragraph.
(32) Schedule 1, after item 72, page 19 (after line 26) insert:
72J Subparagraph 273A(3)(c)(i)
Repeal the subparagraph.
(33) Schedule 1`, after item 72, page 19 (after line 26) insert:
72K Subparagraph 273A(3)(f)(i)
Repeal the subparagraph
(34) Schedule 1, after item 72, page 19 (after line 26) insert:
72L Subsection 273A(10)
Repeal the subsection
(35) Schedule 1, after item 72, page 19 (after line 26) insert:
72M Subsection 282(4)
Repeal the subsection.
(36) Schedule 1, item 75, page 20 (lines 13-14) omit the item.
(37) Schedule 1, page 20, after item 77 (after line21) insert:
77A After section 294
294A Payment not to exceed funding cap
(1) Subject to subsection (2), the sum of money payable for each first preference vote given for a candidate in a House of Representatives election or a Senate election must not exceed $50 000.
(2) If an electorate for the House of Representatives falls within the category of the largest electorates as determined by the Remuneration Tribunal in its most recent review before an election, the sum of money payable for each first preference vote given for a candidate in an election for the electorate must not exceed $72 500.
(38) Schedule 1, after item 77, page 20 (after line 21), insert:
77B After Division 3 of Part XX
Division 3A Limitation of electoral expenditure
(1) In this Division
electoral expenditure in relation to an election, means all expenses incurred by or on behalf of a candidate, and gifts or donations received by or on behalf of the candidate in connection with the election and includes expenditure incurred and gifts or donations received in connection with the election (whether or not incurred during the election period) on:
(a) the broadcasting, during the election period, of an advertisement relating to the election; or
(b) the publishing on the Internet or in a journal, during the election period, of an advertisement relating to the election; or
(c) the display, during the election period, at a theatre or other place of entertainment, of an advertisement relating to the election; or
(d) the production of an advertisement relating to the election, being an advertisement that is broadcast, published or displayed as mentioned in paragraph (a), (b) or (c); or
(e) the production of any material (not being material referred to in paragraph(a), (b) or (c)) that is required under section 328 or 332 to include the name and address of the author of the material or of the person authorizing the material and that is used during the election period; or
(f) the production and distribution of electoral matter that is addressed to particular persons or organisations and is distributed during the election period; or
(g) the carrying out, during the election period, of an opinion poll, or other research, relating to the election.
candidature includes the actions in connection with a candidate’s attempts to be elected as a Senator or as a Member of the House of Representatives.
(2) For the purposes of this Division, electoral expenditure incurred by or with the authority of a candidate shall be deemed to have been incurred by that candidate.
302B Limitation of electoral expenditure
Subject to sections 302C and 302F, a candidate must not, in respect of any candidature, incur or authorise electoral expenditure exceeding in the aggregate $50,000.
Note: The dollar amount mentioned in this section is indexed under section 302F.
302C Larger electorates
If an electorate for the House of Representatives falls within the category of the largest electorates as determined by the Remuneration Tribunal in its most recent review before an election, the limitation on electoral expenditure is $72,500.
Note: The dollar amount mentioned in this section is indexed under section 302F.
302D Expenditure on behalf of candidates
Any person incurring or authorising any electoral expenditure on behalf of a candidate without the written authority of the candidate shall be guilty of a contravention of this Act.
302E Returns of electoral expenditure
(1) Within 15 weeks after the polling day in an election every candidate at the election shall sign and provide to the Electoral Commission a return of the electoral expenditure incurred or authorised by the candidate showing
(a) all electoral expenditure paid, and
(b) any disputed and unpaid claims for electoral expenditure, and
(c) the names of persons or organisations who have made gifts or donations to the candidate in connection with the election, and the details of the gifts or donations received.
(2) The return must be in accordance with a form set out in the regulations.
(3) The Electoral Commission must ensure that returns or certified copies of returns are available for public inspection at an office of the Electoral Commission for a period of 6 months after they have been received by the Commission.
302F Indexation of amounts
(1) This section applies to the dollar amounts mentioned in sections 302B and 302C.
(2) The dollar amount mentioned in the provision, for an indexation year whose indexation factor is greater than 1, is replaced by the amount worked out using the following formula (rounded to the nearest $100):
(3) The dollar amount mentioned in the provision for an indexation year is not replaced in respect of a disclosure period in relation to an election if the indexation year begins between the issue of the writ for the election and the polling day for the election.
(4) The indexation factor for an indexation year is the number worked out using the following formula:
(5) The indexation factor is to be calculated to 3 decimal places, but increased by .001 if the fourth decimal place is more than 4.
(6) Calculations under subsection (4):
(a) are to be made using only the March index numbers published in terms of the most recently published reference base for the Consumer Price Index; and
(b) are to be made disregarding March index numbers that are published in substitution for previously published March index numbers (except where the substituted numbers are published to take account of changes in the reference base).
(7) In this section:
indexation year means the financial year commencing on 1 July 2006, and each subsequent financial year.
March index number means the All Groups Consumer Price Index number, being the weighted average of the 8 capital cities, published by the Australian Statistician in respect of the 3 months ending on 31 March.
(39) Schedule 1, item 79, page 20 (line 33), omit ‘$10,000’, substitute ‘$200’
(40) Schedule 1, item 79, page 21 (line 18), omit ‘$10,000’, substitute ‘$200’.
(41) Schedule 1, item 79, page 21 (line 32), omit ‘$10,000’, substitute ‘$200’
(42) Schedule 1, item 82, page 22 (lines 16-17), omit the item.
(43) Schedule 1, item 84, page 23 (line 14), omit “$10,000” substitute “$200”.
(44) Schedule 1, item 84, page 24 (line 5), omit “$10,000”, substitute “$200”.
(45) Schedule 1, item 84, page 24 (line 17), omit “$10,000”, substitute “$200”.
(46) Schedule 1, item 128, page 35 (lines 12-13), omit the item.
(47) Schedule 1, item 130, page 36 (lines 13-14), omit the item.
(48) Schedule 2, item 1, page 38 (lines 5 and 6), omit the item.
(49) Schedule 2, item 2, page 38 (lines 7 and 8), omit item.
(50) Schedule 2, item 4, page 38 (lines 13 and 14), omit item.
(51) Schedule 2, item 5, page 38 (lines 15 and 16), omit item.
(52) Schedule 2, item 7, page 38 (lines 21-2), omit item.
(53) Schedule 2, item 9, page 38 (lines 27-28), omit item.
(54) Schedule 2, item 10, page 39 (lines 1-2), omit item.
(55) Schedule 2, item 12, page 39 (line 16), omit “$10,000”, substitute “$200”.
(56) Schedule 2, item 12, page 39 (line 33), omit “$10,000”, substitute “$200”.
(57) Schedule 2, item 13, page 40 (lines 9-10), omit item.
(58) Schedule 2, item 15, page 40 (lines 15-16), omit item.
(59) Schedule 2, item 17, page 40 (lines 21-22), omit item.
The remainder of my amendments focus on improving the integrity of our electoral system and removing the contradiction inherent in the title of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005, given its outrageous provisions. Amendments (20), (21) and (23) to (35) improve the transparency of the Senate voting system by re-empowering the voter by putting control of their preferences back into their hands by removing above-the-line voting and installing a partial preferential system of voting for Senate candidates.
I have proposed that, with the removal of the option to vote above the line, all Senate candidates are listed individually but the voter need only mark preferences for the candidates equal to the number of vacant Senate seats for a formal Senate vote. In the case of a half-Senate election, this will be six preferences for a formal vote. If the voter wants to indicate additional preferences, they may do so without invalidating their vote. The voter retains control of their preferences, and the disincentive of being compelled to vote for 73 candidates, as was the case in the 2004 election in New South Wales, is removed. The AEC’s figures confirm that the large fields of candidates in Senate elections are a disincentive for voters to direct their own preferences, with 96 per cent of voters voting above the line at the 2004 election. Using this system for electing the Senate will eliminate behind the scenes preference deals between parties and groups running above the line, which allows the harvesting of preferences to deliver seats to candidates with extremely low primary votes.
We have heard a lot in recent times and as recently as late yesterday about transparency, accountability and the disenchantment of people with the voting system. One of the primary causes of that disenchantment is a Senate voting process that most Australians do not understand. I believe that, after the last election, they were absolutely dismayed at the direction in which preferences that they did not allocate but that were allocated on their behalf flowed and finished up. The obvious example is that of the Family First candidate’s election with just over two per cent of the primary vote. Preference voting above the line would have been at least an interim reform on the way to the fairer system I propose here, but that of course was rejected by the government because it had a hint of voter free choice about it—so much for integrity.
Amendment (37) inserts a new section, 294A, which imposes a cap on election campaign expenditure by or on behalf of a candidate for the House of Representatives or the Senate. This cap is set at $50,000 and will be indexed to the CPI. Consideration is given to larger electorates as determined by the Remuneration Tribunal in regard to the entitlements of office. These electorates will have a cap of $72,500. The Commonwealth Electoral Act did contain a campaign expenditure limit for individual candidates, which was repealed in 1980, ostensibly because spending by others—that is, political parties and other third party organisations—made the cap irrelevant.
My amendments include all expenditure in relation to a candidate’s campaign, regardless of who is spending the money. I must direct the attention of members of this House to overseas examples of the imposition of a spending cap, which is very basic to achieving a level playing field for all those who may wish to run for public office. All expenditure must be authorised under these amendments by the candidate—again, regardless of where the money is coming from—and it must be disclosed in election returns, with penalties for any contraventions.
Amendment (36) complements this cap. The public funding a candidate receives for their share of first preference votes will also be capped at $50,000 and at $72,500 for larger electorates to further discourage candidates from disregarding the campaign cap and avoid profiteering from elections. Not only will these amendments level the field for all candidates, party endorsed or not, but they will also halt the great waste of money, public and private, on election campaigns that is heading towards a US scenario where you are not even a starter without a multimillion dollar campaign fund, and the end result is heading towards the very best democracy money can buy.
Finally, my amendments (38) to (59) remove this government’s flagrant attempt to improve their fundraising capacity by increasing the disclosure threshold from its current $1,500 to $10,000. The then Special Minister of State, Senator Abetz, believed that with this new disclosure limit 80 per cent of donations will still be disclosed. (Extension of time granted). This, however, is only 80 per cent of those receipts described as donations by political parties, which is far from their total income. If 80 per cent of donations are above $10,000, it proves my point that fundraising is getting way out of hand and is way beyond the capacity of the ordinary would-be member of parliament trying to run as an Independent or with a smaller party or group, if that be the case.
The massive increase proposed in this bill will simply make it easier for individuals and organisations to contribute more money without having to tell anyone. Pure and simple, it means influence can be bought without anyone ever knowing, and it conveniently squeezes smaller parties and individual candidates out of the equation. Electoral integrity—what rot! Disclosure is not about convenience to donors or those that receive donations; it should be about transparency. It is essential for voters to be able to determine who a candidate represents—their constituents or their donors. My amendments install a disclosure threshold of $200 on political donations to help achieve this aim. I commend them to the House, knowing what their outcome will be.
The government will oppose all of these amendments to the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005. Amendments (20), (21) and (23) to (35) would repeal several sections of the Electoral Act, including section 211 and others, which would remove the capacity to allow group voting tickets. This would mean a return to pre-1983 style voting, with no above-the-line or below-the-line voting. The government is considering the recommendation for compulsory preferential above-the-line voting in Senate elections which was made by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in its report on the 2004 federal election. The committee also recommended that the option of compulsory preferential below-the-line voting be retained. Consideration of these amendments would pre-empt the government’s response to the joint standing committee’s recommendations.
Amendment (37) appears to contradict the original objective of the scheme, which sought to provide public funding to cover the costs of contesting an election and to reduce the need for parties and candidates to rely on donations to participate in elections. Amendment (38) is likely to increase the administrative burden on candidates and parties. Sections 304 and 309 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act currently place a disclosure obligation on candidates and allow endorsed candidates to submit a nil return as their donations and expenditure are disclosed in the party’s annual return. This amendment would impose a second disclosure obligation on candidates so that candidates would effectively have to lodge two disclosure returns for a single disclosure period. The disclosure returns would largely report the same expenditure except that the proposed amendment does not contain a disclosure threshold.
The requirement that all expenditure on behalf of, or gifts or donations to, a candidate must be with the written authority of the candidate may place a cumbersome administrative burden on both candidates and donors. The requirement may also result in fewer gifts being made directly to candidates if donors are unable to acquire written authority in advance to make a gift. Much electoral expenditure—for example, advertising—is undertaken by a party as a whole or by campaign committees and benefits more than one candidate. This amendment would place an administrative burden on candidates and parties to apportion expenditure to individual candidates and ensure written authority from all affected candidates. The proposed amendment would also reduce transparency as returns would only be required to be publicly available for a period of six months after being received by the Australian Electoral Commission. There is no limit on the public availability of candidate returns under the existing section 304.
We oppose amendments (39) to (41) and (43) to (45). Similarly, we oppose amendments (42), (46) and (47). The government considers that the current provisions place an unnecessary administrative burden on publishing and broadcasting businesses. Expenditure on electoral advertising is already disclosed by individuals and organisations that authorise the advertisements, as required by other provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. The government obviously does not support amendments (48), (50) and (63). It considers that the proposed threshold is appropriate on the basis that the current threshold was too low when it was originally set and has since been eroded by inflation. The government is of the view that the support and contribution of political parties is critical to the health of Australian democracy and merits some recognition at a significantly greater level than currently.
Statistics provided by the Australian Electoral Commission show that 10 per cent of the donations reported by donors for 2004-05 were under $10,000 and 62 per cent were over $10,000. The member for Calare talked about 80 per cent of donations, but the figure of 81 per cent that I used in summing up was in fact for all other parties, including Independents et cetera. All private funding would be disclosed under these provisions. Disclosure is an interesting aspect. I should point out that these disclosure provisions are a minimum requirement and anybody will be free to disclose donations below $10,000 if they so choose. The opposition have been against this as well so, come the next election, it will be interesting to see whether they will disclose donations under $10,000 or accept the threshold of $10,000. (Time expired)
I rise to support the member for Calare. The very reasons why these amendments to the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005 should be supported have just been articulated by the Special Minister of State. The minister talks about transparency; the amendments deliver a degree of transparency. The minister talks about the accountability of the process; the amendments deliver that, particularly in relation to the disclosure of donations but also through the simplification of the Senate voting process and through the cap on expenditure. I think these amendments deliver positively in terms of the integrity of the electoral process.
The minister has just said he believes the current bill and the government’s amendments will give greater disclosure—and I am pleased to note that the Attorney-General is in the chamber. I am not sure whether the Attorney-General was listening last night when I spent some time talking about the Australian Electoral Commission currently investigating Mr Greg Maguire, a businessman from Tamworth who was involved in the allegations of bribery involving the member for Gwydir and Senator Sandy Macdonald, but he ought to be aware of that. The Australian Electoral Commission is investigating claims made under oath by Mr Maguire in terms of political donations. I would ask the Attorney-General to look very closely at the integrity of the processes the minister has talked about—the integrity of the Senate and the integrity of the legal process involved in being sworn under oath and committing to provide certain information under oath in terms of the Electoral Commission. If the minister at the table, Minister Nairn, is serious about honesty in terms of disclosure, we have to make sure the Electoral Commission looks seriously at these issues.
As there are fewer than five members on the side for the ayes in this division, I declare the question resolved in the negative in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.
Question negatived, Mr Andren, Mr Katter and Mr Windsor voting aye.
by leave—I present a supplementary explanatory memorandum to the bill, and I move government amendments (1) to (17) together:
(1) Schedule 1, item 84, page 22 (lines 29 and 30), omit subparagraph 314AEB(1)(a)(i), substitute:
(i) the public expression of views on a political party, a candidate in an election or a member of the House of Representatives or the Senate by any means;
(2) Schedule 1, item 84, page 23 (lines 8 and 9), omit subparagraph 314AEB(1)(a)(iv), substitute:
(iv) the broadcast of political matter in relation to which particulars are required to be announced under subclause 4(2) of Schedule 2 to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992;
(3) Schedule 1, item 84, page 23 (line 18), omit subparagraph 314AEB(1)(c)(iii), substitute:
(iiia) a member of the House of Representatives or the Senate; or
(4) Schedule 1, item 84, page 24 (lines 5 and 6), omit “$10,000; and”, substitute “$10,000.”.
(5) Schedule 1, item 84, page 24 (lines 7 to 12), omit paragraph 314AEC(1)(d).
(6) Schedule 3, item 5, page 47 (lines 7 and 8), omit “the name of a new registered officer for a political party for the purposes of paragraph 134(1)(g)”, substitute “a different name or address for the registered officer of a political party for the purposes of paragraph 134(1)(g) or subsection 134(1A)”.
(7) Schedule 3, item 6, page 47 (line 15), at the end of the item, add “However, that Register may be changed to substitute a different name or address for the registered officer of a political party for the purposes of paragraph 134(1)(g) or subsection 134(1A) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.”.
(8) Schedule 4, item 1, page 48 (lines 12 and 13), omit “contributions to political parties and gifts to”, substitute “contributions and gifts to political parties,”.
(9) Schedule 4, item 1, page 49 (line 1), after “a contribution”, insert “or gift”.
(10) Schedule 4, item 1, page 49 (line 4), omit “a gift”, substitute “a contribution or gift”.
(11) Schedule 4, item 1, page 49 (line 7), omit “a gift”, substitute “a contribution or gift”.
(12) Schedule 4, item 1, page 49 (line 19), omit “A gift”, substitute “A contribution or gift”.
(13) Schedule 4, item 1, page 50 (line 8), after “contributions”, insert “and gifts”.
(14) Schedule 4, item 1, page 50 (line 10), omit “gifts”, substitute “contributions and gifts”.
(15) Schedule 4, item 2, page 52 (lines 5 and 6), omit “to a political party, a gift to an independent candidate or member or”, substitute “or gift to a political party, independent candidate or member, or”.
(16) Schedule 4, item 3, page 52 (lines 11 and 12), omit “to political parties and gifts to”, substitute “and gifts to political parties,”.
(17) Schedule 4, item 5, page 52 (lines 17 and 18), omit “to political parties and gifts to”, substitute “and gifts to political parties,”.
As honourable members will be aware, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005 contains measures relating to third-party disclosure of political expenditure, registration of political parties and tax deductibility for donations to political parties and Independent candidates and members. The amendments I have moved relate to these three measures. Turning to amendments (1) to (3), item 84 of schedule 1 to the bill currently provides for third parties to lodge annual disclosure returns if they incurred expenditure for a political purpose or received gifts over the disclosure threshold which enabled them to incur expenditure for a political purpose during a financial year.
These provisions give effect to the recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in its report on the 2004 federal election that third parties should be required to meet the same financial reporting requirements as political parties, associated entities and donors. Following introduction of the legislation, I received representations from the non-profit sector, including World Vision Australia, the Australian Council for International Development and the National Roundtable of Nonprofit Organisations about the possible impact of the proposed third-party disclosure obligations on the work of this sector.
The issue was also raised with the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee at its inquiry into the bill on 7 March 2006. The government has listened to their concerns and has taken action to remove the unintended administrative burden that would otherwise be faced by non-profit and similar organisations in lodging annual returns as a result of the application of the broad definition of ‘electoral matter’ in section 4 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. The amendments I present were developed in consultation with the not-for-profit sector and the response has been very positive. In an email to my office on 23 March 2006, Paul O’Callaghan of the National Roundtable of Nonprofit Organisations wrote: ‘The minister’s proposal will be welcomed by the non-profit sector as demonstrating a serious effort to address our organisational concerns.’ I would like to thank Mr O’Callaghan and his colleagues for their constructive contribution.
As a result of the amendments, third parties will be required to lodge an annual return on expenditure incurred for the purpose of expressing public views by any means on specified participants in the political process—namely, a political party, a candidate in an election or a member of the House of Representatives or the Senate. The amendments will also ensure that, if a third party is required to authorise an advertisement pursuant to section 2 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, they will be required to disclose expenditure in accordance with the new reporting requirements set out in proposed section 314AEB of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. This amendment captures disclosure of political content communicated through broadcast media. Third parties will also be required to report on expenditure incurred for the printing and publication of electoral advertisements, notices and other material that falls within the categories covered by section 328 and proposed section 328A of the Commonwealth Electoral Act.
The amendments also provide that third-party reporting requirements will not apply to Commonwealth departments and agencies or to members of the House of Representatives or the Senate. As result of these amendments, the third-party reporting requirements will, however, apply to associated entities, as these entities can be actively involved in the political process. Associated entities will continue to be required to provide information under the existing requirements of section 314AEA, ‘Annual returns by associated entities’. The threshold for third-party reporting will be the same as that proposed for other disclosure thresholds—that is, $10,000. The government considers that these amendments will ensure transparency in the reporting of political expenditure by third parties.
With amendments (4) to (5), the government also proposes to make consequential amendments as a result of the amendments to third-party reporting which I have just outlined. This includes amending new section 314AEC to remove the categories to which the annual reporting requirement applies for gifts received for political expenditure—namely, deleting paragraph 314AEC(1)(d), which is now redundant.
I will turn to amendments (6) to (7), which relate to party registration. Item 5 of schedule 3 to the bill provides for the register of political parties to be frozen for six months after the bill receives royal assent. No changes may be made to the register during this period apart from the name of the registered officer for a political party. Amendment (6) will provide for the address of the registered officer to be changed in addition to the person’s name. This will ensure that, when registered officers change, all notification that is required to be sent to the registered officer under the Commonwealth Electoral Act will be sent to the officer’s current address.
Item 6 of schedule 3 to the bill relates to the register of political parties that would be in force if an election were called during the re-registration process. The bill as it currently stands does not allow for any changes to be made to the register if item 6 were in force. Amendment (7) provides that the name and address of the registered officer of a political party may be changed on the register that is in force under item 6. The provision would operate only if an election is held within 12 months from the commencement of the deregistration process. This amendment will ensure that registered officers would be able to sign a nomination for candidature in a federal election.
Turning to amendments (8) to (17): schedule 4 of the bill as it currently stands provides for tax deductibility for contributions to political parties, but only for gifts to Independent candidates and members. The proposed amendments to the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 will ensure parity of tax treatment by allowing tax deductibility for either gifts and/or contributions to both political parties and Independent candidates and members. I am sure the Independent members in the House will be supporting that particular amendment and I commend the amendments to the House.
The opposition will not be opposing the government’s amendments. But I am going to take the opportunity that I have now, given the fact that the gag has been used twice during the consideration of this bill and the earlier amendments, to put on record a couple of comments with respect to the previous set of amendments, which I was not allowed to talk on. As the member for Calare is aware, there were a number of amendments there which in fact the opposition was prepared to support but, in the context of the grouping and their being presented as a whole, the circumstances were that there were a number that we could not support, which is why we voted in that fashion. But we share a range of the concerns with the member for Calare and other Independents, particularly on issues of increases in thresholds. These are real problems and need to be dealt with.
With respect to those threshold issues, which also relate partly to the government’s amendments, I would like to take issue with an earlier comment made by the Special Minister of State in his response to the second reading debate. He quoted some of my earlier comments on the issue of multiple donations and the potential for them to occur. He said:
By his own admission, the member for Bruce believes that the receipt of multiple donations clearly increases the chance of corruption.
He had previously said that the fact that a range of multiple donations had occurred from a range of different trade unions was proof that there were problems and that, in those circumstances, it proved just how evil the union movement and the Labor Party were. The minister once again missed the point. The point is that, where there is potential for multiple donations and where those donations are not disclosed, you leave open the potential for apparent corruption. You remove transparency from the system. The quote that he used, the detail that he provided with respect to what was happening with trade union donations, actually proves the point: those organisations were not only complying with the spirit of the law and the legality required; they were ensuring that they were transparent about what they had done.
That is not the problem; the problem is that, under a system that presents a massively greater incentive by moving the threshold up to 10 grand a pop, who will not declare those multiple donations? There will now be a massive incentive for those who would seek to conceal their donations. I will tell you now: it will not be trade unions taking that opportunity, because they have not been doing it now; it will be others—and they will not be associated with my side of politics. A point that several speakers from the other side have made is that there will be a limit—you can obey the law but you can still declare more. The Labor Party will be obeying the law, but when we are in government again we will be changing the law. We will ensure that we return to a system of full transparency.
I could go on for quite a while, but, as we have already been gagged twice in this debate, the chances are we will be facing a third. Although some might argue it is third time lucky, I may not test that premise. However, the amendments at hand are the result of rushed legislation moved in a shoddy fashion without proper consideration and designed to deliver a political outcome. The government and the previous minister, as the architect of this legislation, were so hot to trot to go after in a political way third-party organisations which they think involve themselves in the political process—whether they are the Wilderness Society, other organisations of that nature or trade unions—that they came forth with legislation that would have caused enormous problems for a whole range of organisations that are not at all political. In his earlier comments, the minister outlined a number of examples.
Their pursuit of an incredibly partisan political outcome in the way they have handled this legislation from the beginning resulted in them bringing forth faulty legislation. Thankfully, elements of those faults have been found. I have no doubt at all that, in the next several years, we will be back here fixing up the mess that they will create by what they are doing today. I have no doubt also that, if we continue to talk about it for much longer, we will be facing another gag. If that is the case, so be it. But the overall point about the issue of donations is that you can— (Time expired)