House debates

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Tax Laws Amendment (Political Contributions and Gifts) Bill 2008

Second Reading

Debate resumed.

4:45 pm

Photo of Michael DanbyMichael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As I was saying, in discussing the Tax Laws Amendment (Political Contributions and Gifts) Bill 2008 you have to look at the Liberal Party’s attitude to transparency in contributions. With the $10,000 threshold you could have given $10,000 to seven different state or territory branches—you could have donated $70,000 without transparency. You also have to look at the early closure of the rolls, where many hundreds of thousands of people were disenfranchised. And you have to look at the very strange changes to provisional voting which, the Electoral Commission has shown, disenfranchised large numbers of people. The former government claimed that this change was necessary to protect the integrity of the electoral roll and prevent electoral fraud. This was always a spurious piece of deception designed to conceal the partisan self-interest of the Liberal Party.

Let me reiterate what I repeatedly said during the inquiry of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters into the 2004 election and during the debate on the Howard government’s legislation. There is no evidence at all of any significant electoral fraud in Australian federal elections and thus no merit to the coalition’s claim that these regressive changes to the legislation were required to protect the integrity of the electoral roll. These claims were nothing but a fig leaf for the coalition’s naked self-interest. The Australian Electoral Commission, the independent statutory authority charged with safeguarding the integrity of our election system, whose commissioner was appointed by the Howard government, said in October 2001:

It has been concluded by every parliamentary and judicial inquiry into the conduct of federal elections, since the AEC was established as an independent statutory authority in 1984, that there has been no widespread and organised attempt to defraud the federal electoral system … and that the level of fraudulent enrolment and voting is not sufficient to have overturned the result in any Division in Australia.

This view was shared by Emeritus Professor Colin Hughes, a highly respected former Australian Electoral Commissioner, who wrote in 2005:

The thorough review of the electoral roll conducted in 2002 by the Australian National Audit Office, concluded that ‘overall, the Australian electoral roll is one of high integrity, and can be relied on for electoral purposes’.

There are adequate safeguards in the current electoral laws and procedures to deal with any future attempts at fraud without stripping the vote from hundreds of citizens. That is precisely what happened at the last election: 60,000 fewer people than the previous election got their provisional vote. (Quorum formed)

The regressive changes introduced by the Howard government’s 2006 legislation can be reversed by new legislation. I hope and expect that Senator Faulkner in the other house and the green paper and then the white paper process will see such legislation in this parliament by 2009.

4:50 pm

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (Prospect, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

in reply—I thank all honourable members who have contributed to this debate. The Tax Laws Amendment (Political Contributions and Gifts) Bill 2008 forms part of our mandate to govern. We campaigned on abolishing the tax deductibility of political donations. We had a clear election commitment to do so. Political parties receive considerable public funding. We do not believe they should receive further public funding through the tax deductibility of political donations.

This bill is also a savings measure, one of many the government is taking through this place and through the other place. We again call on the opposition to support this measure in this House and in the other house. We do not need another talkfest from the opposition. We do need another inquiry to determine whether this is the right thing to do. This is a measure that the Australian people would warmly welcome. It is a measure that the Labor Party campaigned on. It was a clear part of our election campaign. The previous government tried three times to increase the threshold on tax deductibility. They tried it in 1998, they tried it after the 1998 election and they tried it in 2006. On the first two occasions they introduced this into the parliament it was defeated in the other place. Of course, on the third occasion, in 2006, it was supported in the other place because the Liberal Party and National Party had a majority in their own right.

The 2006 changes were part of their wider reforms—if I can use the term ‘reform’ very loosely—which increased the disclosure threshold, for example, from $1,500 to $10,000, which I know the honourable member for Melbourne Ports referred to. That meant that you could make a substantial donation by spreading your donations across state and territory entities. The opposition in this debate have continued to argue valiantly to defend the tax deductibility of political donations. I do not believe that is something the Australian people would welcome, and I certainly commend this bill to the House.

Question put:

That this bill be now read a second time.