Thursday, 10 May 2018
Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters; Report
I rise to speak on the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters advisory report on the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017. I want to echo the comments from my colleague the member for Scullin, who yesterday spoke on this matter in the House.
This report on the issue of foreign donations and the protection of our democratic integrity has received a high level of attention by the media and many stakeholder groups since this matter was first announced by the Turnbull government. The report deals with very difficult and important matters forming part of a complicated bill, and I'll briefly go through these matters. These include limiting or capping donations and expenditure, more or less public funding, reducing the disclosure threshold, real-time disclosure of donations, the regulation of third-party campaigners, charities receiving income from overseas, banning donations from types of classes of donors and increasing penalties for breaching the rules.
After considering many submissions and listening to feedback and evidence from stakeholder groups, it's clear that there are fundamental flaws in this legislation. This is outlined in the list of recommendations, which show just how unworkable the legislation would have been regardless of what the government tried to say. On the other hand, I'm very proud to say that for more than 10 years the Australian Labor Party has put forward a considered package of proposals to advance this debate, rather than the encompassing one-size-fits-all approach that the government wanted to take. I know this because my Labor colleagues recognise that these types of reforms must be a matter upon which the parties can reach substantial agreement. We have been trying to reach that agreement for some time, and I'm pleased to say that this report gives further avenues as to how this might be achieved. Consensus on this matter cannot come for the sake of some narrow political advantage or attempting, in an unfair way, to regulate some groups within civil society in a way that clearly seems designed to regulate them, in my opinion, out of existence.
A strong democracy requires a strong civil society. When we talk about a level playing field in politics, in political speech and in political donations, we have to recognise that a level playing field treats stakeholders appropriately and not as if they are all exactly the same with the same interests. Under the current proposal, this is what the government seeks to impose. As we debate this, and if the government brings the legislation back on, we also have to recognise that we all have a great duty to all of our constituents to raise the standards of political disclosure and to build trust in our political institutions. This requires us to look at the influence of money on politics and to provide for much, much greater transparency. As I mentioned, the Labor Party has, for some time, set out a series of propositions which would go a long way towards this and, I hope, would contribute to further debates on this sensitive and important issue.
Rather than attempting to silence those we disagree with through legislation, we should be legislating and debating the real issues that the Australian people have charged us with. Whether it's proper funding for our schools and hospitals, a decent wage for a decent job or building appropriate infrastructure for the 21st century, we need to make sure that everyone has a say in the future of our country and not silence those who may speak out against us.
I'm pleased that this is substantially a consensus report. In speaking today I also want to place on record that there is a lot more work to be done. My Labor colleagues and I stand ready to work with the government and with the Greens and other crossbenchers on advancing donation reform, noting that this report deals with a package of legislative proposals that don't and can't constitute the whole of this debate. As I said, there is much more to be done, and I am looking forward to playing a constructive role as part of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.
I acknowledge the hard work of the chair, Senator Reynolds, and, in particular, the deputy chair, the member for Scullin, along with Senator Brown and Senator Ketter, who have all made important contributions. The report now lays the foundation for further debate and consideration of this important topic. As I mentioned, my Labor colleagues and I stand ready to work with all parties to advance this matter, and I look forward to more constructive work yet to come between the parties.