House debates

Thursday, 2 December 2021


Electoral Legislation Amendment (Political Campaigners) Bill 2021; Consideration of Senate Message

11:25 am

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the amendments be considered immediately.

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The House absolutely should not consider this dodgy deal immediately. This is a dirty deal that's bad for democracy, done on the last day of parliament, between Liberal and Labor. It has been rushed through the Senate without even debate or an inquiry, and it has been brought here on the last day of parliament, and we're urged to rush through a bill that will silence charities and string them up with red tape and also potentially affect the outcome of the election, because it will impinge on people's rights to campaign against the government during this forthcoming election campaign. When you have a bill that impacts on so many people in society, from charities to non-government organisations to people who want to engage in democracy, at the very least we should have a debate about it, we should have a full inquiry into the bill in the Senate and we should have a full debate about the bill in the Senate. That should be an uncontroversial proposition in this place—that, when this government comes in with a bill that is aimed at silencing people who disagree with it, we should at least be able to inquire into it and have a debate. But no. You've always got to watch out on the last day of parliament, because that is the day that Labor and Liberal will do dirty deals to ram through legislation that is bad for democracy and bad for civil rights, and we are seeing it here with this bill.

ACOSS, the Human Rights Law Centre, Anglicare and 80 other charities wrote to the government urging them to drop this bill or, at the very least, demanding that there be a serious look at it to work out what it is going to mean for their operations before it is passed. The government ignored them, but we expect that from this government, because we know that this government is in an 'in case of emergency break glass' mode. They fear that they're behind in the polls, so they're trying to change the rules of the game to stop people from voting or speaking out against them. We expect it from this government, but what we don't expect is that Labor will sign up to a dirty deal to ram through an antidemocratic piece of legislation on the last day of parliament.

Some of the biggest charities and non-government organisations and people who look after others who are doing it tough are speaking up against this bill or saying, 'At the very least, can we please have a debate about it and have an inquiry into it before it is rushed through on what might be the last sitting day of parliament before the election.' But we also have the government, in their own words, saying that it is clear that this is about targeting those they perceive as their political opponents, such as the Climate 200 group, OpenAustralia Foundation and They Vote For You. The government and government members have been explicit that this bill is about shutting up people who might want to campaign against them.

So we should be doing all we can to preserve democracy in this country and to stop the government getting away with legislating to change the rules of the game because it doesn't like what people say. The so-called party of freedom of speech is now saying, 'We want to tie up organisations in red tape and make it retrospective.' I'll come to how bad these amendments are when we get to debating the amendments themselves, if that's what happens—if we do in fact find that they're being voted on immediately. The government has been absolutely explicit that this is about trying to tilt the playing field in its favour by stopping people from speaking and putting them under obligations that might make them responsible for activities that happened before this bill even came into effect. It's potentially going to be retrospective for these organisations.

We in the Greens have known from the start that it's bad law, which is why we've opposed it. But what we thought is that there would at least be a chance to debate it, to understand exactly what it's going to mean for civil society in Australia and then potentially to go and change some people's minds, to say, 'Hey, actually, having heard all of this, we should not be passing this bill.' We are now being denied that opportunity because of the Labor Party. The Labor Party are saying, 'No, we want to ram it through today, on the last day of parliament.' They may well say, 'But, look, we had to do this because we're stopping another bill, another terrible bill, of the government,' but I just ask people to cast their minds back to yesterday.

Just yesterday the parliament held the government to account and came together across party lines, with everyone from the opposition, to the Greens, to the crossbenchers, to force the government to back down on a cut that it wanted to introduce on Australia's screen sector. We held firm and we forced them into a backdown. We have the potential to do this again, especially with things at the moment being as fluid as they are in this parliament. And we know that the wheels are starting to come off the government the closer it gets to an election and the more it realises it's behind in the polls. In that environment especially, we should be doing everything we can to apply maximum scrutiny to this bill—absolutely. That should be a fundamental principle. But, instead, Labor and Liberal, on the last day of parliament, are getting together to rush through a bill to silence democracy. They couldn't even debate it in the Senate. They weren't even allowed to have a full debate on this bill in the Senate.

This is a dark day for democracy, not only because we here in this parliament are being denied the opportunity to debate a very bad bill, but also because this bill will restrict people's right to campaign and say what they want to say during the course of the election campaign. This bill will restrict democracy. So the dirty deal that's been done to pass a very bad bill is a bad day for democracy. The dirty deal that has been done to pass a terrible bill is a dark day for democracy.

So I oppose this being dealt with immediately. If it is the case that Labor and Liberal want to force this through on the last day of parliament, then I will seek to speak to amendment (1) to explain to the House why it is so terrible, in the hope that, when people understand exactly what this amendment is going to do, they then agree to oppose it.

11:33 am

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

It is incredibly disappointing to actually have to stand up and take the point here in relation to the action of the major parties, who have done a deal, clearly, in the other place. They have bargained on one legislation for the sake of another. And I have a real issue with that, just as a matter of principle, because you should be looking at the merits of each legislation on its own—what the impact of that legislation is. That is a commitment I have made to the people of Warringah.

We are now in a situation where the government is seeking to push forward amendments to very important legislation, the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Political Campaigners) Bill 2021. What this legislation does is try to reach back to three years ago to campaigns that non-for-profit organisations may have run in the 2019 election to raise awareness of issues that were relevant to their stakeholders, relevant to communities. The government is seeking to reach back to three years ago and change the rules, change their reporting obligations and impose a whole lot of additional administrative burden. And that is not a good outcome.

A government member interjecting

Before we get into the grandstanding or the misleading statements that come as to what happens—

A government member interjecting

The member is not even talking about the same legislation. That's how clueless they can be at times. We are talking about organisations that would be impacted such as Farmers for Climate Action, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the National Association for the Visual Arts, Christian Schools Australia, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, the Climate Action Network, the Wilderness Society and Sunrise. I know those organisations were impacted by the original legislation, which was a change of classification from a $500,000 threshold to a $100,000 threshold. Because of the rush in which this has been pushed through, we have no way of knowing what the deal is that has been struck between the coalition and the opposition in moving that to $250,000. We simply have no way of knowing the impact and how this will change for these organisations, who this is going to catch and what the retrospective aspect is going to be for so many organisations.

So for the merit of democracy, for the principle of good governance, this should not be rushed through today. There should have been a debate in the other place. This should be coming back to this House with full information from government and from the opposition on the reasons why this deal has been struck. Why is it in the best interests of the Australian public for this legislation, with these amendments, to go through? All I can see is that this is the status quo binding together to try and preserve their hold on power. They are trying to keep out community groups and small organisations from having a say and from raising awareness on issues, and that is undemocratic. So I support the motion to not proceed immediately with these amendments.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the amendments be considered immediately.

11:45 am

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That Senate amendment (1) be agreed to.

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the government for allowing these to be looked at separately. I just want to be clear that I'm going to speak about amendment (1) and explain to the House exactly what it does and why it appears to be good but in fact doesn't need to be there at all. At the moment, certain people are required to comply with the disclosure thresholds that are there—so if you spend $500,000, if you spend a decent amount. The government wanted to reduce it to $100,000. What the government and Labor have agreed is that they want to cut it from $500,000 to $250,000. What is this going to mean? This is going to mean that a whole new range of groups between the $250,000 and $500,000 mark, which encompasses many charities, organisations, campaigning groups and advocacy groups in this country, are going to be caught now by legislation that is retrospective in part and that ties them up in red tape during an election campaign. It's designed to silence! It's designed to silence during an election campaign.

Government Members:

Government members interjecting

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I hear interjections coming from the government side about why this bill is necessary. If you really cared about integrity, then bring on a federal integrity commission. Come on, where is it? Where's the anticorruption commission that requires government and MPs and politicians to act transparently? It's nowhere. It's nowhere because the government's goal is to hide and cover up. That's what it always does. But, with this, the government and Labor—the Liberals and Labor—are now about to make a whole lot of organisations and civil society bound by laws that are potentially retrospective and that we don't even know the full impact of. Why? Why don't we know the full impact of what amendment (1) will mean? Because Labor and the Liberals wouldn't even allow a Senate inquiry into it. They wouldn't even let the Senate debate it! It got rammed through the Senate without debate.

You've always got to be worried about what happens on the last day of parliament, because that's when Liberal and Labor come together to push through bad bills that are bad for democracy, and this is one of those. Should it be $100,000 or $250,000? No, it should stay where it is. No-one should be cutting it.

We Greens voted against this bill when it was put to the House. We voted against it in the Senate. We've made the point that we shouldn't be debating these amendments. And this cut from Labor and Liberal is to bring a whole lot of new charities and organisations in at this election—this election, of all times!—to give the Liberals a leg-up by silencing dissent! This election! Well, be it on your heads. Be it on your heads for silencing civil society and requiring them to retrospectively comply with laws that we haven't even had a chance to debate and haven't even had a chance to inquire into to understand what it's going to mean for democracy in our country. Shame on the Liberals! Shame on Labor! Shame on this dirty deal that is a dark day for democracy!

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question before the chair is that Senate amendment (1) be agreed to. There being no further speakers, I propose to put the motion. The motion is that Senate amendment (1) be agreed to.

Question agreed to.

11:49 am

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That Senate amendments Nos (2) to (25) be agreed to.

Question agreed to.