Senate debates

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws — Superannuation) Bill 2008; Tax Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy Surcharge Thresholds) Bill 2008; National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical and Other Benefits — Cost Recovery) Bill 2008; Tax Laws Amendment (Luxury Car Tax) Bill 2008; a New Tax System (Luxury Car Tax Imposition — General) Amendment Bill 2008; a New Tax System (Luxury Car Tax Imposition — Customs) Amendment Bill 2008; a New Tax System (Luxury Car Tax Imposition — Excise) Amendment Bill 2008; Excise Legislation Amendment (Condensate) Bill 2008; Excise Tariff Amendment (Condensate) Bill 2008; National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) Bill 2008; National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008; Tax Laws Amendment (2008 Measures No. 3) Bill 2008; Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2008

Referral to Committees

9:59 am

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Special Minister of State) Share this | Hansard source

I must admit I am disappointed with the performance of my opposite number today in relation to this matter. The first thing I will say is that Senator Faulkner knows full well that we are not blocking this bill. I thought it was unfortunate that he actually got to the stage where he was making this a partisan issue as opposed to a realistic debate on extensive campaign finance reform. And to talk about Dr Nelson’s role in this, regrettably, did not allow him the opportunity to then talk about the failed opportunities of Mr Rudd. I was not going to talk about it today but I will, given the matters that have been raised by Senator Faulkner, the minister responsible.

On 11 March there was one person in this place who had the opportunity to support comprehensive campaign finance reform. That was the Prime Minister of this country—the man who apparently is now interested in this, but only post Wollongong. Only post the sex and bribery scandal has the Australian Labor Party become involved in this debate. A notice of motion put up on 11 March in my name on behalf the coalition talked about comprehensive finance reform. Who supported it? Senator Bob Brown on behalf of the Greens supported that notice of motion; the Democrats supported that notice of motion; Senator Fielding supported that notice of motion. Who was the one person that failed to support a comprehensive motion in relation to campaign finance reform? It was the Prime Minister of this country.

The Prime Minister of this country snubbed his nose at campaign finance reform. The Prime Minister of this country made it quite clear that he wanted a knee-jerk response to the Wollongong sex and bribery scandal that precluded comprehensive finance reform. The opportunity was here for the Australian Labor Party and Prime Minister Rudd to support the Senate, the majority in the Senate—the coalition, the Greens, the Democrats and Family First. They failed to do so. I will not go through the full notice of motion, but it discusses disclosure amongst other things. I find it quite extraordinary what we have heard from the minister in here today—I love it, as someone said last night, when the poacher becomes the gamekeeper, as we have seen with Senator Faulkner. It is not lost on my colleagues and I suspect it is not lost on anyone else.

The Australian community needs to know that the minister himself has a green paper due for release in July and one of the specific matters to be raised is disclosure. On 29 May, the minister said:

Parliamentarians, political parties and any number of people involved in the political process are trying to ensure that they have my ear on this. But my focus has been to work with agencies on the green paper. I accept that a consultative approach is important. I can assure you I will be giving opportunities for the Labor Party, the Liberal Party and other political parties to have an involvement here and express views.

Minister, what you have failed to explain to the Senate today is why you have got this quite specific piece of legislation coming forward now when you have got a green paper that quite specifically refers to disclosure. In fact, you have two green papers in relation to these matters driven again by the non-government parties in this place, driven by those of us who actually want substantial and comprehensive campaign finance reform. You have these two green papers but you come in today and insist on one particular piece being pulled out of it—to cherry pick it—for your own domestic political purposes, so you can be seen to be doing something in response to the Wollongong sex and bribery scandal. This is not proper process. If you were serious about this, Minister, you would let your own green paper process determine the outcome of this campaign finance reform.

The joint standing committee, as you are well aware, Minister, is looking at this quite comprehensive and substantial reference from the Senate in relation to campaign finance reform. As the Leader of the Greens has said before, we need to have everything on the table. I agree entirely with him. We need to have this on the table. With talk about involvement of community and involvement of political parties, why would this minister pull out one particular aspect of campaign finance reform? It is for cheap political purposes. It is to respond to a position that his state colleague, Premier Iemma, has found himself in, where there have been substantial abuses of the process—appalling abuses of the process. This minister, at the bidding of the Prime Minister, has plucked out one particular part of campaign finance reform and put it on the table to be seen to be doing something.

This is the same minister who has a green paper in relation to the very issues that we have been chastised about today. It beggars belief that the minister can come in here today and invoke some sanction against the Leader of the Opposition when he has only, through the Senate, refused to endorse a reference in relation to campaign finance reform. And they lack the integrity to even divide over it. It was all done under the table over the other side—whisper, whisper, ‘We won’t divide on this, but we are going to put it on the record that we oppose it.’ What a lack of intestinal fortitude that was. It is either good enough to divide on or it is good enough to support. You just want to put it on the record by saying, ‘Look, we oppose it.’ If you were so serious about it, why did you not divide on it? Why did the Chief Government Whip not divide on this as opposed to doing it under his breath? What a complete and utter lack of intestinal fortitude.

Minister, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, you have green papers in relation to disclosure and other matters. If you are serious about this, why not follow the lead of the Senate—the Greens, the Democrats, Family First and the coalition—and have comprehensive finance reform discussion? Why not let the committee that since 1983 has been addressing these matters do its job? It is chaired by the government. It has representatives from all the major and minor political parties. They are the ones whom we have entrusted with the decision-making process in relation to electoral matters since 1983. Why is it that this government now refuses to endorse the integrity of that committee? The reason it has broken the rules on that is that this is a matter in which it believes it requires something to be done to cover its own back in relation to the appalling activities of certain members of the ALP in New South Wales.

What Senator Faulkner failed to disclose to the Senate today was that three members of his own executive, Mr McClelland and Mr Griffin in the other place and Senator Conroy, actually supported an increase in disclosure levels to $5,000. Why weren’t we told that today? Why didn’t Mr Rudd, through Senator Faulkner, acknowledge to the Senate that his own party supported an increase in the disclosure levels to $5,000? Why weren’t we told that today? Why wasn’t Mr Rudd prepared to acknowledge, through Senator Faulkner, that his own party had supported an increase in disclosure levels?

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