Senate debates

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2008 [2009]

Second Reading

10:42 am

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

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2008 [2009] this morning. The first thing that I will say about this is that I think it is entirely inappropriate that we are debating this matter today. In fact, I think that it is totally inappropriate that we are debating it at all prior to comprehensive electoral reform. I remind the Senate that back in March last year it was the coalition which initiated a comprehensive terms of reference to go to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which was supported by the then Democrats, the Greens, Family First and us, and opposed by the Labor Party. I am not going to go through that again because I have done that in this place ad nauseam but it was a comprehensive proposal which addressed all the matters which we believe need to be included in a comprehensive campaign finance reform. Again I put on the record that we are very, very strongly supportive of comprehensive reform. I put on the record that it was actually the coalition parties that initiated this process with the reference to the joint standing committee. I reiterate the point that it was the Australian Labor Party that opposed that. So anything that they are doing at the moment has to be seen through the prism of March 2008 and what has been done from there.

I take the government at face value—that they are committed to campaign finance reform. I assume that they also acknowledge that we are likewise. But, as the minister knows and as the chamber knows, we have objected quite passionately over a number of months—in fact nearly 12 months now—because this cherry-picked campaign finance reform is an animal that has come with many coats, initially in relation to the tax deductibility part of a bill that was introduced as part of another package and then that was withdrawn and introduced on its own. The tax deductibility question and the disclosure question are two issues that the government has chosen to pull out of comprehensive campaign finance reform for its own purposes.

I will not go through the reasons again because I am on the public record in relation to this matter. But the question has got to be: if you are convinced about comprehensive finance reform, why were we debating the tax deductibility bill previously, why would we be debating this bill today, when these measures clearly should be part of comprehensive reform?

I have got some other things to say about those who might have influence in relation to the Labor Party but it begs the question, when every commentator in this country has talked about the level of influence of unions, third parties and large corporate donors, of why those issues were not also a part of these measures. The reason that was not done was that the Labor Party views these two isolated pieces of campaign finance reform as good for them and bad for everyone else in the political process. Well, so be it. But why not just be upfront about it and say, ‘Well, we’re trying to get a couple of bits of reform through which we think will be bad for the opposition parties and good for us.’ Just say it, because we all know it is true. Just acknowledge it and say, ‘Despite that, we’re now convinced that we should have comprehensive campaign finance reform.’

I will indicate at the outset that the opposition will be supporting the government’s suite of amendments, the great bulk of which came out of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. I will have more to say about that because we do indeed have some concerns about administrative burdens. Nevertheless, despite the issues in New South Wales in relation to reporting dates et cetera, which we understand both major parties are finding very difficult to manage, we are prepared to see whether it can work any better in a federal sense.

We also believe that there should be stronger penalties for infringements of the Commonwealth Electoral Act but we note that most of these electoral abuses are actually committed by the Australian Labor Party itself, such as the multiple cases of electoral fraud in Queensland which resulted in the Shepherdson inquiry, the Gino Mandarino fraudulent enrolment, the Christian Zahra fraudulent enrolment and the Wollongong council sex and bribery scandal. Indeed, when you look at what started the frenetic media attention to this long overdue requirement for campaign finance reform, it was actually the Wollongong sex and bribery scandal—the most obscene abuse of responsibility, the most obscene abuse of matters of principle, the most obscene abuse of a whole range of acts you could ever see. The Wollongong sex and bribery scandal is up there in shining lights, showing what is wrong with the system. But do we get any response to the Wollongong sex and bribery scandal in these two cherry-picked pieces of legislation? No, we do not. Do we see anything in relation to the excessive influence of the trade union movement on the political process? No, we do not.

I note with great interest, just to reinforce the point, that it is now common knowledge that the Australian Labor Party received in excess of $30 million from the trade union movement in the run-up to the last election, and, of course, if you look at the government’s so-called Fair Work Bill, guess who picks up $30 million worth of thanks? It is the union movement. What we have objected to in relation to the government’s bill is the right of unions to come in and demand access to records. If you look at all those issues which we object to, which were not in the government’s initial procrastinations in relation to their changes to industrial relations, all of them not part of the mandate, they revolve around giving to the union movement 30 million bucks worth of thankyous.

I have a lot of friends in a whole variety of places and I have been very lucky to be given some financial statements of the New South Wales branch of the AMWU—very lucky, from off the back of a truck. Under the heading ‘National Council Political Fund’, it is all neatly typed out with some nice green on it indicating the stuff I am going to talk about today; it is all there and all public. On page 3, I note the following item: affiliation fees, $401,846. Now I might be terribly wrong—and I will be publicly flogged if I am—but I would hazard a guess that that was not affiliation to the Liberal Party or affiliation to Family First, probably not even affiliation to the Greens. We know who those affiliation fees were paid to. Donations, $209,591. Again, at the risk of a public flogging, I suspect that those donations were not made to the Liberal Party, or the Greens or Family First. Election advertising, $8,120. That brings in total, in one year, overtly political expenditure to over $620,000. But the best is left till last because there is a specific line in these accounts which says: ‘Marginal seat campaign’, $150,352. I will say that again. From a leaked document from the New South Wales branch of the AMWU under ‘National Council Political Fund’ there is $150,352 in marginal seat campaigning alone for the Australian Labor Party. Quite frankly, as I have said before, who pays the piper? This is what we have seen now for some time.


No comments