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

Senator Conroy can jump in as much as he likes. I think he would be better employed spending a bit of time with Senator Feeney and others and perhaps trying to convince me and others that he and Senator Carr are not the bosom buddies they are alleged to be, because no-one believes that. I rather suspect that even Senator Conroy himself does not believe that, because they would be the strangest of bedfellows.

So there is $30 million going to the Australian Labor Party. It is so overtly in this document for marginal seat campaigns. You do not need to look any further than the Fair Work Bill 2008 to see that it is all coming home. It is all coming home because all of the non-mandated part of this bill just happens to be about excessive union powers and giving the rights to unions to interfere in the lives of Australian workers and their employers. This is just the $30 million square-off for the union movement’s massive financing of the Australian Labor Party in the run-up to the last election. The question is: why was this not part of some cherry-picked legislation before comprehensive campaign finance reform was addressed by this chamber and indeed the other place as part of a comprehensive piece of legislation? No-one believes that the status quo is appropriate. Everyone believes that we need to do something. The fact that it was sparked by an incident such as the Wollongong sex and bribery scandal is probably neither here nor there. But it does indicate some of the bona fides in relation to this matter.

We put again on the public record that we want to work with the government to make sure that we get something decent out of this. We have an unprecedented opportunity to make dramatic improvements to the system of electoral funding. With a broad consensus across the political system that our electoral funding system requires serious reform, substantial enhancements to the transparency and credibility of our political system are within our reach. But this bill does nothing to account for or limit the influence of trade unions—or indeed industry associations, advocacy groups or other well-funded third-party entities—on the political process. Regardless of who is in government or in opposition, the Electoral Act needs to be fair, open and neutral, as it outlasts governments and oppositions as well as political parties. It should serve as a facilitator of democracy, not as a government’s prejudicial tool.

I again ask the government, the Greens and the Independents to give this bill the opportunity to be debated when we have in front of us comprehensive legislation for campaign finance reform. I do not in my heart of hearts believe that the Greens or the Independent senators believe that it is appropriate in any measure to be debating this matter outside the context of comprehensive finance reform. We have an opportunity still to delay this bill until after that has been put on the table. It should be put on the table and we believe that there is no reason that, with appropriate levels of goodwill, we cannot collectively get a system that will make it better for the Australian community now and into the future.

I want to make a couple of other comments. The amendments that will be moved by the government—as I said earlier on—are supportive. We also have to make sure that what we do enables the system to be workable, because unworkable systems are often the systems that get abused. This is not just about a set of principles; comprehensive campaign finance reform is actually about making sure that all the dots are joined up, because when the dots are not joined up someone will join them up somewhere else. That is why we saw things like the Wollongong sex and bribery scandal, where someone got the dot and drew it elsewhere, and abused the system.

Let us work collectively in relation to this. Let us not allow the government to cherry pick parts of that reform for its own cheap political purposes. This issue is too serious to be debased by having cherry-picked legislation. I repeat my call to the Greens and Independent senators to make sure that this bill does not proceed today and is debated in the context of comprehensive reform, because in my view, quite frankly, to do otherwise would limit an enormous opportunity for this to be done in toto and not with pieces pulled into it and out of it. I end where I started: we are committed to comprehensive campaign finance reform. We are willing and anxious to work with the government and other parties in this place to ensure it, but can it please be done on the back of legitimacy? It is not legitimate to pull pieces out of campaign finance reform. If it is going to be done legitimately then let us do it in toto.


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