Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Matters of Urgency
Donations to Political Parties
Mr Acting Deputy President Williams, I thank you for the patience you have shown having to listen to Senator Lines through all that. There is on occasion in this place—and this may be one of them—a faint stench or an aroma, if you will, of hypocrisy that permeates the air. I am getting a distinct whiff of it today with this new-found passion on the other side for finance and campaign reform! What I find extraordinary is that Senator Lines neglected to mention how the ALP get the bulk of their cash. It comes from the union movement. You know what? The individual union members are not disclosed. In fact, we know a lot of them are phantoms. We know that the unions doctor up their membership lists and then the money comes flowing through. As Senator Lines quite rightly said, the Labor Party do act on political donations—because when they get their donations they do whatever the union movement tells them to do!
There is a blight on democracy on that side of the chamber, because they are captive to a tiny subset of the population, of which the militant arm is dominant. We have heard the atrocious stories about the behaviour of union officials. We have read about them in the paper. We know just how despicably union members, who work very hard for their money and loyally pay their dues, are treated. They are treated as cannon fodder by those opposite.
I heard Senator Rhiannon's speech before. There is much that I disagree with Senator Rhiannon on, but the fact is she has been assiduous and remarkably consistent in this. It is necessary to have campaign finance reform, and so she comes to this very genuinely. Before Senator Rhiannon gets carried away by my praise, I do have to mention that she has consistently represented this position even when she has had to use a nom de plume! I remember the apology that appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald when Senator Rhiannon, using the name Norman Thompson, attacked her own party on the lack of finance reform. Personally, I would have chosen a catchier name—Norm Tom or something a bit more vigorous! But I say to Senator Rhiannon: if you want to be Norman Thompson and attack the Greens party about campaign finance reform, I say: 'Good on you, Norman! Thank you, Norman. I'm absolutely delighted with that.' Notwithstanding that Senator Rhiannon has had to hide some of her identity issues, she has been absolutely consistent in this. She is coming to this from a position of truth, unlike those on the other side.
While I am on the Greens, it is pertinent for me to remind the Australian public that they received $1.6 million in donations from Mr Graeme Wood. At the time, it was the largest ever political donation. That was before the time of Mr Palmer, who, of course, has an enviable record in donating other people's money to his own political party! Until that particular time, it was the largest political donation. For those of us who have been here long enough, I remember when the esteemed former senator Bob Brown raised a legal campaign fund or something like that, and he received over $1 million in what were, in many cases, anonymous donations, which he refused to disclose because he said he did not know where they came from. So it is okay for a Greens leader to raise $1 million from anonymous donations to protect his legal bills, even though he is a multimillionaire superannuant. That is okay, and yet the party itself does not want to do anything about it.
Senator Rhiannon, aka Norman Thompson, is absolutely consistent in this, and I credit her with it. I also believe there needs to be campaign reform. I have spoken about this in the past. I think there are ways in which we can improve the disclosure threshold, and it is entirely appropriate for political parties to document and publish donations within a week or 10 days of them being received. I think that is entirely feasible. They have to be entered into a database anyway. Why can't they be sent off to the AEC and put online there as well? There are a number of ways in which you can do it. I also happen to believe that donations should be limited to individuals, and the individuals should put their names to it. To me, it does not matter if a family of five all want to make $5,000 donations, as long as they are there and disclosed and people can make judgements in the court of public opinion.
Notwithstanding this, I am struck by the aroma of hypocrisy that has arisen from this motion. When the Labor Party were in power—we remember those dark days—it was incumbent upon the likes of Senator Faulkner, whom Senator Rhiannon mentioned, to say how bad the Labor Party was in handling the issues that they had to deal with. We know that in other jurisdictions—in some state jurisdictions—there have been people involved in allegations of corruption. We have seen all sorts of nefarious circumstances. I keep coming back to the union movement because a lot of it seems to have taken place there. I acknowledge that, unfortunately, we have had some issues about people fraudulently doing things within other political organisations as well. It is never acceptable. We have to acknowledge that. The Labor Party are introducing this motion to lower the disclosure threshold, after they were a party to increasing that threshold, and to restrict anonymous donations, when they are the party that paid for union memberships, noting that unions give hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Labor Party by using phantom members. Dare I go back into history when the Labor Party would conduct raffles? It was an extraordinary thing. They would have a raffle, the raffle prize would be a bowl of oranges or something like that and tickets were $1,000 each! The same person bought all the raffle tickets—all 50 of them!