Senate debates

Wednesday, 13 September 2006


Senators’ Interests Committee; Documents

4:06 pm

Photo of Ruth WebberRuth Webber (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Committee of Senators’ Interests, I table documents, including correspondence and minutes of the committee, in relation to two matters considered by the committee over recent weeks. I move:

That the Senate take note of the documents.

On 11 July 2006, Senator the Hon. Eric Abetz wrote to the committee raising a number of issues in relation to statements of interests lodged with the Registrar of Senators’ Interests by the Leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Bob Brown. These issues concerned a bank account operated by Senator Bob Brown to receive donations to help finance legal action to stop logging in the Wielangta State Forest. Senator Abetz asked the Committee of Senators’ Interests to consider the following matters: (1), the issue of Senator Brown effectively soliciting anonymous donations by permitting online donors to withhold their names, and by not insisting that donors making direct bank transfers provide their names; (2), the issue of tardy disclosures; and (3), the issue of whether Senator Brown should have registered the proceeds of individual items at a fundraising auction.

In addition to asking the committee to examine and comment on these issues, Senator Abetz also asked the committee to consider a number of punitive or corrective actions. The committee has carefully considered the issues raised by Senator Abetz, including whether there were grounds for the committee to raise any of the issues as matters for inquiry by the Privileges Committee as possible contempts. The committee by majority decision resolved not to proceed down this path but to consider Senator Abetz’s correspondence as a submission made under standing order 22A(1) in relation to the form and content of the register and the registering of interests more generally.

As the committee pointed out in its reply to Senator Abetz, which I have just tabled, its role is not to police compliance by individual senators with the resolutions. It does not have enforcement powers. Compliance is encouraged through publication of the register on the one hand and, in serious cases, by the contempt jurisdiction of the Senate. The committee’s explanatory notes express the principle, inherent in the resolutions agreed to in 1994, that final decisions on the appropriate interpretation of the resolution are the responsibility of individual senators. Senators are responsible for making their own judgements about whether a conflict of interest exists or may appear to exist.

The relevant parts of resolution 3 on registrable interests require that senators’ statements:

shall cover the following matters:

                 …           …         …

(k) gifts valued ... at $300 or more where received from other than official sources ...

There is thus no explicit requirement for the individual sources of gifts to be identified. If senators choose not to identify the source of registrable gifts or, alternatively, choose to accept registrable gifts from anonymous sources, this is an exercise of judgement for which the senators concerned are responsible.

Members of the committee are mindful, however, that despite the emphasis on individual senators’ responsibility to interpret the resolutions and register their interests accordingly, those resolutions do not require the source even of substantial gifts to be identified. Therefore the committee intends to examine over the next few months whether the definition of registrable gifts under the resolutions, as currently framed, strikes the appropriate balance between senators’ private interests and their public duties.

In the meantime, the committee has decided to amend its explanatory notes for the guidance of senators in two respects. The first is to remind senators that it is their responsibility to arrange their affairs to ensure that they receive timely information from third parties so as to avoid being found in contempt by knowingly failing to comply with the time frame for notifying alterations of interests. The Senate recently agreed to amend the resolutions to extend this time frame from 28 to 35 days as recommended by this committee earlier this year in its second report of 2006. The recommendation was prompted, in part, by difficulties experienced by senators whose share portfolios are managed by third parties which provide periodic activity reports that may involve notifiable alterations. The same principle applies to statements from financial institutions which may contain details of registrable interests such as monetary gifts.

The committee also reminds senators that interests clearly involving two distinct registrable interests should be registered under the two headings. It has added another example to the relevant part of the explanatory notes to help senators make these decisions.

Time does not permit me to go into the detail of the committee’s response to Senator Abetz with regard to his requested remedies, but senators may now read it for themselves. It is important to stress that the committee is not empowered to enforce compliance with the resolutions by individual senators. Its role under standing order 22A is to oversee and report on arrangements for the compilation and maintenance of and accessibility to the register.

The second matter considered by the committee was the unauthorised disclosure of Senator Abetz’s correspondence to the committee, which was quoted in detail in an article by Louise Dodson, entitled ‘Brown blip growing on Coalition’s radar’, published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday, 8 August 2006.

In accordance with the resolution of the Senate of 20 June 1996, which sets out procedures to be followed by committees affected by unauthorised disclosure of proceedings, documents or evidence, the committee took appropriate steps to identify the source of the unauthorised disclosure. The article appeared on the first day of the spring sittings before the correspondence, along with other meeting papers, had even been distributed to committee members. In view of this, committee members were not asked for an explanation for the disclosure, but explanations were sought from the committee’s staff and Senator Abetz. I have tabled those responses.

Senator Abetz advised the committee that a copy of the correspondence was inadvertently given to the journalist concerned by a temporary member of his staff filling in for his press secretary who was then on leave. Senator Abetz outlines the circumstances in his response and also conveys the unidentified staff member’s apology to the committee.

All senators will be aware that the unauthorised disclosure of documents submitted to a committee may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. They will also know that the Privileges Committee has conducted numerous inquiries into unauthorised disclosures of committee proceedings involving varying levels of harm caused as a result. The 1996 order of the Senate I referred to earlier was augmented last year by a sessional order which requires committees affected by unauthorised disclosures to make a more rigorous assessment before raising them formally as matters of privilege.

The sessional order was adopted after a comprehensive inquiry by the Privileges Committee into the whole issue of unauthorised disclosures. The sessional order includes more detailed guidance for committees on the types of matters which should or should not be raised as matters of privilege. The Senators’ Interests Committee has applied these orders to the case in question. Although the committee was able to identify the source of the unauthorised disclosure, and although the publication of the article pre-empted its consideration of the correspondence and added a further level of difficulty to the matter, thereby affecting the committee’s ability to deliberate dispassionately, its ultimate decision to publish the correspondence by tabling it today places this case within the category identified in the sessional order as not warranting raising as a matter of privilege. In coming to this decision the committee was greatly assisted by the guidance provided by the two orders and did not find it necessary to seek advice from the Privileges Committee as contemplated in the sessional order. I commend the documents tabled on behalf of the Senators’ Interests Committee to the close scrutiny of all senators.

4:16 pm

Photo of Ross LightfootRoss Lightfoot (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I wish to address the first of the subject matters of which Senator Webber took note here this afternoon, particularly with respect to Senator Brown’s lack of disclosure of relevant interests to the Register of Senators’ Interests, dealt with in the document that has just been tabled.

Recently, Senator Brown disclosed that his RJ Brown Forest Account, Wielangta Fighting Fund, had received $17,000 in five anonymous donations. They were in the amounts of $10,000, $5,000, $1,000 and two of $500. When this was exposed, Senator Brown traced the donations and subsequently provided the names—only the names—of four donors. But, in reality, no-one knows who, for instance, ‘Michael Emery’ is—someone who anonymously gave Senator Brown $10,000—or who most of the other donors are. Senator Brown still says that he has not been able to trace who gave him $1,000. To comply with the spirit of the disclosure regime, Senator Brown should give not just the names but also the addresses of all donors to his fund. If he cannot say who anonymously gave him the $1,000, my view is that he should also donate that amount to consolidated revenue. I also draw the Senate’s attention to a privacy consent on the Wielangta Fighting Fund’s website eGive, or donations page, which allows donors to have their name and contact details withheld from the fund. Surely this is contrary to the spirit of the Senate’s disclosure regime.

Another issue concerns Senator Brown’s failure to disclose the purchasers of his ‘personal effects’ at a fundraising auction last February. In an article reproduced on the Bob Brown Wielangta Landmark Trial Website, Senator Brown boasts that, while takings for the auction were anticipated to be between $35,000 and $50,000, a sum much larger was obtained, namely $75,000. He goes on to boast that this was because of a donation element in all the bids. In other words, Senator Brown effectively obtained donations of $25,000 to $40,000 but has failed to disclose the identity of the ‘donors’. The inflated prices paid for the Brown memorabilia included $700 for a constituent’s letter and $1,000 for a circular rock. This rock was reportedly returned to Senator Brown. How can this not amount to a gift of $1,000? Why should the donor not be disclosed? Because fundraising auctions can be a means of laundering donations, the Australian Electoral Commission requires political parties to disclose successful auction bidders and their bids. Surely Senator Brown should do the same to the register.

Another concern is the tardiness of Senator Brown’s disclosures. His disclosure, received by the Register of Senators’ Interests on 26 May 2006, details over $160,000 in donations to the Wielangta Fighting Fund between 1 July 2005 and 30 April 2006. Donations received as early as July 2005 were not disclosed until January 2006. For instance, a $20,000 donation from Tara Hunt, a Canadian living in the United States, on 25 August 2005 was not disclosed until 20 January 2006—that is, nearly five months later. And donations made as early as January 2006 were not disclosed until May 2006. Incredibly, on 31 July 2006, Senator Brown belatedly disclosed a $12,500 loan made to him some 18 months earlier, in January 2005. Senate resolutions require changes of interests to be notified to the register within 35 days of the change occurring. While some latitude has traditionally been shown towards senators who have missed the deadline by even a month or two, I am not aware of a senator being so tardy in disclosing so many items.

In light of the above cases of Senator Brown flouting the spirit of the disclosure regime, I welcome the move by the Committee of Senators’ Interests to examine whether the current definition of gifts is appropriate. I particularly welcome the committee inquiring further into the need for mandatory identification of donors of registrable gifts. In other words, Senator Brown’s inadequate disclosures and stretching of the rules have necessitated the consideration of new, tighter rules.

The senator’s hypocrisy on disclosure issues makes his actions less excusable. Not only has Senator Brown vociferously opposed the government’s electoral reforms—while himself accepting $17,000 in anonymous donations—he has failed to live up to the standards he has himself espoused. In May last year, somewhat presciently, he told the Senate:

... when an error like this is made, the one who makes it—it may be me next; I do not know—ought to come into the Senate and give an explanation. There is a general understanding not only of the common obligation we have to abide by standing orders but also of the frailty of the system insofar as it is easy to overlook something. But overlooking a $6,000 gift to a senator and then studiously overlooking it in the wake of it having been drawn to public attention shows something other than just an oversight. This was not an oversight; this has been a studied breach of the rules for some months now. It concerns me greatly that it appears that it will go through to the keeper.

That is the end of the quote by Senator Bob Brown. I say Senator Brown should live up to these standards. I therefore call on him to abide by the letter as well as the spirit of resolutions on the disclosure of senators’ interests by: firstly, disclosing who gave him $1,000 in cash on 20 December 2005, or donating this amount to consolidated revenue; secondly, disclosing the names of bidders whose successful bids—in excess of $300—raised $75,000 at an auction of his personal effects held on 2 February 2006, noting Senator Brown’s own words that there was a ‘donation element in all the bids’; and, lastly, providing the addresses of both donors to the RJ Brown Forest Account, Wielangta Fighting Fund, and of successful auction bidders.

4:25 pm

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the Standing Committee of Senators’ Interests for deliberating on this matter and for finding that Senator Abetz had no case when it came to warranting a reference to the Privileges Committee. What has arisen as a result of the approach by Senator Abetz—and I will come back to it in a moment—is a reprimand, at minimum, of Senator Abetz for breaching confidentiality, which is a far more serious thing, I might say, than any of the potential charges that Senator Abetz levelled over my fundraising to defend the Wielangta Forest in Tasmania.

Let me start at that point. Some years ago it seemed to me that the Wielangta Forest of 10,000 hectares—with its rare, ancient and endangered species, including the wedge-tailed eagle, the Wielangta stag beetle and the swift parrot, all of which are federally listed—ought not be destroyed because it would be a breach in many ways of this nation’s heritage rights and this government’s responsibility to protect those nationally endangered species. In the absence of anybody else doing it, I as a senator for Tasmania took on the interests of my constituency to challenge this matter in the Federal Court. I can say that after 37 days of hearings—I thought it would be three days at the outset—the costs of that court case are going to approach half a million dollars for me. If costs are awarded, it will be a much bigger sum, I should imagine, because Forestry Tasmania has been defending the case and it has been joined by the Commonwealth and the state.

This is a matter of huge public interest and responsibility. I did not take it lightly and I did not have the wherewithal to carry through with that case without assistance from a very willing, committed and devoted public to those forests. Having undertaken the campaign, I set about getting public assistance in order to stay in the court and not be knocked out simply—as other people in Tasmania have been—by a lack of funds in seeking justice for the forests and wildlife. I have to thank from the bottom of my heart everybody who has donated and will continue to donate as we raise funds to pay for this case.

That said, yes, I was late in beginning to register the matter to the pecuniary interests committee, but I have put all the information before the committee. It was not drawn to my attention that I was late. I made a commitment voluntarily to put all this before the committee when it was arguable that it may not have been necessary. Senator Abetz, as Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation, has effectively joined the court case on behalf of the Commonwealth and taken me to task for fundraising. I point out to the chamber that I am up against a Commonwealth which had a revenue last year of $231 billion, a Tasmanian government with $3.4 billion and Forestry Tasmania with an operating revenue of $185 million, and not one of the entities, including Senator Abetz, has been exposed to one dollar of personal risk—nothing at all. That is a very different circumstance to the situation I am in where I personally take responsibility. Through the prodigious work of staff and people who have assisted we have raised money, and I have put all of that fundraising on the record.

As soon as I did that, of course, it alerted the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation, Senator Abetz. I submit that this has been driven by his own personal interest in defending the loggers of Tasmanian forests, not least Gunn’s Pty Ltd, whose intention it is to stay logging in Wielangta Forest with all the consequent destruction that will occur. Senator Abetz is curiously missing from the chamber today. Senator Lightfoot was sent in to defend the indefensible action that Senator Abetz has taken in this case. Let me refer to a couple of the cases in point.

Mike Emery was apparently an anonymous donor who came into a bank and put $10,000 into this fund. Now, I have seen him once in the last few years. He is a scientist, he is not rich, he loves the Tasmanian bush and he has put $10,000 into trying to protect the Wielangta Forest, through this legal avenue. If only the commitment that he has for Tasmania were to be replicated by Senator Abetz.

If you look down the list, Madam Acting Deputy President Crossin, as you know and as the committee has pointed out, I needed to name no-one. There are no rules to say people should be named. I have volunteered their names. But when you look down the list, which I just read today, a staffer of mine has put $300 in. My neighbours up the road at Liffey have put in $300. The elderly lady who lives next door on the down side has put in $1,000. My neighbour in Hobart, in fact my landlord, has put in $1,500. So there you go: my doctor gave $500; my lawyer gave $10,000; and Dr Connie Harris, that fantastic fundraiser in North Sydney, gave $2,000 from her own funds. Tara Hunt, who was described by Senator Lightfoot as a Canadian living in the United States, but who actually lives in Randwick, gave $20,000. That is the only donation which needed to be registered if we were talking here about donations to political parties. And why is that? Because Senator Abetz earlier this year moved legislation in here so that no donation of $10,000 or less to political parties and politicians election campaigns had any longer to be disclosed.

We opposed that. I continue to oppose that but what gross and petty hypocrisy from Senator Abetz that he comes in here and says, ‘I’ll protect my interests and my party’s interests by allowing anybody who donates $10,000 to us to be hidden.’ Then he brings before this committee donations of $300, $1000 and a couple of hundred dollars from citizens because they went to a bank and their names were not registered. I might add I have traced all those donations except one and that is the $1,000 that Senator Lightfoot spoke to. It was put into a bank on the mainland. I do not know who that was. That has no influence over me, but I love the person who donated it. Thank you, whoever you are, anonymous friend of Australia’s forests and wildlife for donating to this worthwhile fund. I note also that Senator Abetz, in his letter to the committee, has said:

I ask the committee to determine that the acceptance of anonymous donations in excess of $300 should be disallowed and that any such amounts inadvertently received be payable to the Commonwealth as occurs with anonymous donations received within the purview of the Commonwealth Electoral Act.

Anonymous donations of up to $10,000 can be, as I said, given under that act.

I move:

At the end of the motion, add “and asks the Government to legislate that gifts or donations to members of parliament or political parties of $300 or more, which are anonymous, be payable to the Commonwealth for disbursement to Australian charity”.

Let me take on Senator Abetz directly. Let us test whether the government wants to have anonymous donations of up to $10,000 given to the Treasury for disbursement to Australian charities. Let us test whether Senator Abetz really meant what he said or whether he was just simply carrying out a vendetta. (Time expired)

4:35 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is not an issue which I have been at all involved in. I just happened to be listening to Senator Lightfoot deliver what I thought was a very reasoned speech and I imagined that Senator Brown would get up and apologise to the Senate for his failings. I think what Senator Brown’s speech just showed is how the rules are made for everyone else but not for him. I find there is hypocrisy in the actions that people like Senator Brown take. He is always so pious, always so pure, the conscience of the parliament and the Senate, always berating everyone else for actions said to be a little untoward. (Extension of time granted) I just wanted to point out to the Senate, and anyone who might be listening to this, how we always get these lectures from Senator Brown telling the rest of us how we should behave and how the parliament should operate, but when it comes to Senator Brown complying with the rules, not only does he not comply but he will not even apologise to the Senate for his indiscretions.

The subject of Senator Brown’s discussion just now was a justification of yet another one of the stunts that he involves himself in when it comes to the Tasmanian forests. Of course, any of us who understand the issue of Tasmanian forests look at it in a democratic way. We think that the people of Tasmania are the ones who should make the decision on this, and the people of Tasmania quite clearly gave their ruling at the last federal election when the Liberal Party, which supports sustainable forestry in Tasmania, won two seats and an extra senator. If that is not an indication to Senator Brown and anyone else of the support of the Tasmanian people for the very sustainable and cautiously managed approach that the federal government, and indeed the state Labor government, take to the management of the Tasmanian forests then I am not sure what is.

I will finish my remarks by saying, again, that the piousness, the lecturing and the moral consciousness of the parliament that Senator Brown so often exudes in this chamber is shown to be nothing more than a bit of rank theatre from Senator Brown because, when the rules are made, Senator Brown seems to think that he is able to ignore them and have special dispensation.

4:40 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to enter this debate with regard to the Wielangta fighting fund and I note the crocodile tears that I am seeing in the Senate this afternoon. I want to address this issue of a moral imperative because that has been something that we have heard from the coalition side. In Tasmania, we are seeing species driven to the brink of extinction. We are seeing, in particular, the swift parrot and the wedge-tailed eagle, not to mention the stag beetle, being driven to extinction because of forestry practices. That is not just my assertion; it is something that Forestry Tasmania, in their own reports, admit to in relation to the wedge-tailed eagle in the north-east of the state. Yet we have a senator supposedly representing Tasmania and supposedly representing conservation—that is, the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation—standing up in here and actively condemning people who are giving their time and effort and, in the case of people making donations, their money, to protect threatened species.

We have just had Threatened Species Week in Australia and what we have found is that habitat loss, combined with alien invasive species and exacerbated by global warming, are leading us into the third major era of mass extinction. We have a senator who has the gumption to take on the fact that the EPBC Act does not give protection to threatened species in Australia. The Minister for the Environment and Heritage refuses to use his powers under the act to protect threatened species such that people have to go to court in this country in order to try to bring the issue of what is happening to threatened species into the public arena and to expose the weaknesses in the legislation.

The extraordinary thing about Senator Brown—and I have known him since the 1983 Franklin campaign—is that I have known him to mortgage everything he owns to put into campaigns for conservation. I have seen him fly from one end of the country to the other in a state of near exhaustion in order to attend fundraiser after fundraiser to put funds into campaigns to save threatened species and special areas of the country. Only last weekend he was up at the Macquarie Marshes, where the government is very happy to facilitate the large cotton growers taking the water out of those marshes and allowing them to die. Yet we have the ridiculous situation in this Senate where Senator Abetz comes in here and tries to make an issue of the fact that Senator Brown has made the disclosure, as is required, that he opened a bank account in which to put the donations to pay for the case that he is taking to court to try to protect Wielangta and expose the fact that the Commonwealth is refusing to protect the threatened species in that area. Report after report has come out showing us that soil carbon in native forests and old-growth forests desperately need to be maintained. The minute those forests are knocked down, that soil carbon is released into the atmosphere. Where is the minister for conservation? Where is the minister for environment? They are nowhere—absolutely nowhere.

Apparently there is no moral imperative in the government to protect threatened species. There is no moral imperative in this government ever to act in the public interest. Instead, the interest they are protecting is that of Gunns corporation. Senator Abetz, the minister for forestry, is actually the minister for Gunns. The action he has been taking in supporting the managed investment schemes is a thinly disguised effort to support Gunns in their operations. Gunns have come out and said that they cannot build their pulp mill. The economics for that pulp mill are so shaky and so lacking in viability that the only way they can build it is to rely on the taxpayers, via Senator Abetz and his colleagues from Tasmania, pouring money into support of Gunns and converting native forests.

We have had government senators pointing the finger when there has been clear disclosure, and yet, during the debate that we had on changing the rules about donations, Senator Abetz stood up and said, ‘From now on the government believes it is entirely appropriate for anyone to be able to donate $80,000 to $90,000, without disclosure, to any political party in Australia. Anyone can do that by donating $10,000 to each state branch of the Liberal Party, the Labor Party or any other party.’ Senator Abetz has brought into this chamber legislation that allows big business to give $10,000 to branches of the Liberal Party in every state—and none of it has to be disclosed. But he is suddenly desperately interested in finding out who is donating money for forest conservation in this country. What is more, Senator Brown is keen to see that that disclosure is there on the record in the disclosure register.

After the next election I think people will recognise that we have no disclosure laws in this country, because if you can give $90,000 without having to disclose where it has come from then effectively you have no disclosure. Today, in this Senate, we saw the impact of the four major oil companies watching the government jump—and the opposition with them, saying ‘How high? Let’s get rid of that legislation that restricts the oil majors and the two major supermarket chains.’ That has happened already. Big business has stopped the initiative of the Greens to get rid of junk food advertising on children’s television. Where did that come from? It came from the major food outlets for those junk foods.

So let us not come in here and listen to the complete nonsense we have heard this afternoon. Instead, let us think about the moral imperative we all have, as members of the human species, to recognise that we are in the midst of a species extinction and that it is our responsibility to protect ecosystems and build resilience in ecosystems so that we can at least try to withstand what is going to happen, and what is happening already, as a result of climate change. Instead of that, this government sees no moral imperative to protect threatened species. This government sees no moral imperative to stop, and mitigate as much as possible, the worst impacts of global warming.

The government sees no moral imperative to abolish this ridiculous donations scheme we have for elections, instead of having public funding for elections and banning corporate donations altogether, which would be the most democratic thing to do. Instead, we have a government which has overseen a regime which facilitates secret donations from shadowy sects or anybody else who wants to give $90,000 to a political party. And at the same time this government tries to persecute those who wish to donate whatever savings or whatever they can towards doing what the government ought to be doing through legislation.

If you want to have a debate about moral imperatives let us bring it on. Let us talk about intergenerational equity. Let us talk about responsibility to our children and grandchildren on species extinction and global warming. Let us talk about personal integrity and let us have any one of you stand up and tell us whether, in the public interest, you have ever mortgaged anything you owned. I will bet there is not one single person on the coalition side who has ever mortgaged anything and dared risk it in order that the public interest was served. Senator Brown ought to be congratulated for the fact that, over more than 20 years, I have known him to do this time and time again. He has put everything he owns on the line—in some cases to the point where all of his colleagues and friends have been desperately concerned about what is going to happen—in order to be able to pay money back and in order to support the campaigns and get the outcomes that we need.

So I think it was a foolish move to come in here today and to attack the integrity of Senator Brown, who stands head and shoulders above just about anyone else I could think of in terms of the personal commitment and sacrifices he has made to a cause that he believes in.

Photo of Trish CrossinTrish Crossin (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Senator Webber be agreed to.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I did move an amendment to the motion.

The Acting Deputy President:

Thank you, Senator Brown. We were unsure whether you had done that or whether you were simply referring to amendments moved during the electoral matters debate. Do you have your amendment in writing, Senator Brown?

4:52 pm

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The amendment I moved earlier read as follows:

That the Senate asks the government to legislate that gifts or donations to members of parliament or political parties of $300 or more, which are anonymous, be payable to the Commonwealth for disbursement to Australian charity.

The Acting Deputy President:

The question is that the amendment be agreed to.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Corporate Governance and Responsibility) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek some direction from you, Madam Acting Deputy President. This is an amendment to the motion to take note of the report? Am I to be clear on that, and is that within the scope of the original motion?

The Acting Deputy President:

My understanding is that it is within the scope to do that. Therefore I will put the question of Senator Brown’s amendment to Senator Webber’s motion. Those of that opinion say aye; those against say no. The noes have it.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The ayes have it.

Question negatived.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Corporate Governance and Responsibility) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Brown, this is a complete stunt you’ve just pulled here.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I note Senator Wong’s difficulty, and I do not want to put the opposition into that position. All I want to note here—if I have leave to do so, I will dispense with this matter in one minute—

The Acting Deputy President:

If you want to speak, you will need to seek leave.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to speak for one minute.

Leave granted.

I appreciate the difficulty for the opposition. We will overcome that by simply noting that the government is opposing this amendment. What demonstrable hypocrisy from Senator Abetz, who brought legislation in here to keep donations of $10,000—and, as Senator Milne said, of up to $90,000—hidden from the public view. He attacked me for one donation of $300 that was anonymous—I do not know where it came from—and said that this should be taken by the government and kept by the Treasury. Now I have said: let all anonymous donations flowing to members of parliament and to the Liberal Party be taken by the government and redirected to Australian charities. Fair enough? That is what Senator Abetz wanted, but when he got the test in here the government said no. What hypocrisy from Senator Abetz and what hypocrisy from the government.

4:55 pm

Photo of Ruth WebberRuth Webber (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—As Chair of the Senators’ Interests Committee, and also on behalf of the opposition, as was outlined by Senator Wong earlier, we were unclear initially whether Senator Brown was making a point or seeking to move an amendment. We have just now seen it, and it is not our habit to support things that we have not had time to give due consideration to. However, I would like to remind the chamber and place on the record yet again that Labor has always stood for a robust disclosure regime in Australia. In fact, it was the Labor Party that initiated it.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—What absolutely and abject hypocrisy from Senator Brown in his comments about Senator Abetz and the government. He has put forward a motion that is ill-conceived and would not work. With respect to you, Madam Acting Deputy President, I would suggest that the amendment is not an amendment to this motion to take note. I did not bother to take the point at the time, but it is clearly an unworkable amendment, it is clearly one that has not been thought through and it is clearly one that is not relevant to the motion before us. This government has been open and accountable with most things, and I repeat the point I made earlier: that Senator Brown is so pious, so precious on all of these things, but when the rules apply to him and he is caught out he suggests that they do not apply to him. He does not even apologise to the Senate for his breach of the rules that everyone else is forced to abide by. (Time expired)

Photo of Trish CrossinTrish Crossin (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We have already put Senator Brown’s amendment. The noes had it—it was lost. The question now is that Senator Webber’s motion be agreed to.

Question agreed to.