Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Matters of Urgency
Donations to Political Parties
I inform the Senate that at 8.30 am today two senators each submitted letters in accordance with standing order 75. Senator Moore proposed a matter of urgency and Senator Day proposed a matter of public importance for discussion. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received from Senator Moore:
Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today I propose to move "That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:
"The need to reform Australia's political donation system by lowering the disclosure threshold, banning foreign donations, restricting anonymous donations and preventing donation splitting to avoid disclosure."
Is the matter of urgency supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
Yes, it is. I understand that informal arrangements have been made in relation to speaking times in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.
That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:
The need to reform Australia's political donation system by lowering the disclosure threshold, banning foreign donations, restricting anonymous donations and preventing donation splitting to avoid disclosure.
I stand in support of the motion on the need to reform Australia's political donation system by lowering the disclosure threshold, banning foreign donations, restricting anonymous donations and preventing donation splitting to avoid disclosure.
We have heard much in this place this week about democracy. We have heard much about how changing the voting system in the Senate would be good for democracy. But there was one issue that should have been dealt with in any proposal to change any voting system, and that was the system of political donations. I have outlined here on many occasions what happened in New South Wales, my home state. In Newcastle, a multimillionaire developer pulled up in a Bentley, dragged a Liberal Party member into the front of the Bentley and handed over a brown paper bag with $10,000 in $100 notes. That is the type of rorting that we have in our electoral system because of the lack of transparency and proper disclosure.
This week I have also gone through some of the trust funds that have been established under the name of the Liberal Party associated entities. An associated entity—
Here we have Senator O'Sullivan, who was up to his neck in an associated entity up in Brisbane. Maybe, if he wants to give full disclosure about all his activities in that associated entity one day in the Senate, democracy might be improved. In terms of whether we should change the voting system, the reality of the situation is that fundamentally we should change the system that allows the rorts by the coalition to go on.
The argument that we should just change the voting system and give the balance of power to the Greens—the Greens will have a huge capacity for balance of power under this, and we know what that can lead to. We know that it is going to be a real problem. People think the Greens stand for working people, but Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson believes that his party could double its vote by courting small business. He also backed a bigger national discussion about weekend penalty rates and suggested that they are outdated. We know what the Liberals want to do. We know that the Liberals wanted to introduce a GST. They wanted to introduce a GST so that ordinary working families, every time they went to the supermarket, would be paying extra through a GST to reduce corporate tax so that they could get bigger executive salaries for the top one per cent in this country. That is exactly what the Liberals were all about. Why were the Liberals running that? Check the money trail. The money trail shows that people who are out arguing this, from the Business Council of Australia, are the people who donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to the coalition for their electoral funding.
When you look at policies the Liberals take up, always look at where the money is coming from. If it is in relation to negative gearing, it is the white shoe brigade who are in there pushing the price of housing up to the extent that you are paying $905,000 for a tarted up fibro Housing Commission house in the western suburbs of Sydney, just outside Parramatta. What young person can afford that? What young person can bid or outbid the property developer who is in there pushing these prices up? I have heard a lot of talk about how Labor's policy would distort the market. The market is distorted so badly that the fundamental of housing—to give people shelter—is diminished because of the negative gearing policies that the coalition are protecting.
Let me get back to the Greens. When they sat down and did the dirty deal with the coalition to change the voting system in this country, they had an opportunity to deal with this issue of electoral funding. You have to wonder what the Greens stand for. What do they stand for, when you have Senator Peter Whish-Wilson out there saying that we need a bigger discussion about weekends versus weekdays? Talking about penalty rates, he says:
I think it's just a white Anglo-Saxon cultural thing that we've inherited. Society is different now. A lot of people are happy to work weekends and not work during the week.
I suppose, given that Senator Peter Whish-Wilson is a former senior vice-president of the Deutsche Bank, I can understand how this sort of thing comes in. This is all about transferring money from working people into the pockets of business and allowing business to make more profit with the theoretical argument that it will create more jobs. When I was a blue-collar worker, working on the tools in the Hunter Valley and in Sydney, I needed penalty rates. My family needed the penalty rates. I had to work on a Saturday and Sunday if I could to pay the bills and put food on the table and make sure I could send my kids on a school excursion. The penalty rates did that. That is why I will never, ever support any proposition that comes from people who are misguided and do not understand the importance of penalty rates.
We heard an intervention earlier from Senator O'Sullivan. I say to Senator O'Sullivan that the people who depend on penalty rates more than any other are people in rural and regional Australia, because their base rates are so low that they need that penalty rate to give them a living that allows them to put food on the table. The National Party, when they are in there being the lap-dogs of the Liberal Party, should think about what these issues do for their constituencies in rural and regional Australia. I never hear the National Party actually standing up for rural and regional Australia in this place. They never ask a question about rural and regional jobs; they never make speeches about rural and regional jobs; yet they skulk back to their electorates and try to pretend that they are looking after working people in their electorates. It is an absolute shocking rort that is going on there.
Look at the donations. Just look at some of the headlines over recent years. 'Illegal donations from developers fund New South Wales Libs win.' The key Liberal fundraising body took mafia money for access—mafia money for the Libs. Another heading was 'Donation disclosure reveals murky deal for Country Liberals'. And on and on it goes. Then you look at these schemes that they have got set up. The people who want to cut penalty rates and put a GST increase in place are the people who fund the coalition, and you cannot get any access to who is funding them because of the rorts that are going on.
Every Liberal who stands up here in this debate should say, 'I will be honest and I will be open, and I will open all the donations over $1,000 I have received to public scrutiny.' Will they do that? No, they will not. That is the challenge for every Liberal who stands up here and for every National Party member who stands up. My challenge is: you be open with the Australian public. Tell them where the money is coming from. We know what the cuts in penalty rates and the GST increase are all about. Follow the money with this mob, and that is where their policies come from. (Time expired)
Who is Zi Chun Wang? He donated $850,000 to Labor. Do not go, Senator Cameron. I will pause to give you time to get back to your office and turn your television on. You need to listen to this. There was $12,000,057 from the organised crime outfit of the CFMEU. There was $4.5 million from the ASU and $9 million from the AWU. You want to talk about connecting money and influence; we are happy to have the conversation with you. Some of these are criminal entities. There are 81 CFMEU representatives currently before the courts for standover tactics, blackmail and extracting money from industry, affecting the productivity and jobs of this nation. And what do they do? They take it with this hand, transfer it to this hand and slide it over to the Labor Party. Let's keep going. I do not even know who the SDA are. Can someone help me out? It is an acronym for some union. They donated $15 million. The TWU donated $7.2 million. The CEPU donated $4,400,053. The HSU donated $1.4 million. The NUW donated $5.9 million. It goes on and on. United Voice donated $10.5 million.
But forget about the trade union movement because we already know the dirty connections between the Australian Labor Party and the trade union movement. Doug, I will yield some of my time to you so you can stand up and tell me who Zi Chun Wang is. He donated $850,000. What about the Australian Kingold Investment Development Company? They donated $600,000. And you are on your pegs here talking about tax reforms that have to do with developments. We have Australian Chinese Business Elite Awards Pty Ltd. Doesn't that sound like a great, upstanding commercial corporate citizen? If that is not a $1 company, I am not here, but it donated $260,000. You might, at your next opportunity, tell us what Wei Wah International Trading Pty Ltd trade in. I think they might trade in favours with the Australian Labor Party. They donated $200,000. It goes on and on. I can hardly find a name that is not Chinese here. Mr Zhaokai Su—I am sorry to him if I have not pronounced that right—donated $70,000. The Yuhu Group—I would like to run into the Yuhu Group—donated $60,000. Hong Kong Kingson Investment donated $50,000. Truly, this sounds like the evolution of the first democratic party of the republic of China, and you want to talk about influence. I would like you to get up and deny some other time that these entities are not connected—that they are not brothers, sisters or subsidiaries—because the information that is published is not enough. You are right about one thing, Senator Cameron: we need transparency. That is what we need. We need serious transparency in this space.
We have situations with our friends in the Greens. The Wotif founder, Graeme Wood, donated $1.6 million in a one-off donation to a political party. You cannot avoid influence when that occurs. You will not find these numbers with the Liberal Party or the National Party—and I know a thing or two about this.
They have brought you down here to try to drown me out. I tell you what, I will lift it up a decibel or two.
What we have here is the fact that the Australian Labor Party is owned, lock stock and barrel, by a collection of trade unions, some of them almost organised criminal entities. There are ways you can deal with that, Senator Cameron. If they are not organised criminal outfits, support us as we bring the legislation into this place for the ABCC and also for the registration of these entities. Of course you will not. In the whole time I have been here, every day I call out to you, Doug—or Senator Cameron, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—to condemn them. Not once have you condemned them. When the evidence is hard and cold and fresh from our ministers, what happens is that you sit there silently with your head on your chest.
Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. That is an aspersion on me as a senator. I have consistently indicated my opposition to violence, bullying, intimidation and corruption. It is on the record and the senator should withdraw.
Can I submit on this, Mr Acting Deputy President? I had not completed my sentence. I began a statement about what I see as corruption and organised criminal activity in the trade union movement. If he lets me finish, Senator Cameron's name will not even come into mention.
I withdraw. The organised criminal activities of the CFMEU are well published—they are no longer allegations—and here they are on the list of donors to the Australian Labor Party. What might be useful Senator Cameron and others in the party to do the next time they get up—I have not heard these condemnations, might I say, but I accept what the senator has said—is look squarely down the barrel of the camera and tell the CFMEU and everyone in Australia that you are not going to take one more red cent, not a razoo, off the CFMEU to fund the ability of you people to return to your seats.
It is breathtaking that you would pick the subject of corruption and influence from donors. It is unbelievable, Doug—sorry, Senator Cameron. I have only 10 minutes to run through the list. Ten minutes is clearly not enough. We are talking about amounts of money that are breathtaking. Since 1995 it is $100 million. Actually, I am being unkind. I should be accurate in here: it is $98,951,511.11.
You pick a spot anywhere you like. Run a ballot amongst yourselves. I am happy to do the against case; you do the for case. Let us get a couple of old soapboxes in the middle of Sydney or Melbourne or you can come out to my patch at Charleville and let us see whether people believe that $100 million buys you influence or not. It does not just buy you influence; you have the full ownership. You get a lifetime warranty with a hundred million bucks. I promise you cannot find any other cohort who would blow whistle up the kilt of our collective parties in the coalition with those sorts of donations. It goes on and on. I say to you, Senator Cameron, it would be a hell of a lot more if many of the officials—
I will. Thank you, Chair. A wonderful chair you are. I am telling you now, it would be a lot more if most of these union people did not clip the ticket on the way through. They have big bills to meet, themselves—house payments, buying houses, going to bordellos, rich wine—it goes on and on. Many of these people are unsavoury individuals.
Long before you want to start trotting out questions about transparency and putting caps on donations, the first thing you need to do, on behalf of my coalition—I have been given no right to do this but I am going to do it anyway—I say to the people of Australia: we will never take one dinar off organised crime, not one. One of you, whoever is making the next contribution, needs to stand up and repeat that. I know you cannot. I know you will not. The $100 million from the trade union movement, I have to be honest, I am only human: if they rolled out $100 million to my mob I probably would have been absent from the chamber today. I probably would not have come in. I probably would have had to think long and hard about it. But it is not my mob that is taking the money.
I agree with you all, particularly Senator Cameron when he says we need to have a long, hard look about the patronage that comes with the big donations. You and I could make a two-man committee, Senator Cameron, and we would come back to this place with recommendations. When we do there will not be one single trade union left in the legislation if they take into account my contribution to the report.
This is atrocious. It is embarrassing. You shouldn't just condemn them. Anyone can get up here and say. 'I've told them not to be bullies. I've told them not to threaten people. I've told them not to rip off their members. I've told them not to misappropriate the funds.' Anyone can do that. I can do that. It takes courage, a courage your mob does not have, to stare down the barrel and tell them you are not going to take one more lick of those trade unions that are organised criminals. It is easy to do. You will fit it into a sentence with six or seven words in it. If you are having a struggle with the narrative pop around to my office and I will help you draft it.
This urgency debate is about political donation reform. Listening to the previous two speakers, one would think there was a united front of similar concern that political donations do have a corrupting influence in a democracy. Therefore, it is very useful to look at the track record of these parties. With the Liberals and Nationals we can do that very quickly, because they do not have a track record. They have not addressed bringing in reforms about political donations. When you look at Labor's track record—I notice Senator Cameron is leaving the chamber, which is disappointing, because I think it would be useful for him to remember—
This is the time to look at the track record of Labor. There is an urgent need to reform political donations in this country. The Labor-Greens agreement in 2010 covered this issue. I will go through it, because it is very informative. Overall, it called for immediate reform of political donations; lowering the donations disclosure to $1,000, at the time it was up to $12,400; banning anonymous donations above $50; and creating a truth-in-advertising offence under the Commonwealth Electoral Act.
I give those details because they are very informative about what Labor then did with those items I have listed, coming into the 2013 election. First off, let us remember that that was the Labor Greens agreement. They were very specific points. There was a period after the 2010 election, when the new senators came in in 2011, when Labor and the Greens had the numbers. We could have passed those most important reforms right then. We could have moved those most important reforms, but Labor would not move on them. What did they do? Coming into the 2013 election, who did Labor work with on political donation reform—so-called reform, you can barely use that word? They worked with the coalition, and all of a sudden we had a very major change in what appeared to be a decent policy. The threshold on donation disclosure was no longer set at $1,000. Labor, working with the Liberals and the Nationals, wanted to raise it to $5,000. That was a huge change. Yes, it was lower than $12,400, but it allowed for a higher number of donations that would not be available to be scrutinised and would not be disclosed.
To their credit, former Labor MP Daryl Melham and former Labor Senator John Faulkner spoke strongly against this. Let us remember former Senator Faulkner's words; they were actually very moving; I remember them at the time. He said he was 'no longer angry and disappointed, but ashamed'. He said he was ashamed at his party's position. He was not successful. What was proposed with this new deal, the Labor-Liberal-National deal, was to raise the threshold from $1,000, which had been a longstanding agreement between Labor and the Greens. Labor worked with the Liberals and the Nationals to raise the threshold in a way that would allow those donations to continue to be hidden.
Again, if you look into Labor's statement on wanting reform, it goes back even further. I imagined Senator Faulkner, with all the heavy lifting he did in this area, would have believed that he could have got reform much earlier. Let us remember that the former Labor government was elected in 2007. It was 2008 when Senator Faulkner actually said he believed the reforms would be in the first term of the Rudd government. That was not achieved. We still need these reforms. We have bills before this parliament. I say to Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, and to Labor senators who are here to today that we are ready to work with you on political donation reform. We need to stop the corrupting influence of political donations. Do not try to be smarties who use this to try and score some points, because you are behind the whole trend in politics to move away from the backroom deals. (Time expired)
Following on from Senator O Sullivan, let me make it very clear that there is only one political party official in trouble with the law, and that is Damien Mantach, the former director of the Victorian and Tasmanian divisions of the Liberal Party.
Mr Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: props are not appropriate in the Senate, and you would have observed that Senator Lines broke that rule within 30 seconds of commencing her address. I would ask you to draw her to order and, if necessary, remove the inappropriate material from her possession.
There is only one director of a political party in this country who is in trouble. He is in prison for a $1.5 million fraud, which he has pleaded guilty to, and he is awaiting sentence. The Greens and Senator Rhiannon are living in a world that does not actually match the reality. We know that the Greens in Tasmania got the largest single donation in our history, from Mr Cousins. To her credit, Senator Rhiannon has spoken out about political donations. But she did not have the courage of her convictions to follow that through. She wrote an article condemning political donations, and she did it as a ghost writer. Why wouldn't you just put your name to it? Once you are found out you look like a fraud, and that is very embarrassing.
Labor does stand for political donation reform. We are on the record, we put a bill into this place when we were in government. Unfortunately those opposite, when they were in opposition, voted it down. And there are very good reasons why they voted it down. We heard from Senator O'Sullivan today the list of donations that the Labor Party gets from unions. That is true. And do you know what? That is on the public record. But unfortunately the donations to the Liberal Party are not on the public record because they are channelled through all sorts of sneaky little clubs. I tried to do a bit of a search today and I came up with a few of them across the nation. In Western Australia we have the 500 Club, a very famous associated entity. You can put your money in there and you never get found out and it gets channelled through to the Liberal Party. We also have the Higgins 500 Club, which is the same thing: you put your money through there in secret and it gets channelled through to the Liberal Party. We have the Kooyong 200 Club, the Team 200 Club, the Warringah Club—and on and on it goes.
Recently, at ICAC in New South Wales, we heard about the Free Enterprise Foundation. We know that, since 2009, political donations to the New South Wales Liberal Party from property developers have been banned. But they found another way around that rule, and so they set up the Free Enterprise Foundation. The sole purpose was to channel donations from property developers through to the Liberal Party. Also revealed in ICAC were brown bags full of cash—money that I have never seen my life—handed over to candidates Cornwell and Owen. A brown paper bag was handed over to Mr Cornwell as he sat in the front seat of a Bentley. There was $10,000 in that brown bag! Then the same Bentley was used again. Mr Owen sat in the front and received $10,000. Who in their right mind would think that receiving money in a brown bag was okay? Who would think that? Why wouldn't the alarm bells of morality and ethics start to ring when you got that sort of money?
We saw that ICAC even claimed the scalp of the premier, Mr O'Farrell, in New South Wales. But it goes further. We had Senator Sinodinos in here having to step down from Australian Water Holdings, and we are still waiting for ICAC—
Yes, sorry—he stepped down from the ministry. Thank you, Senator Collins. We are still waiting on ICAC on that. In 2009 he authored a letter that went to all Liberal MPs. He was not a senator then. It said:
This bill is designed to cause maximum damage to our party and our efforts to fund an effective campaign against Labor at the next election.
So he was well and truly letting all the Liberal MPs know that this was not something that the New South Wales Liberal Party wanted to be up-front about. Those opposite do not want to be up-front about political donations; otherwise, they would have signed up to our legislation when we were in government. They do not want that.
We heard from Senator Rhiannon. She is in here all by herself. I do not know where the other Greens are. Obviously they do not support her stand. The Greens have just done the dirtiest deal in 30 years with the government. They had an opportunity to put political donations into their wish list. What happened? They did not do that. I am not quite sure whether they asked the government for anything. I suppose time will tell. But it seems they just rolled over on this dirty deal on electoral reform—the biggest change in 30 years. Now they come in here saying, 'Oh, but we want political donation reform.' Seriously? The time to ask for that was when the government was so desperate to try to advantage its position in an election that it wanted to do this dirty deal on electoral reform. What did the Greens do? They obviously just rolled over. Political donations, it would seem, were not even mentioned.
The party with the record of acting on political donations are Labor. We are the ones who put the legislation before the parliament. We do not use scammy 500 clubs. We do not use the Free Enterprise Foundation. We do not have senators who in their former lives wrote to MPs saying, 'Avoid this legislation at all costs.' That is because we stand for reform of political donations.
As I said at the outset, the only political party with an elected official—maybe they were appointed to the Liberal Party; who would know?—who has been found guilty of political donation fraud is the Liberal Party. Mr Damian Mantach has pleaded guilty to a $1.5 million fraud. I understand from my Tasmanian Labor colleagues that actually he has not even been charged—the Liberal Party are not even going after him—with alleged fraud in Tasmania. This is just what happened after he left Tasmania. So that is where it sits. We have seen that Senator Sinodinos in a previous life as one of the directors of Australian Water Holdings made donations to the Liberal Party. We have seen the Free Enterprise Foundation. We have seen brown bags with $10,000 in them. No wonder the LNP do not want to sign up to reform of political donations!
Maybe when the Greens did the dirty deal on electoral reform they got something else, but it is absolutely breathtaking that the Greens would come in here over the past couple of sitting weeks and start to talk about political donations when their chance for reform was when they had the government on the ropes. But we know they are not very good negotiators. They have let the government off before. They then had a go, as we heard, at Labor when it is the Greens who hold the record for the largest single political donation in this country. We had Senator Rhiannon saying she did not write her piece and then she had to fess up and say that she did. How embarrassing! At least have the courage of your convictions and stand up for what you believe in. But, no. We see this feigned attempt. Suddenly now they want political donation reform. You know what? The time for that has passed. They should have asked for that a couple of weeks ago.
But the LNP have the most to hide—well and truly. ICAC New South Wales claimed the scalps of many Liberal MPs. We heard about all sorts of dodgy deals on how cash and other funds are channelled through to the Liberal Party. It is disgraceful. Labor stand for political donation reform. All of our donations are out there for all to see. They are not hidden through 500 clubs, 200 clubs and the like. They are there on the public record. We stand for political donation reform.
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!
In fact, he did win. His $50,000 worth of raffle tickets or whatever it was—I am paraphrasing there—won him a bowl of oranges from the Labor Party. That is how that side of the chamber conducted fundraising . It would be farcical if it were not borderline crooked. It was probably within the rules; I think it was. But it was farcical and nonsensical. If people want to give money to political parties, I encourage them to do so. Let them do it, and disclose that it is there. Do not rort the system. My message to those on the other side is: do not rort the system. It is entirely unnecessary. Just be frank and up-front. Do not allow yourselves to be compromised by bringing on these sorts of motions when your own conduct and that of your party and affiliated entities is left wanting. The shameful thing is the quantum of the cash that flows into Labor's pockets.
Senator Carol Brown interjecting—
Senator Brown is upset, of course. She is absolutely upset. I do not want to have an investigation into the Tasmanian division and the royal family of the Labor Party that lives there. They decide preselections and who is going to get through. I am just grateful, I have to tell you, that Senator Brown has reached a detente with my colleague Senator Colbeck.
I withdraw, Mr Acting Deputy President. I was referring to the Tasmanian division and the power that is exerted there. Nonetheless, the quantum of donations that is coming through the union movement to the Labor Party from members who, in many instances, do not know they are donating is extraordinary. The SDA, for example, gave $274,000-plus to the New South Wales Labor Party. The SDA in South Australia gave $329,000 to the SA Labor branch. This week we have had a lot of conversations about the CFMEU and about the sort of behaviour and conduct that goes on there. The CFMEU gave $42,000 to the New South Wales Labor Party. The ETU gave money to the Greens party.
Senator Brown is asking me to explain why I do not support things. Those opposite should ask Senator Brown why she does not support her colleagues. Why is she busy conspiring against her colleagues to prop up her own base? That is my question.
Mr Acting Deputy President, on the point of order, what Senator Bernardi has just done is said that Senator Brown is a powerbroker. That might be okay in normal argument, but what he has been doing is imputing that powerbroking and money coming in through proper donations are improper. That is clearly an imputation on Senator Brown; it is an imputation of an improper motive.
Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. Let me make it very clear: I am not imputing any improper motives by Senator Brown, and Senator Cameron is trying to draw a long political bow there. What I am saying is that the union movement funds the Labor Party through anonymous— (Time expired)
I rise today to speak to this motion as I think this topic is very important. Firstly, I agree the donation disclosure threshold should be lowered to $1,000 to ensure all sizable donations are disclosed and reported to the general public. It is about time the people of Australia got to see what types of donations are being made to the major parties and how these donations are affecting decisions being made by governments of the day. Lowering the disclosure threshold will enhance our system of democracy and allow the public more access to who is funding political campaigns.
I would like to see the changes go one step further, by ensuring not only that donations are disclosed but that donor information must also include key stakeholders, including associated senior management and directors if the donor is a business or other entity. This means we can start to map how donors are connected with people who are connected with projects and decision makers in government. This is where the true graft and corruption will start to become obvious and the underhand, dirty activities of politicians and others will be exposed.
Further, any anonymous donations received by political parties must be rejected and redirected into a community fund to pay for essential community services. This will ensure donations are made in a transparent way and, if they are not, they should be given to the community rather than being wasted on the deep pockets of major political parties.
I also agree we should definitely ban foreign donations. I guarantee that, if we did this, the sell-off of Australia would stop. The only reason that the government is allowing our farms to be sold off to overseas buyers is that they are getting major kickbacks from foreign buyers. Banning foreign donations will ensure Australian political parties are not subject to overseas influences, and the interest of Australia will be put first again—like it was so many years ago. (Time expired)
I rise to speak on the matter of urgency:
The need to reform Australia's political donation system by lowering the disclosure threshold, banning foreign donations, restricting anonymous donations and preventing donation splitting to avoid disclosure.
While it is somewhat tempting to talk about Senator Bernardi's contribution, it is really not worth mentioning. So I will talk about the substance of this matter of urgency. The recent scandal relating to former Minister Robert's visit to China has yet again highlighted the urgent need for improved transparency of political donations. This type of behaviour leads to the belief that political influence can be bought by wealthy corporations or individuals. My colleague Mr Dreyfus, in the other place, summed up the perception the public would be given by Mr Robert's actions and Mr Turnbull's failure to take prompt and decisive action, saying:
If Mr Turnbull doesn't show some leadership and sack Mr Robert today, then all Australians will know that a government that Mr Turnbull is leading is the kind of government where $2 million from a wealthy donor to the Liberal Party will buy you the services of a minister in the Australian Government.
Whether reality or just perception, the impact is the same—it seriously undermines the credibility of our democracy.
The public deserve transparency around who wields power in our political system. While the scandal surrounding Minister Robert's visit to China with his friend and Liberal donor, Paul Marks, directly reflects on his poor judgement, it also highlights the broader systemic problems with the interplay between politics and political donors. Disgraceful events like this seriously erode public confidence in politicians and our political system. The best way to restore confidence in our political system is to enhance transparency and improve disclosure arrangements.
Labor upholds the highest standards voluntarily disclosing all donations greater than $1000. The current legislation only requires disclosure of amounts greater than $13,000. The Australian Labor Party has a long-standing commitment to improving standards of transparency and accountability in relation to political donations. I believe any senator, if they were fair dinkum in their contributions on this matter, would acknowledge the Labor Party's long-standing commitment to improving standards. At our national conference last year, we committed to reform the political donations transparency system, calling for a better and more transparent political funding and disclosure framework.
As some of my colleagues have already highlighted, when Labor was last in government, we introduced legislation into parliament which sought to significantly reform the rules surrounding political donations, but, as many of us in this place remember, the then Liberal opposition blocked Labor's reforms.
Senator Rhiannon interjecting—
Excuse me, Senator Rhiannon, but you are just as bad—
As I was saying, Labor's proposed reforms were designed to reverse retrograde changes implemented under the Howard government, when the Liberal Party last controlled this place. When the Howard government came to power, one of their first actions was to make it harder to track the flow of money into party coffers. Under the previous Labor government, the threshold at which a political donation had to be made public was $1500. The Howard government increased it to $10,000, which with indexation currently stands at $13,000. Even with the lax rules the Liberals and their old coalition partners have still felt the need to circumvent disclosure.
We have heard through the New South Wales ICAC all about the Liberals' practices of setting up associated entities to collect money and, by moving it between various party divisions, to exploit differences in rules between states. The Liberals' new coalition partners, the Australian Greens, claim to have a long-standing policy in favour of reforming donations, when in fact they have accepted large amounts of donations—(Time expired)
Today's matter of urgency points right to those opposite. Let me quote from The Sydney Morning Herald:
Bill Shorten failed to disclose a $40,000 donation from labour hire company Unibilt to his 2007 election campaign.
I can only surmise that this motion has been cleverly crafted so those opposite can keep a tighter rein on the opposition leader. This motion clearly shows that the integrity of political donation reporting is not seen as important by the Hon. Bill Shorten. Today, those opposite are trying by way of this motion to make their leader more accountable, and I them for applaud that.
This is not a good look for the Australian Labor Party. Failure to disclose donations is the very reason those opposite need to encourage members of their party to better conform to the laws via way of this motion. I also would like the Senate to recall that this particular donation to the Hon. Bill Shorten was only made public when, in his words:
In preparation for the Royal Commission more generally, I wanted to make sure that everything that should be done and everything was checked, was, and this came to my attention.
In other words, this undeclared donation was only revealed at the last possible moment when it was about to be made public, not during the proper method of annual reporting.
This motion, it appears, brings to attention the correct way to declare donations. Everyone needs a little guidance from time to time, and I am happy to participate in this debate to help those opposite with the difficult task of ensuring that the opposition leader abides by the current requirements. Labor had six years to change the political donations system, yet decided not do to so. This was despite having the numbers in both chambers and having passed legislation in the House of Representatives.
The government believes that it is important that all political parties, associated entities and donors follow the appropriate disclosure laws. Financial disclosure returns must be lodged by 20 October each year and published on the Australian Electoral Commission website on the first working day in February of the following year. This being the case, one must seriously doubt why failures to disclose continue within the Labor Party.
Dyson Heydon, the trade union royal commissioner, was quoted in The Australian on January 9 this year as saying:
The Labor Party failed to disclose a $30,000 corporate donation to its 2013 federal election campaign that was brokered by the militant Maritime Union of Australia.
The Weekend Australian has confirmed that neither the ALP nor the donor, the marine contractor Van Oord Australia, disclosed the payment in election returns to the AEC. This means both may face potential penalties under the act. In fact, The Weekend Australian further confirmed that the donation had been kept hidden from public scrutiny, despite it being one of the biggest corporate donations Labor received during its 2013 election campaign. It was only just yesterday that Labor admitted to this non-disclosure and said it would send an amendment to its 2012-13 return to the AEC.
This matter of urgency we are debating today certainly needs to be questioned, as those opposite clearly need to adhere to the electoral donation laws. So often we hear words such as 'transparency' and 'conviction', but it undoubtedly must be frustrating when time after time members of the ALP do not adhere to those very words. Indeed even the ALP web page states, under 'Transparency in election funding':
Labor believes that all organisations in Australia should have the right to participate in our democracy, including through the provision of financial support to candidates running for elected office. This right to participate should, however, be transparent and accountable.
This principle holds true, whether government, company, not for profit or union elections. With greater transparency comes greater accountability and the earlier identification of wrongdoing,
Yes, organisations are allowed freedom of political activity and yes, quite often it can be more effective during election campaigns, but when you join the dots you come up with the lines—not dotted lines, not ordinary lines but bold, highlighted lines that go directly to those who sit opposite. It should also be noted that the matter of political donations is currently the subject of an inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. I believe we should wait to see all facets of the issue before we undertake further debate. (Time expired)
Our persistent failure to reform laws relating to political donations is directly contributing to those we represent becoming increasingly cynical about what we do in this place. It is time we stopped the rot. While I am in favour of a cap on private donations from any source, whether it be unions, corporations or wealthy individuals, a more moderate set of reforms would go a long way towards restoring confidence in our political system.
These fall into two broad categories. Firstly, there is the issue of foreign donations. It is so blindingly obvious that it is contrary to the national interest for our politicians to accept donations from foreign entities that I need not say more. The second area of reform alluded to is the issue of transparency. If donations from private sources are to be uncapped, Australians need to know who is taking what, and from whom. They need this information in real time, so when they go to the ballot box they can weigh it up however they see fit.
Our current laws are woefully inadequate to provide even this minimum safeguard of democratic principles. The disclosure threshold of approximately $13,000 is ridiculously high. In addition, it is common knowledge that, for those who have the will, the current system permits donations of around $100,000 to be made to the major parties without the need for any disclosure at all. This is done by splitting payments between various party offices. This loophole makes a farce of our democracy and must be closed.
As for timing, current technology would easily permit all donations above a reduced threshold being published on an AEC website within a couple of weeks. Together with a prohibition on donations within a specified timeframe prior to an election, this would ensure Australians are aware of who is financing politicians when they go to vote.
The political donation system has been corrupted. It is designed to hide donations so the public are not aware of who is influencing government policy. This is why I am concerned about overseas political donations—they are in direct conflict with national sovereignty. The system is not in the national interest, and it is not in the public's interest. It is, however, in the interest of some politicians' retirement policy.
China's donations to the major political parties are well documented and are a grave threat to the power and authority of the nation. I am not alone in my concern regarding our dealings with a country that does not respect our democratic values, that has widespread corruption and that lacks transparency. China's political donations have already influenced our decisions on the China free trade agreement—an agreement that undermines our national and job security.
What has been proposed here is an improvement, but the gold standard is real time disclosure. My network reports donations on my website as we receive them—that is true transparency.
Question agreed to.