Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 June 2017


Donations to Political Parties, Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Narcotic Drugs) Regulation 2016, Media, Australian Defence Force

10:34 pm

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

That is perfect; that will lead right into where I am going. I reckon the only group of Australians less trusted than bankers is politicians at the moment, but the effect of that gradual erosion of trust is serious. It has a serious effect on the ability of people in this house to make a difference. That is the reason why I have been calling for a federal ICAC since day one. I do not care if it is a royal commission or federal ICAC; this needs to be opened up. Open up those floodgates.

Those on the Labor benches cannot say the same. They had a chance to formally support a federal integrity commission in their party platform at the 2015 national conference, but they fluffed it. They talk tough now but they have been dragged kicking and screaming to the table. We have nearly got them in a corner. It isn't hard to see why. I am sorry to say it, but the reason why these political parties take money from foreign donors is the same reason they cannot be trusted to put a federal ICAC in place. They cannot be trusted to do what is needed because they are more interested in doing what is best for their bank balance than what is best for their country.

When it blows up in their faces they suddenly support reform. In the meantime, every controversy inflates public support for a federal corruption watchdog. When it is a Labor politician caught up in a scandal people just do not think, 'Better vote for the Liberals instead,' and when they hear about a Liberal caught up in a scandal they do not think, 'Labor has got my vote.' When it comes to even a whiff of political corruption it is a case of there being a pox on both your houses, because you are both gorging yourselves out of the same trough. In the eyes of the public you are both guilty of looking after yourselves first and foremost. The public do not even get a look in.

If you are serious about doing something real about this, you will not just ban foreign donations to political parties at the federal level, because you would be kidding yourself if you thought that this problem starts and ends with the people who work in this building. I support the proposal to ban foreign donations, not because it is what I would have proposed with a blank piece of paper but because this place needs something more than nothing. The only thing that is going to get the two major parties to agree to reform is the public demanding it, and I tell you that they are on their knees. Make no mistake, the only reason we are talking about this today is that the public are out there talking about it on their knees.

For too long the major parties have been locked in a comfortable conspiracy of silence. They have not wanted to touch the system of handling foreign donations because both of them have profited off it. That is embarrassing. It is as shameful a display as you are likely to see. It is a stunning example of the political elite deciding to put their political interests ahead of the national interest. It is a display of politicians agreeing to corrode the public's faith in our democratic institutions and doing so for profit and self-advancement. Make no mistake, every time we read about another donation slicking the hands of another politician we question who our elected representatives are really representing.

The world faces big challenges right now and the system we have relied on to help us navigate these challenges relies on the confidence of the public. Every foreign donation chips away at that confidence. We need to be guided by principle now more than ever, and we need to be seen to be doing so. But instead we see politicians of both sides locked into a dirty deal where both sides profit from the same corrupting system so long as nobody rocks the boat. I think those days are about over. It should not be acceptable to run down the public's faith in their political representatives so long as both sides are as bad as each other. What happened to being better? When did this job become about being less worse than the other team?

If one side is profiting from foreign donations, that should be an opportunity to stand proud and say you will not do the same and that should be an opportunity to highlight the shameful behaviour of your opponents. Instead, it is being treated as an opportunity to do the same thing, as an opportunity to debase yourself and your democracy at the same time. The public see time and time again that the two major parties prefer the latter. They have decided to run down the public's trust for their own private benefit and now, having been embarrassed by revelations that they ignored the advice of ASIO and stuck their noses right back into that trough of foreign donations, they rush into action to say they oppose foreign donations and want the whole system reformed.

It is great that there is finally some will to change this broken system, but let us not lose sight of what is really needed. A federal anticorruption watchdog would not solve all problems or reassure all of the public's fears about the influence of foreign donors on the political class, but if it helps restore some confidence in the ability of politics to be a force for good in people's lives then it is worth doing 100 per cent, and that can only happen if it is given a big set of chops and it gets to do its job independently, with all the powers we can possibly give it and the resources to do its job.

People all around the world are sick to death of politics and politicians. When it comes to politics, business as usual is on the nose, and it is not hard to see why: the taxpayer is being played for a mug. Politics has to clean up its act; it has to get its act together both in practice and in perception. The only way to do that is to put an end to the system that has let foreign donations flourish for as long as they have.

How we do that is simple: step one—we ban foreign donations and cap all other donations at $1,000 per donor per financial year. That makes it harder for any one donor to exert influence, by diluting the value of any one donor to a political party. This needs to be coupled with immediate disclosure of all donations in real time so that the days of there being a long delay between money received and money disclose are put to an end. The public is not buying it anymore either, I can assure you. If we do this we will go a long way towards ridding the public of the perception that politicians are stuffing their pockets with foreign donations, or even with corporate donations that are only ever made to get a return on their investment.

Step two—we introduce a federal anticorruption and integrity watchdog, one that is funded adequately and appropriately and with the powers needed to hold the political class to account. Taken together, this package would restore the integrity of the donation system by reducing the value of foreign donations to the major political parties. This is the only proposal that is constitutional, reasonable and effective. It would demonstrate to the public a new commitment to integrity and independence. I can tell you now: this country could do with this. It is what is needed and it is what the public deserves.

Earlier today I sought to record my vote in support of letting terminally ill patients access medicinal cannabis. I explained to the Senate the reasons why I missed the vote the first time. The fact that I was missing was due to miscommunication between my staff. As a result, I missed the vote and it ended in a tie. My vote was missing then and it should not have been. As for the reason why my vote was not recorded for the first time around, it was said that I said one thing to BuzzFeed at the time and another to the chamber today. All I have to say to that is that it must be the first time a boss has covered for a mistake made by one of her staff. If that is my sin, so be it.

But for the Turnbull government to try to use this as a reason not to let terminally ill people access what their doctors believe will make their dying days more bearable, then, frankly, that is disgraceful. To attempt to use my comments to a BuzzFeed journalist as a reason to deny dying people a little dignity and humanity I find quite disgusting. I am just relieved that the Turnbull government's efforts were unsuccessful.

I do not come to this issue in the way that the Greens have come to it or in the way that Labor have come to it. I do not approach this issue in the way that Derryn Hinch's Justice Party have approached it, or in the way in which One Nation has approached it either. I have considered the issue as somebody who is deeply and personally concerned about the risks of illicit drugs flooding our streets.

I have made no secret of the fact that my family has had to deal with the devastating and destructive effects of illicit drugs. I have faced criticism for my handling of this sensitive issue and I know that there are many who wish that I had handled it very differently. But I can only be honest about my experience and how it affects the way I approach legislation such as this.

It is hard for me to stand up and support making it easier for people to access a drug that many people argue is a gateway to harder and more dangerous drugs. It is hard, because I could not support a vote that would put people's lives at risk. I am sympathetic to those who worry about there being a slippery slope here. I thought about this issue long and hard, and realised that if I did not support the disallowance motion I would be hurting people and not helping them. I do not believe that this disallowance motion will open the floodgates—I reckon that is rubbish!—for huge quantities of medical cannabis entering the country. Quite frankly, I would be more worried about all the other stuff that is coming in.

I think that all it will do is to help make the last few months in the lives of some very sick people a little more bearable for them. I wish it could go further; I wish that veterans who are suffering from PTSD could access medicinal cannabis if their doctors think it would help them. I wish that children who are suffering from constant epileptic seizures could access medicinal cannabis if their doctors think it would help them.

I think there are many people who could benefit from medicinal cannabis, because this is what all the evidence tells us. I am in this place to support decent, fair and humane policy that makes a difference in people's lives. I am the last person who would vote for a motion that opens the floodgates. I voted for this motion because it was the right thing to do. It is not every day that this place gets the chance to vote on an issue that will dramatically improve people's quality of life, especially toward the end. Today was one of those rare days and instead of letting the vote go through, the Turnbull government decided to try to block it with silly distractions like what was said to a journalist a month ago.

I hope they are left to think about what they were attempting to do. They were attempting to block a vote to make what is left of the lives of dying Australians a little less painful. A little compassion was all that was asked to be shown in here. I can understand if this motion made them nervous. Nobody has more of a reason to be nervous about the possible effects of this bill than me. I was able to put my personal experience aside and vote on the substance of the motion, but they were not able to do the same. With the support of Labor, One Nation, the Greens and Derryn Hinch's Justice Party, I have recorded my position and have expressed my view. And as a result, terminally ill Australians will be able to access medicinal cannabis in hours, not months. I am thankful for the support of my colleagues and I am grateful for their vote today.

I would also like to extend my sincerest apologies to Seven reporter Rob Ovadia, who was treated unfairly by my office in 2016. Mr Ovadia was referred to the Australian Federal Police, which must have caused a great deal of stress for him. Fortunately, Mr Ovadia was cleared of any wrongdoing. I also know that Mr Ovadia is not the only journalist to have been treated unfairly over the years by my office, and he is not the only one owed an apology. You journalists know who you are, and I apologise for the treatment you have received at times since I have been in the Senate. Rest assured, from here on out I will endeavour to guarantee you are treated with a lot more respect and the respect that you deserve.

I just want to touch on one more thing, and that is about the Australian Defence Force. I want to say something now about what is happening to our young kids who are being lured into joining the Australian Defence Force by false government advertising on the quality of vocational training being offered to them in the military. For more than 20 years—actually it is nearly 25—our governments have been conning our youth with the same con job they used on me and many others. That is the promise that we would gain skills in the military which can be used to get good jobs when we leave. The truth is that that quality of vocational education and training, offered by the Army and the Navy in particular acting as registered training organisations, does not stack up. If it were being offered by a private college, ASQA would conduct an audit of the courses on offer and close them down. The Navy in particular, through its MT2010 program was offering a certificate IV in engineering to new enlistees. It does not have the personal resources or the systems in place to provide the training. It has been an absolute con job by our Australian Defence Force. The Navy was able to claim training subsidies at the same time from the Victorian government as an RTO at HMAS Cerberus, without any genuine intention of complying with the Victorian legislation on skills training. Navy trainees were mostly not provided with compulsory training plans, and when they were the training plans were not adhered to anyway. This is a cultural behaviour. Naval enlistees do not receive training from suitably qualified tradespersons, and their skills were not assessed in the Navy by suitably qualified tradespersons.

Even when marine trainees do receive trade certificates, they are not the equivalent of the same certificate awarded outside the Australian Defence Force. They do not match their civilian equivalent. Most trainees leave the ADF less employable in private industry than when they joined up at 17, 18 and 19, because of the lack of practical skills training that they receive needed to work outside the Australian Defence Force.

It is time that ASQA did its job properly, with some integrity, to make sure that when the Navy and the Army claim to be operating as registered training organisations they meet the national standards. These guys are supposed to be leading by example. This has not happened until now. Kids are becoming disillusioned by time served in the ADF, which is why retention rates are not what they should be. The military is providing our kids joining the services qualifications produced by an Australian equivalent of the Trump University and worth about as much—absolutely nothing!

This would not be tolerated in the private sector and it should not be tolerated by the government. The Prime Minister was wrong when he made a speech last November launching a new initiative aimed at easing the way for veterans into employment when they leave the military. He said that today's servicemen and women are acquiring skills in the military which will be an asset to almost any organisation. What a load of rubbish! The government has to stop believing its own drivel. It should take a good look at the Israeli military system as a model, where a lot of the IT and high-tech start-ups are done by kids doing national service. They are no different to our own kids doing four years in the military. We should be providing them with proper training and excellence in training. If we want Australia's youth to serve our country, we have to demonstrate that we are worthy of their service. The only way we can do that is to make sure that transition is easy for them, especially for those that have done four, five, six, seven, eight or nine tours. I met someone the other day that had done 12 tours in the Middle East.

We are not giving them the skills and we are not giving them qualifications. The best thing you can do for PTSD is to give them a distraction to keep them busy. It will not get rid of the PTSD; what it will do is lessen the effects. They have served their country. This has now been going on for nearly 25 years. We were promised those qualifications—civilian equivalent—when we left. Now it is 25 years later and we are still no further. We are using and abusing our own kids. We say, 'Thank you for your service; see you later!' and put them on the scrap pile. We are not giving them the tools they need when they leave. This is where we are failing miserably. It is called transition, and we are not doing it. We need to wake up. We owe them that.