Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 March 2018


Donations to Political Parties

9:22 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The late, great John Clarke once joked that, having defeated Labor in the semifinals, capital was set to take on democracy. 'It'll be an absolute cracker,' he said. 'You won't be able to get a ticket.' Well, he was absolutely spot-on. The fight of the 21st century, the fight of right now, is between capital and democracy—or, to put it another way, it's a fight between money and people. And right now the money's winning.

We've seen elections in the US and Europe severely compromised by foreign influence, dark money and big data, facilitated by companies like Cambridge Analytica and i360, a company used by the South Australian Liberals in the recent election campaign there. This corruption of democracy has changed the course of human history, and it is people and the environment who are the big losers. Right now the cosy relationship between parliament and corporate boardrooms is corroding public trust in democracies and parliaments around the world. People know that too many politicians are in it for themselves rather than the people we're supposed to represent, biding their time and doing the bidding of their corporate donors so they can land a cushy corporate gig later on. We've seen it time after time with Labor, Liberal and National Party politicians who now work for big mining, big gaming, big banking, big energy and big coal—working for big money.

The fight between capital and democracy is a fight that has many fronts, big and small. In my home state of Tasmania, we've just seen an election bought by pokies barons trying to protect their ill-gotten gains and lock in decades more misery and social harm in our beautiful island state. We'll never know exactly how much was spent by the Tasmanian Liberals and the Tasmanian pokies industry, with assistance from mainland big gaming companies, because Tasmania has the weakest electoral disclosure laws in the country. Most realistic estimates are that between $5 million and $10 million was spent on the Liberals' election campaign and the associated campaign by big gaming in support of the Liberals.

It was absolutely unprecedented. TV ads started on day one of the Boxing Day Test last year. They continued unabated for over two months. There were blanket newspaper ads, Facebook ads, Twitter ads, Instagram ads, YouTube ads and Snapchat ads. Pokies barns carried massive banners and cities were turned blue by innumerable Liberal billboards. Staff in hotels wore 'vote Liberal' T-shirts. Warnings against voting for Labor or for the Greens were printed at the bottom of hotel meal dockets. It was saturating and inescapable.

Let's say it was $7.5 million—a reasonable estimate of what was spent on the Liberal campaign in Tasmania. To put that in context, it's similar to what was spent by the coalition in advertisements across the country at the 2016 federal election. That is to say, on a per-capita basis, the Liberals and their donors spent around 40 times per voter what was spent per voter at the last federal election. Can you imagine what a federal election would look like with 40 times the advertising that we faced in 2016? That's what we have just suffered through in Tasmania.

What do the pokies millionaires get for the money they spent buying government for the Liberal Party in Tassie? They've already managed to change the Liberals' policy to ensure that parasitic poker machines stay in pubs and clubs. This represents a windfall gain of $250 million—a quarter of a billion dollars—direct from the pockets and tables of Tasmanian families into the already obscenely fat wallets of the pokies barons. And it doesn't stop there. In policy documents that were deliberately kept secret from voters until after the election, the Tasmanian Hospitality Association—a key player in the campaign to support the Liberals—will receive $6.8 million from the state government over the next term of government. This is up from $800,000 in the previous term. It sure does pay off helping big gaming buy an election for the Liberals, doesn't it? The collusion between the Liberals, Federal Group hotels, the pokies industry and the THA—the buying and selling of an election and the stain of corruption we've witnessed in Tasmania—is hanging like a dark cloud over the head of Premier Will Hodgman and his new government. It's eroded his personal legitimacy as Premier and, in fact, the legitimacy of his government.

The Liberals' campaign had all the hallmarks of the Brexit vote and the US election. It was built on the big lie that over 5,000 jobs would be lost unless the Liberals won. It was all pervasive and featured a blanket presence across social media platforms. Both of these factors were notable in Brexit and the US election, which involved Cambridge Analytica, a company that's now established in Australia and has already met with at least one current federal Liberal minister. There's a huge danger—and I'll call it out now—that what happened in Tasmania and what just happened in South Australia with the involvement of a company called i360 is going to corrupt democracy right across the country. It is people versus corporations right now, and corporations and big money are coming for our democracy. It'll take a massive pushback at every level of society to stop them from taking our democracy from us, but I believe we can do it and I believe the fight is happening already.

There are millions of Australians aghast at what the government's doing by pushing ahead with the climate-destroying Adani mine, and no amount of dodgy donations, cosy political deals and corporate lies have changed their mind. This is a fight with capital on one side and with people and the environment on the other. We can see the Adani resistance happening in direct action and protests and votes. The resistance will grow, and it will become more powerful until that mine is stopped. Similarly, the union movement is fighting to change the rules, as people's living standards plummet in a time of record corporate profits. Wages are stagnant at best in this country, and people's right to fight back has been strangled by the Fair Work Act. Meanwhile, the Turnbull government's trying to put more money directly into the pockets of multinational corporations, with a massive corporate tax cut.

But the campaign against Adani, the wholesale purchase of the Tasmanian government and the struggle for better wages and conditions for workers should not, and must not, be seen as separate fights. They're part of a far bigger fight, the fight that John Clarke referred to—the fight between people and big money—and at stake is our very democracy. It's a fight to wrest back the power that's been concentrated into the hands of a powerful few over the last 30 years: big money, big corporates and big politics. But I'm here to tell you that the people of Australia know that the system is broken, and they are coming back hard. And they'll continue to fight back until we have a truly democratic Australia with a parliament that actually represents people, not capital and a system that works for people and the environment that sustains us all, not corporate donors and the political prostitutes they purchase.

The fight between capital and corporations on one side and democracy and people on the other will be an absolute cracker, as John Clarke said. But don't try for ringside tickets; get involved now, because this is a fight that you cannot afford to sit out. There is simply too much at stake. For the planet, for the people on it and for our democracy, this is a fight we can't afford to lose.