Thursday, 16 August 2018
Donations to Political Parties
That the Senate:
(i) the growing prominence of business events that enable direct and private access to senior members of Parliament, such as the Australian Labor Party's Business Observer Summit, the Liberal Party's Millennium Forum and The National's National Policy Forum, and
(ii) the failure of Australia's political donation laws to require the disclosure of payments for these events because there is contractual consideration, they are therefore not classified as a 'gift' under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 that would mandate public disclosure;
(b) acknowledges that political donations enable access and influence policy decisions made by political parties and that these events are shrouded in secrecy; and
(c) resolves that, in the interest of good government, political parties should voluntarily disclose the attendees of these events and the amount of money provided by these businesses to political parties during these events.
The Greens claim they oppose corporate donations, but the truth is that they accepted a $1.6 million donation from the founder of online travel company Wotif—at the time, the largest single political donation in Australian history. Greens senator Lee Rhiannon was so outraged by her party's hypocrisy that she ghostwrote a poison-pen letter attacking the Greens leadership. At the last election, the Greens accepted a half-million-dollar donation from professional gambler Duncan Turpie, a member of secretive gambling syndicate the Punters Club. The ATO accused the Punters Club of hundreds of millions of dollars of tax fraud, money which should have funded Australian schools and hospitals, a claim which the Punters Club settled out of court. The Greens virtue signalling on political donations is yet another example of the rank hypocrisy that has come to characterise the Greens under Senator Di Natale's leadership.
I want to put on the record that I support this. This is a very sensible move by the Greens, surprisingly. But I do have a question: are these related entities and are they subject to the disclosure regime, notwithstanding this motion itself? That's my understanding of the Electoral Act. But the principle behind this is one of voluntary participation, and I think it's well worthy of consideration.
I had the privilege of chairing an inquiry into political donations. What we learned through that was the extent to which our donation laws can be avoided and money taken from big businesses, from the big end of town, can be hidden from public view. The Liberal Party and the Labor Party use their business forums to launder money into their political war chests. They do it because they charge; they have a cash-for-access arrangement. Because they serve a bit of food, because they have a table at a venue, they can take tens of thousands of dollars and not disclose a cent of it. In the absence of laws that would compel disclosure—and obviously that is what should happen—this motion calls on political parties to voluntarily disclose which companies have paid, and how much, to get an ear of senior members of parliament. We are very happy to work with any side to ensure that we get more transparency and end the state-sanctioned bribery that is our political donations regime.