Thursday, 15 November 2018
Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017; Second Reading
In closing this second reading debate, I would like to thank all of those senators who have contributed to the debate so far in relation to the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017. Australia, as I said earlier today, is one of the few Western democracies in which foreign donors can still influence domestic elections. The government's bill will ensure that our electoral system protects our national sovereignty. Most importantly, the bill will assure Australians that all political campaigning that targets Australian voters, be it election advertising, campaign phone calls or how-to-vote recommendations, is paid for by Australians. Foreign governments, foreign billionaires and foreign companies have no legitimate role in funding these activities to influence Australian politics.
I once again thank the members of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters for their significant work on the topic of foreign political donations and on this bill over the course of the 45th Parliament. The government very much appreciates both the constructive approach and the goodwill demonstrated by all members of the committee and their sensible recommendations, which have played an integral part in informing the government's work on this topic, and the ultimate form of this bill.
The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters tabled two advisory reports on the bill, the first delivered in April 2018, which made 15 recommendations. The government responded positively to those recommendations by sharing draft amendments with the committee and inviting its further views on those proposed amendments. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters made 12 further recommendations in relation to those draft amendments, including supporting passage of the bill, subject to those final suggestions. The government has agreed to all of those recommendations and final amendments were circulated to senators at the end of October, reflecting a positive response to the last recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. I will make some brief comments during the committee stage about some of the most significant government amendments that respond to recommendations from the joint standing committee.
Subsequent to those committee reports, the government has engaged in further constructive dialogue with the opposition and with stakeholders in the charitable sector. I again would like to place on record my appreciation for the constructive way in which the shadow special minister of state, Senator Farrell and his office have engaged with my team. A final suggestion that was raised in these discussions was for a post-implementation review in two years' time. The government is very happy to confirm that we support that proposal.
Given the extensive and cross-party work of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters on the bill over the course of this parliament, it's the government's view that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is best placed to run this post-implementation review of the bill's operation. Accordingly, I put on the public record that, after passage of the bill, the government will initiate a referral to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, seeking that it review the bill in two years time. This review will take into account experience from the next election and ensure that the bill's objectives continue to be achieved in a way that minimises red tape. The review will include assessment of any impacts on issue based advocacy. And because the inquiry will need to occur in the next parliament, with a potentially different committee membership, we propose to make this referral by way of Senate motion rather than by way of referral in correspondence.
The reforms in this bill are important and are necessary to support the integrity of Australia's electoral system and Australia's sovereignty by ensuring that only those with a meaningful connection to Australia are able to fund Australian political activity. These reforms will ensure that the Commonwealth's electoral funding and disclosure regime keeps pace with international and domestic developments and provides transparency for Australian voters ahead of the next federal election.
Before I close, I also thank in particular Daniel Clode, senior adviser in my office, who's done an absolutely amazing body of work to help us get to this point. Once again, I thank senators for their contribution and commend the bill to the chamber. In doing so, I table a supplementary explanatory memorandum relating to the government amendments to be moved to this bill.
As foreshadowed, I move my second reading amendment:
Leave out all words after "that", insert:
"the bill be withdrawn because the Senate is of the opinion that:
(a) the bill ignores corporate influence over politics and disproportionately targets the not-for-profit sector, which is an attack on public interest advocacy;
(b) the bill is likely to discourage charities from engaging in issue-based advocacy in furtherance of their charitable purposes, because of uncertainty in the definition of 'electoral matter';
(c) there is no public interest benefit to the proposed added layer of regulation for the charitable sector, because the existing regulatory framework for not-for-profit organisations under the Charities Act 2013 is sufficient to prevent charitable organisations from engaging in partisan political activities; and
(d) the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 should be amended to introduce caps on campaign expenditure by political parties, candidates and associated entities, which are indexed to inflation and subject to periodic review."