Wednesday, 2 September 2020
Electoral Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2020; In Committee
I table a supplementary explanatory memorandum relating to the government amendments to be moved to this bill and seek leave to move government amendments (1) to (8) on sheet UV130 together.
I move government amendments (1) to (8) on sheet UV130 together:
(1) Schedule 1, item 2, page 3 (before line 11), before the definition of federal purpose, insert:
federal account means an account where:
(a) the only amounts deposited into the account are amounts to be used only for a federal purpose; and
(b) the only amounts withdrawn or transferred from the account are amounts:
(i) withdrawn or transferred for a federal purpose; or
(ii) transferred to another federal account.
Example: A federal account of a federal party may be established by the federal party or a State branch of the federal party.
(2) Schedule 1, page 3 (after line 29), after item 2, insert:
2A Subsection 287(1) (definition of State or Territory electoral law )
After "means a law", insert "(including a part of a law)".
(3) Schedule 1, item 25, page 8 (lines 14 to 30), omit subsections 302CA(4) to (8), substitute:
Receiving or keeping gifts—money
(4) Despite any State or Territory electoral law, a regulated entity, or a person on behalf of a regulated entity, may receive a gift of money if:
(a) the money is deposited into a federal account as soon as practicable after the money is received; and
(b) the money is not transferred or withdrawn out of the account except:
(i) to use the money for federal purposes; or
(ii) to transfer the money to another federal account.
(4A) Despite any State or Territory electoral law, a regulated entity, or a person on behalf of a regulated entity, may keep a gift of money if:
(a) the money is kept in a federal account; and
(b) the money is not transferred or withdrawn out of the account except:
(i) to use the money for federal purposes; or
(ii) to transfer the money to another federal account.
(4B) To avoid doubt, subsections (4) and (4A) are taken never to have applied if, at any time, the money is transferred or withdrawn out of the account, or any other federal account, except as provided by subparagraph (4)(b)(i) or (ii) or (4A)(b)(i) or (ii).
Receiving or keeping gifts—gifts other than money
(5) Despite any State or Territory electoral law, a regulated entity, or a person on behalf of a regulated entity, may receive or keep a gift that is not money unless the regulated entity keeps the gift for use for, or uses the gift for, purposes other than federal purposes.
(5A) To avoid doubt, subsection (5) is taken never to have applied if, at any time, the regulated entity keeps the gift for use for, or uses the gift for, purposes other than federal purposes.
Receiving or keeping gifts—additional operation
(6) Subsections (4), (4A) and (5) also have the effect they would have if a reference to a gift were confined to a gift expressly given for federal purposes.
(7) Despite any State or Territory electoral law, a regulated entity may use, or authorise the use of, a gift of money for federal purposes if the gift has been continuouslykept in a federal account since it was deposited in that account, or any other federal account, in accordance with subsection (4).
Using gifts—gifts other than money
(7A) Despite any State or Territory electoral law, a regulated entity may use, or authorise the use of, a gift, that is not money, for federal purposes if the gift has been continuouslykept for federal purposes since it was received.
Using gifts—relationship with State or Territory electoral laws
(8) To avoid doubt, the fact that, as a result of subsection (7) or (7A), a State or Territory electoral law does not prohibit the use of a gift does not prevent that law from prohibiting the offering, seeking, giving, receiving or keeping of the gift.
(4) Schedule 1, item 25, page 9 (after line 3), at the end of section 302CA, add:
Parts of gifts
(10) For the purposes of this section, if a part of a gift is offered, sought, given, received, kept or used for a particular purpose, and that same action is taken in relation to another part of the gift for a different purpose, each part of the gift is taken to be a separate gift.
(5) Schedule 1, item 27, page 9 (lines 10 to 28), omit subsections 314B(1) to (4), substitute:
Disclosure of amounts and benefits given etc.
(1) Despite any State or Territory electoral law, a person or entity is not required to disclose under that law an amount of money, or information relating to an amount of money, (including a gift or loan) if the person or entity expressly gives the amount to, or for the benefit of, a regulated entity for federal purposes.
(1A) Despite any State or Territory electoral law, a person or entity is not required to disclose under that law the value of a non-monetary benefit, or information relating to a non-monetary benefit, if the person or entity expressly provides the benefit to, or for the benefit of, a regulated entity for federal purposes.
Note: For the definition of non-monetary benefit, see subsection (8).
Disclosure of amounts and other benefits received
(1B) Despite any State or Territory electoral law, a regulated entity is not required to disclose under that law an amount of money, or information relating to an amount of money, (including a gift or loan) that is received by or on behalf of the regulated entity if:
(a) the amount is deposited into a federal account as soon as practicable after the amount is received; and
(b) the amount is not transferred or withdrawn out of the account except:
(i) to use the amount for federal purposes; or
(ii) to transfer the amount to another federal account.
(1C) To avoid doubt, subsection (1B) is taken never to have applied if, at any time, the amount is transferred or withdrawn out of the account, or any other federal account, except as provided by subparagraph (1B)(b)(i) or (ii).
(2) Despite any State or Territory electoral law, a regulated entity is not required to disclose under that law the value of a non-monetary benefit, or information relating to a non-monetary benefit, that is received by or on behalf of the regulated entity unless the regulated entity keeps the benefit for use for, or uses the benefit for, purposes other than federal purposes.
(3) To avoid doubt, subsection (2) is taken never to have applied if, at any time, the regulated entity keeps the benefit for use for, or uses the benefit for, purposes other than federal purposes.
(4) Subsections (1B) and (2) also have the effect they would have if a reference to an amount or benefit were confined to an amount or benefit expressly given or provided for federal purposes.
(6) Schedule 1, item 27, page 10 (lines 8 to 18), omit subsection 314B(7), substitute:
(7) Despite any State or Territory electoral law, if, as a result of this section, a person or entity is not required to disclose under that law an amount, information or value referred to in this section (the federal information), then:
(a) it is immaterial whether the federal information is required to be included in a return provided under this Part; and
(b) a total amount, or information relating to a total amount, that is required to be disclosed under that law is not required to include the federal information.
(8) A non-monetary benefit is a gift, or a good or service that is lent, that is not money.
(9) For the purposes of this section, if an action (such as, giving or using) is taken in relation to a part of an amount or non-monetary benefit for a particular purpose, and that same action is taken in relation to another part of the amount or benefit for a different purpose, each part of the amount or benefit is taken to be a separate amount or benefit.
Compulsory production provisions excluded
(10) This section does not apply in relation to any compulsory production provision in a State or Territory electoral law.
(11) A compulsory production provision in a State or Territory electoral law is a provision that confers a power on a person or body (the regulator) to compel a particular person to disclose information (including an amount or value) for the purposes of the regulator investigating a potential contravention of that or any otherlaw.
Note: A provision that confers a power for a person or body to give a notice to produce to a regulated entity is an example of a compulsory production provision.
(7) Schedule 1, page 10 (after line 18), after item 27, insert:
27A After subsection 317(1)
(1A) A person or entity (the record keeper) must keep records in accordance with subsections (2) and (3) for the purposes of allowing a person, court or other body to determine whether section 302CA or 314B applies in relation to the record keeper.
Example: A statement of all transactions into and out of a federal account is example of a record that must be kept for the purposes of this subsection.
Civil penalty: 200 penalty units.
27B Subsection 317(2)
After "A record", insert "kept under subsection (1) or (1A)".
27C At the end of subsection 317(2)
; and (e) if the record relates to the application of section 302CA or 314B—5 years after the day the relevant gift, amount or benefit is offered, sought, given, provided, received or used, or the relevant expenditure or debt is incurred.
27D Subsection 317(3)
Omit "A record", substitute "The record".
(8) Schedule 1, item 34, page 11 (line 30), after "amounts given,", insert "non-monetary benefits provided,".
These amendments give effect to recommendations from the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. I restate on the record my thanks for the committee's work. The government and the opposition representatives on the committee agreed that the Commonwealth Electoral Act should apply exclusively to federal political donations, but they recommended that this should be conditional on banking federal donations in separate federal purpose-only accounts to strictly separate these funds from any state campaign funds. As the committee put it, this would align the accounting treatment of federal donations with the legal treatment proposed in the bill.
This proposal raised on a bipartisan basis by JSCEM members is compatible, I believe, with the technical amendments in the government's bill and is entirely consistent with the intention behind those amendments. The government amendments circulated in my name will implement this recommendation. The amendments provide that, as a condition for being covered exclusively under the federal electoral law, federal funds must be deposited in a federal account and can only be used for federal electoral expenditure or transferred to another federal account. This is equivalent to legislative requirements adopted in some state and territory electoral laws. It is increasingly the case if recent years for state and territory jurisdictions to require that political parties deposit all funds intended for election use at state and territory level in dedicated campaign accounts. Accordingly, many political parties already operate separate bank accounts for their state and federal campaigns. To the extent some do not, these amendments will require new practices for dedicated handling of federal money. As JSCEM put it:
A Federal-purpose account would effectively create a sanitised stream of financial activity within a state arm of a party that is fully separated from the State-affairs of the party. It would remove a capacity to shuffle funds between purposes, after they have been committed and banked.
The amendments include integrity rules that will nullify inappropriate attempts to misuse federal donations for non-federal electoral purposes. For example, if a political party initially banks a donation in a dedicated federal account but later spends that amount at a state level then Commonwealth law is deemed to have never applied to that donation. The federal account would also lose its federal status at that time. In this instance, a donation may be subject to state or territory law, including where relevant, penalties, reporting requirements and potentially registration obligations.
Importantly, while the amendments protect the right of the Commonwealth parliament to make exclusive laws for federal elections, they are very carefully drafted to ensure state and territory electoral regimes continue to apply to their fullest extent possible to donations related to their own elections. Specifically, these amendments make clear that, for avoidance of doubt, the Commonwealth does not in any way impair powers of a state regulator to seek compulsory production of documents in relation to contravention of state laws. Together, the effect of this set of amendments is to ensure that there is a uniform federal set of requirements for donations that have a federal purpose. Without laws to protect the Commonwealth parliament's power to regulate its own elections, people in different corners of the country could potentially be subject to very inconsistent donation rules based on where they live. The amendments reflect the government's readiness to address issues that surface in the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters process. These amendments make parts of the bill more targeted and they demonstrate the value of improving electoral legislation on a bipartisan basis through that committee. I commend the amendments to the Senate.
Labor will support the government's amendments and, in particular, we welcome the government listening to Labor's suggestions that parties should be required to keep separate state and federal campaign accounts. Several state jurisdictions already require that separate state campaign accounts be maintained. Separate federal accounts will provide an additional layer of transparency and accountability to ensure that the actors in the electoral process cannot use the Commonwealth Electoral Act to circumvent state electoral laws.
[via video link] This is a bit tricksy, really. The government has managed to sew up the opposition's support for this whole bill—which, I might add, its Queensland Labor state counterparts strongly oppose—and it has done so on the basis of this provision, which requires a separate bank account to be used. I'm afraid that's not enough protection from the influence of big money over our politics. Clearly, if money goes into a separate bank account, it's still going into a pool of funds. It will still therefore free up other funds that could then be used for state purposes. So, whilst this is a very small improvement, it is nowhere near enough of an improvement, and it still allows a dodging of those stronger state restrictions. So I don't take any comfort from this. I know the opposition does—I know the Queensland Labor Party does not, but your internal squabbles I will leave to you. This is not enough of a reassurance. The fact is, big money is still flowing.
I note Minister Cormann's reference to disparate regimes. Well, harmonise them! Have some strong national laws with caps on donations and with proper disclosure thresholds. That's the solution that would actually clean up politics and deliver a good outcome.
I might just also address some of the comments that Senator Cormann made in relation to the Greens' support for previous versions of the EFDR bill. I was in the parliament when this vote occurred. We moved an amendment to say that federal laws should not be allowed to override stronger state donation laws—and you guys voted against it. So it's a bit rich for you to somehow accuse us of having a curious position when, in fact, we sought to improve this last time. We are now seeking to improve this again. I have a private member's bill which would also seek to clean up donations laws. We have been entirely consistent, and we'll continue to bang our heads against the brick wall that is made of your big donors' vested interests until we smash it down. I just want to get that on the record.
I might also add that, sadly, the supplementary explanatory memorandum which Senator Cormann tabled, what, four minutes ago, has not been properly circulated. I've managed now to secure a copy of it. But again we see a government that doesn't take this chamber seriously. It's sewn up the opposition to support them on this amendment, so it's thrown due process out the window once again. We understand the intent of these amendments. We've read them; we don't need the supplementary EM. But I just want to note that it is bad practice to not circulate documents like that, that pertain to chamber business.
They are the comments that we have about this amendment. As I say, it is a very small improvement and, on that basis, we will be supporting this amendment. But it is nowhere near enough, and it does not overcome the litany and the tide of big, dirty political donations that the government is still allowing to flow, and it doesn't really disguise the fact that the government is still attempting to circumvent stronger state donation laws.
Just to assist Senator Waters, on 15 November 2018, a previous bill pursuing a much more broadly framed change, seeking to separate federal electoral laws from state electoral laws, passed unanimously in the period between ten past six and a quarter past six. Unanimously! This bill before us, even without this amendment, is much more narrow in its focus. It is very explicit that there can't be any interference in any way, shape or form by federal electoral laws with state electoral laws—in the same way as we don't want to have any interference by state electoral laws with federal electoral laws. This bill in front of us is already much narrower. The amendment that I've just moved puts it beyond doubt that there is to be complete separation. The Greens previously were part of unanimous support in this chamber to implement a change of this nature, a change which is eminently sensible. For Senator Waters, the reference is page 8,430 in the Senate Hansard. It was just before quarter past six on Thursday 15 November 2018.
[by video link] That is exactly why I sought to place on the record the amendment that we sought to make to that previous bill which this government voted against. So, I'm a bit baffled as to why Senator Cormann thinks he's scored a point against us there. I will let the Hansard stand on that record.
I just want to make it known that One Nation had no idea this bill was being brought on this morning. So, everyone else knew about it and moved amendments to the bill. What I want to ask Senator Cormann—in light of the fact that this is due to the Queensland government moving legislation which will impact on the federal government in the states to do with election donations—is: if this bill's not passed today, will that mean that the federal arm of the political parties in Queensland will be treated totally differently to every other state?
The answer to that question is yes. This is housekeeping legislation, which should be entirely noncontentious. Indeed, it was entirely noncontentious when a much more far-reaching reform along those lines was passed by the parliament back in 2018. We want to ensure that federal elections are organised nationally on a nationally consistent basis. A state electoral law should not be able to interfere with the conduct of federal elections, and our federal candidates and federal representatives out of Queensland should not be disadvantaged compared to their counterparts in other states and territories. It is a completely and utterly commonsensical position that there should be a uniform approach through the conduct of federal elections on a nationally consistent basis, and passage of this legislation will ensure that happens. Given that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters provided its report, this is the opportunity to deal with this.
The purpose of the bill, as well as addressing a range of practical issues that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has identified, is to ensure that the conduct of federal elections, nationally, on a nationally consistent basis, is governed by federal electoral laws and the conduct of state elections, as is consistent across relevant state jurisdictions, is governed by state electoral laws. We think that that is an entirely straightforward proposition, and we can't see where the contention is in that very straightforward proposition.
I don't believe that the internal affairs of the Liberal Party are a subject of this bill. I don't represent the Liberal Party as an organisation in this chamber; I represent the government. Clearly, whatever the arrangements are that are engaged in by the Liberal Party, by the Labor Party, by the Greens, by the Jacqui Lambie Network or, indeed, by Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party, they all have to comply with relevant laws. What we are saying is that, when it comes to the conduct of federal elections, they should be governed by federal laws. When it comes to the conduct of state elections, they should be governed by state laws.
We still have no transparency. If the federal Liberal Party or Labor Party get a loan, when they are paying the loan back out of people's political donations, apparently, they are not counted as political donations; they are counted as loans. I can tell you now that that to me is absolutely political corruption. I look at this and see that these people over here get $30 million—and I've got no idea because there is no transparency—out of what, at the time, were supposed to be political donations but are now called loan repayments. You don't see that as a big gaping hole?
Loans provided to political parties in the context that Senator Lambie suggests are disclosable. These arrangements have to be and should be transparent. The issue that Senator Lambie is raising in the broad is not the object of this bill. The object of this bill in relation to the interaction of state and federal electoral laws is that state laws should govern the conduct of state elections and federal laws should govern the conduct of federal elections. Obviously, it is open to any individual senator either to pursue amendments to this bill on matters that they wish to raise or pursue or to move a private senators' bill if there is an issue that, in the view of individual senators, ought to be pursued.
Maybe if you'd have bothered to give us time—and I go through the Chair to what Senator Hanson said—to actually look at this instead of shoving it down our throat this morning in quick succession then we would be able to do that. Does that not tell you that there is something politically corrupt going on here or what? Tell me this then, Minister: how is a 'federal purpose' defined in this bill?
The definition of 'relevant expenditure' relies on the existing definitions in the electoral law of 'electoral expenditure'. So the definitions of 'electoral matter 'and 'electoral expenditure' are pre-existing definitions. Really, what this clarifies is that any campaign donations for federal matters or federal expenditure—election related expenditure and electoral matters—ought to be governed by this federal Electoral Act, whereas state elections ought to be governed by the state electoral acts.
I also don't accept that this is something that has come out of the nowhere. This was unanimously passed in 2018 in a much broader set of arrangements. There was a process leading up to this. This has been with the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters since the middle of 2019. There's been a lot of work done through the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is recommending that this proceed based on relevant amendments which the government and the opposition will be moving. This is an issue that's been around for a long time. It is simple housekeeping. The basic proposition which is eminently reasonable is that federal law should govern the conduct of federal elections and state law should govern the conduct of state elections.
There is absolutely no circumstance in which a government would deliberately put forward an unconstitutional piece of legislation. Clearly we have taken careful note of the findings of the High Court in relation to the original bill, which was supported unanimously because it was a sensible reform in terms of the intent it sought to pursue. In this bill we have ensured that we've reflected the findings of the High Court in relation to the previous piece of legislation to ensure that it is consistent with the requirements of the High Court in terms of the constitutionality of what is in front of us. Specifically, we are being very, very clear that federal law should only govern federal elections and that state law should govern state elections, but, where there is any doubt, federal law would not apply. Federal law will only apply to those circumstances where donations are exclusively and specifically directed for federal election purposes. The amendment that I have moved on behalf of the government will provide a further reassurance to ensure that that strict separation of the management of campaign donations is indeed guaranteed.
Except for when it's got to do with a loan repayment, because then it's not a political donation; it's a loan repayment. So I have to ask both sides, Labor and Liberal: now you know there's this massive loophole, do you intend to fix this loan situation?
I don't accept that there is a loophole. If Senator Lambie is concerned about a loophole, I'm very happy to refer for the consideration of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters the issue of loans for the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters to assess any issues that Senator Lambie believes arise. But this legislation has no bearing on what Senator Lambie might think ought to be addressed.
Minister, if you are going to do that, can we have that sorted before the next election so we don't have any confusion about a political donation that floats across here and then the next thing it's known as paying off a loan?
In the end, I don't control the timetable of parliamentary committees, as you would appreciate. But I'm quite happy to ask the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters to assess the issue. If Senator Lambie wants to write to me and provide some context and background on what she believes the issue at hand is, I'd be very happy to receive such a letter. I would say again, though, that this legislation has no bearing on it. This legislation in relation to the relevant point that is being discussed only does one thing. It ensures that there is strict separation between federal law and state law when it comes to the conduct of federal elections as opposed to state elections and it helps ensure that there is a nationally consistent approach to the conduct of federal elections, which we think is entirely appropriate.
I will do that. Thank you for giving me the option to do that. How will the AEC or state electoral commissions know if money is not used for federal purposes? We know that sometimes it gets very confused between state and federal passing money over to each other, so could you tell me: how will the AEC or state electoral commissions know if the money is not used for a federal purpose?
The whole point of this account is to put this even further beyond doubt. There are integrity and compliance measures on top of that. The fact that there is a requirement to maintain totally distinct bank accounts—a federal purpose bank account separate from any other bank account, including any state purpose bank accounts—means that these matters can be properly scrutinised if and as required.
Do you have a watchdog or something set up? What will happen when money is not used for a federal purpose? Does anyone get done criminally? Is there any sort of watchdog? Is any disciplinary action going to be taken? What's the go here?
The Australian Electoral Commission is the independent statutory authority that is responsible for the conduct of elections and for ensuring compliance with all aspects of relevant electoral laws. As I've indicated in my previous remarks, yes, there are penalties and compliance and integrity measures in place, including in this bill, to ensure compliance with these arrangements.
Before I ask a question, I want to make a couple of short remarks in relation to Senator Cormann's second reading speech. He was directing, in some sense, a criticism at the crossbench for having supported previous legislation. Of course, you'll find support for anything that pushes electoral donations to a position of greater integrity. The criticisms I made in my second reading contribution were not in relation to anything this bill is doing; they were in relation to what the bill is not doing. I think it's a bit disingenuous to suggest anything other than that what I was suggesting was that the bill doesn't deal with certain things that are important to most Australians.
It's in that vein that I'm going to ask questions about the coverage of this bill, and these may go to some of the amendments, so, in terms of order, it may save time later. I'll start with a preliminary question. Minister, are you aware of the arrangements that take place whereby political parties organise dinners and members of companies or organisations or, indeed, individuals turn up to these political dinners and pay a price that would not reasonably be considered to cover off just the food? In actual fact, these dinners generate money which is used by parties to advocate their position in election campaigns. Are you aware of those dinners and functions that take place?
Firstly, I'm very happy to note that Senator Patrick has confirmed that he supports this bill. He just thinks the bill doesn't go far enough. I see him nod. Hansard doesn't pick up a nod, so I'm happy to hear from his contribution that that is his position: he supports the bill but he thinks there should be other things in it. We're always happy to talk about what else can sensibly be done. The long-established process in our parliament to deal with matters on a non-partisan basis when it comes to all aspects of the conduct of elections is to do it through the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. We're always open to pursuing these matters.
Of course it's a longstanding practice for political parties, individual candidates and people from all backgrounds who want to seek public office. Campaigns have to be funded—and I think that's well understood—so funds have to be raised. There is a transparency and disclosure regime in place to ensure that that is done in an appropriate fashion. I'm aware of the fundraising activities of my party and I'm aware of the fundraising activities of other parties. I think it is a democratic right for individual Australians, including individual Australian businesses, to participate in and support the democratic process. In fact, I think you'll find that many businesses that participate in these sorts of events engage with politicians from all different sides of politics because they've got something that they want people to understand. Also, some people just happen to be strong Labor supporters, strong Liberal supporters, strong Nationals supporters or strong Centre Alliance supporters. I put it to you that every candidate and every party participating in an election has to be able to finance their participation at election. It's a very important part of the process. How else would we get our arguments in front of the Australian people to ensure they can make an informed decision?
Thank you for acknowledging that these functions take place. Under the current legislation, if someone turns up to a Liberal Party dinner and pays $2,500 or $5,000 for a seat, are these amounts declared by parties? Are parties required under current legislation to declare the total earnings that might come from such a function?
All political parties, all candidates, need to declare the donations they receive, consistent with our laws. That's entirely a matter for them. Again, this bill has got absolutely no bearing in relation to this. If you want to move amendments because you're concerned about the way some of your political competitors conduct their fundraising, then that is obviously something that's open to you.
I do concede that these questions, in some sense, relate to amendments that will be moved. But, in my consideration of those amendments, I'm seeking to understand what is currently covered. If a political party were to hold a dinner and charge 2½ thousand dollars for 10 seats, would the $25,000 have to be declared as a donation under existing legislation or under anything that this bill seeks to introduce into law?
A gift is already defined in our electoral laws to include an amount without consideration. So, based on what you suggested earlier, the mark-up on a function above cost is a disclosable amount. This is not changed by the bill. Your apparent concern is already addressed by the current electoral laws.
[by video link] Minister, in clause 57 of the bill in subsection 200DI(1) it states that:
(1) A voting officer must put to each person attending before the voting officer, and claiming to vote in an election or elections (as the case requires), questions in order to ascertain:
(a) the person’s full name; and
(b) the person’s place of living; and
(c) whether the person has voted before in the election or elections …
Minister, why is a person not to be asked to show identification prior to voting?
This bill does not include a requirement to show voter identification. In this bill, it goes to the questions that an AEC official has to ask of voters. There are three mandatory questions before they hand out a ballot paper. This bill allows greater flexibility for polling officials about how they can word the three mandatory questions, to help the AEC communicate with voters who face language barriers or disability issues. The three questions are about name, address and whether the person has voted previously at the same election. But nowhere in this bill is there any new, fourth question permitting an official to ask a voter for ID documents.
Having said that, the introduction of voter identification is something that the government supports. It is something that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, chaired by Senator McGrath, is currently considering, and it is something that the government would be prepared to bring forward in a separate piece of legislation in the future.
[by video link] I raise that point because voting is the heart of our democracy, and, when a person votes, we have to know they are the right person that is voting. What we find at elections is that people get fined if they don't vote. We don't seem to fine people who are crossed off on the electoral rolls more than once, because we can't identify them. What I'm saying here is about not requesting a person's details or asking them to show identification such as a driver's licence, which most people carry, or maybe a Medicare card or even a credit card, to show that that is actually the person voting. When we go to the bank, we must show identification if we want to open up an account. When we go to purchase a mobile phone or a SIM card, we must show three forms of identification—just to get a mobile phone. Yet—and this has been the argument of a lot of Australians—we don't have to show identification when we go to vote.
It is a known fact that a lot of people go around from booth to booth and vote multiple times. Minister, when will you act on making sure that people have to show identification, rather than saying, 'We're working on it?' This has been going on for years and years and years. And I must point out to the people of Australia that it was the Newman government that introduced voter identification, but as soon as the Labor Party got elected in Queensland, under Annastacia Palaszczuk, the first piece of legislation she put forward was to get rid of voter identification, and I've got to ask the question: why? So, Minister, the people of Australia don't want 'We're looking into it.' This has been happening for years and years. There is fraud going on in our voting system. When are you going to take it seriously enough to make sure voters show identification? And will it be for the next federal election?
I thank Senator Hanson for raising what is a real and genuine issue. We do support the introduction of voter identification. This bill does not introduce voter identification, but we do support it. And it's good to know that One Nation, if a relevant piece of legislation was coming forward in the future, would be supportive of that. Obviously, we would need to convince some others in this chamber that this is a meritorious reform before we would be able to get it through the parliament. Multiple voting has been a longstanding risk that all electoral systems face, and the government welcomes constructive ideas like this one to address this problem. Voter identification forms, though, will require legislation. Some parties in the parliament have voiced stringent opposition to such proposals in the past. So, I guess the reason we are prioritising what can sensibly be done is that we recognise where the political realities are in the Senate at present.
What repercussions are there—what will happen—when money is not used for federal purposes? Are any legal requirements put in? We know we have no watchdog over this. We're down on AEC staff. Is any action taken over this sort of stuff?
As I indicated previously—and I did as part of my comments on the amendment that is in front of us—if somebody breaches the requirements of strict separation between funds received for federal purposes and funds received for state purposes then they lose the benefit of federal legal protection. It means that the current state laws, as appropriate—Queensland, in this circumstance—would apply; all the relevant state penalties would apply. And relevant integrity measures at the federal level would apply. The only way campaign donations will fall under federal electoral legislation, as is appropriate, is if there is demonstrated compliance with the strict separation requirements in relation to relevant funds received.
I thank Senator Lambie for that question. The Electoral Commission is an independent statutory authority. We are always open to receiving advice and representations from the electoral commissioner, Tom Rogers, in relation to staffing requirements. We believe that as it stands, based on current settings, the Electoral Commission is appropriately resourced. But there are always a range of things that come up and developments that arise, and we will continue to make the appropriate judgements on the appropriate level of resourcing.
Enforcement of these rules is not a matter for political parties; compliance with these rules is a matter for political parties. All political parties, all candidates, all relevant actors that are captured by the Commonwealth Electoral Act need to comply with the law, and compliance with the law is a matter for the Australian Electoral Commission.
Continuing the discussion, I thank you, Minister, for your previous answer indicating that, if we have a dinner function and 10 companies turn up and they pay well above the cost, the margin is, in effect, reportable. Does the contribution get attributed to those who attended the dinner? In this case, I suggested 10 companies turned up—company A through to company J. Is the margin attributable to each of the companies that attended?
This question seeks to differentiate between senators and ministers of the Crown. Have you been to any of these fundraising dinners yourself where the ticket or the invitation mentions a dinner with the Minister for Finance or Minister Cormann, as opposed to Senator Cormann?
I'm one person and, like all of my colleagues on both sides of parliament who occupy relevant positions, I participate in the democratic processes of this parliament and in the community, including campaign fundraising events.
It's quite a specific question. In relation to you as the Minister for Finance, have you attended any dinner that might have been a fundraiser where the dinner was advertised as a dinner with Minister Cormann or the finance minister or the Leader of the Government in the Senate—so, in your capacity in the executive, as opposed to as a senator? I'm happy for you to take that on notice, Minister.
I don't have to take that on notice. I'm quite happy to confirm that I have attended fundraising events in my capacity as a backbench senator, in my capacity as a shadow minister, in my capacity as a minister—in any capacity that I've held as part of the democratic process consistent with all of our laws and consistent with all of the arrangements that appropriately apply. Of course I've attended events that support the democratic process.
You answered the first part of the question, but the specifics—and I apologise if I didn't articulate this clearly. I'm wondering about dinners that you have attended that were advertised as dinners with the minister, either the finance minister or Minister Cormann, as opposed to simply a dinner that was promoted as a dinner with Senator Cormann.
I did answer that question. I'm one person. I'm a senator for the great state of Western Australia. I'm also the Minister for Finance. I attend events. I don't believe that I'm ever responsible for sending out invitations. As I noted, anyone who operates either on the shadow frontbench or on the government's frontbench—or, I would suggest, even senior representatives of the Greens—would attend events that are designed to mobilise the required level of support to maximise their chances of being successful at an election. That is an entirely unremarkable reality of the democratic process.
Minister, you'll be aware that in the three arms of government—being the executive, the legislature and the judiciary—under our Constitution, there is an overlap' and that overlap exists in the circumstance where someone is both a member of parliament and a minister, so there's an overlap between the legislature and executive. I'm interested in the dinners that you have been to where the dinner has been advertised as a dinner with a member of the executive, as opposed to a senator. It's a reasonable question. I'm differentiating between you—I know you're the same person, but you are actually being characterised in two different roles under our Constitution: as a senator and as a minister, and it's the second one that I'm interested in.
I can confirm again for Senator Patrick that, like every other frontbencher on the opposition benches or on the government benches, I participate in campaign fundraising events, and all of us have to do so consistent with all of the relevant legal requirements. I am very confident that at all times I have participated in any electoral or campaign fundraising event in a way that's consistent with the law and consistent with the relevant parts of the ministerial statement of standards.
I appreciated your comments where you talked about the democratic process and how people are entitled to come along to these dinners and they get to engage with parliamentarians. I'll put on the record that anyone who wants to talk to me simply has to pick up the phone and arrange a meeting through my diary manager, and there's no cost associated with that. I'm just trying to establish whether there is a price associated with meeting with a minister versus meeting with a senator, what the intersection of that is with this legislation and how it might be treated—whether or not it's treated differently.
I was quite happy to provide good-faith, genuine, direct answers to the questions but I object to the imputation just now. People do not have to pay to get access to me. People who want to get access to me, can get access to me subject to time limitations. People don't have pay to get access to me, but people who want to support, including with financial donations, the campaign effort of one or another side of politics are entitled to do so, as long as everyone concerned complies with all of the relevant laws of the land, and nothing in this bill has any bearing on that, incidentally. The part of the bill where there seems to be a level of discussion is about strictly separating the federal laws, which should govern federal elections, from state laws, which should govern state elections. It should not be that state laws can interfere with the conduct of federal elections. We believe we must have nationally consistent federal electoral arrangements.
I appreciate that in some sense I'm asking questions that may be better suited to when the Greens and Senator Lambie move some amendments. Perhaps I'll leave it there and come back to these questions when those amendments are moved because they go to the very questions that I'm asking.
[by video link] Minister, would you agree that allowing property developers to give money to a Queensland state branch of a political party, even if it's transferred into a separate federal account, in fact maintains the support and the relationship between that developer and state party in a way that could potentially influence that state party's policy position?
No, I do not; I absolutely don't. As a matter of principle, I am of the view that all Australians should be able to participate in the democratic process. At a federal level, when it comes to federal elections, Australians should be able to participate in the electoral process based on all the rules and the laws at a federal level. And, at a state level, it should be governed by state laws. This legislation ensures that there is strict separation between the two. If the state parliament in Queensland wants to put in place certain arrangements in terms of how electoral arrangements are put in place and how company donations are to be organised, that is a matter for them and that is the law that applies in Queensland for state elections. A state parliament should not be able to impose different rules in one jurisdiction, when it comes to the conduct of federal elections, compared to those that apply in the rest of the country.
I support that it is entirely a matter for the state parliament in Queensland. I am responsible for electoral affairs at a federal level, and that is why we are putting forward a reform proposal to the federal parliament.
All of the relevant state laws and state penalties would apply. As soon as there were a breach along the lines that Senator Lambie suggested, that would mean—this is a law of the Commonwealth electoral law—presumably, if it were by a non-permitted donor at a state level, that donor would be liable to the penalties applicable under state law. The only way that relevant donations would be protected through federal legislation would be if they complied with all of the requirements under the federal law, including the requirement for strict separation.
There's a regular program of returns and audits by the Electoral Commission, and, clearly, it's the normal, business-as-usual approach to compliance arrangements, a combination of risk-managed spot audits. Obviously, if somebody is of a view that something untoward has happened, allegations are made and investigated. But the principle here is that this bill, if enacted after passage through the Senate, will ensure that there is strict separation between campaign donations for federal purposes and donations for state purposes. There can't be any overlap. If there is any overlap at all then the state provisions will be enlivened.
Well, I mean, with the greatest of respect, the point that Senator Lambie makes here applies to every and any law. So what you're essentially saying is that we should not impose integrity measures and penalties because they don't work anyway. Well, we don't agree. We believe that the arrangements put in place through this bill will be effective and that the management of our Electoral Act through the Electoral Commission is effective. It has served Australia very well for a very, very long time. We've got a very stable democracy. We are recognised globally as one of the world-leaders when it comes to openness and transparency and stable, proper democratic processes. This legislation, once passed, will contribute to that.
Anyone who breaches the law should, of course, be subject to the penalties that come with that breach of the law. But you're assuming that everyone will just breach the law. I'm assuming that, overwhelmingly, Australians seek to comply with the law. Where that is not the case—of course, that's why the penalties are there. So they are enforced and imposed in these circumstances.
I'm just wondering, Minister, how many of those donors in the last 10 years have actually been done. Has a donor ever been done? Has any enforcement ever been brought upon a donor? You've got these stringent laws and they are so great. Has a donor ever been done?
This legislation obviously is only just being introduced. You can't have managed enforcement action in relation to provisions that haven't yet been passed by the parliament. But, in terms of arrangements previous to the passage of this bill, the Electoral Commission absolutely enforces compliance with our electoral laws as appropriate. We have full confidence in the effectiveness of the Electoral Commission to do the job that Australians rely on.
[by video link] I presume that by that you mean that your state organisation—at least in part—runs your federal campaigns, but correct me if I've misinterpreted your nonanswer. So is it the case that a property developer can still donate to that same state LNP that it couldn't donate to were it a state election? It's a point about the nexus and the relationship between the donor and the person receiving the donation.
The whole point of this legislation, compared to the one that you previously supported as part of a unanimous vote in the Senate in November 2018, is that it further narrows and imposes an even more stringent separation. So only where campaign donations are provided for the express and sole purpose of federal electoral matters and federal electoral expenditure is that donation covered by the federal electoral laws. Unless it is the case that a campaign donation is exclusively for a federal purpose, if it goes for any other purpose, it will be governed and will continue to be governed by state laws.
To clarify again what I said before: if it's untied and not exclusively for federal purposes then the state law in that circumstance would apply. For relevant parts, federal law would apply, but not for this particular aspect of it.
[by video link] But the donor would be the same? It's the same state party receiving the money and still maintaining that relationship with the property developer, which is meant to be banned in Queensland for state electioneering, but there's still an exchange of money. That relationship is still maintained, and ergo that policy influence can still be exerted over that party.
I disagree with the basic premise of this proposition, but the point is: anyone who is eligible to participate—to exercise their democratic rights—in the electoral process, including by financially supporting their party of choice in Western Australia, in South Australia, in Tasmania, in New South Wales or in Victoria should have that same right in Queensland. State laws should not interfere with the capacity of an individual Australian to contribute to a federal electoral process. I think that that's an entirely unremarkable, uncontroversial proposition. You might have a view that federal electoral laws should be designed differently. I've heard you make these arguments before, and that's fine. But, in the end, federal law should govern the conduct of federal elections without inappropriate interference of any state law.
[by video link] We just have a fundamentally different view about where the line should be drawn. Yes, we do think that the federal law desperately needs reform, and, yes, we do think that donations, federally, should be restricted and should be properly disclosed. So I suspect we're not going to have a meeting of the minds on that issue. But, nonetheless, we will persist with moving our amendments to strengthen federal law, because it sounds to me like the back door is still there, and, if you've got that relationship between big donors and a state branch of a political party, it's pretty artificial to say that the mere existence of a separate bank account would somehow quarantine the influence that that donor would have on that branch of the political party. So that legalised corruption still remains. Even though it may be in a separate bank account, that influence is still being peddled, and that is exactly why we are seeking to ban donations from listed sectors and to cap donations from everybody else.
I would like to go back to whether or not the donor should be held liable for any illegal use of their donations. I'm going to give you an example of this in the real world here. If I give you money and tell you that it is not to be used for an illegal purpose and you buy illegal firearms with it anyway, are you really saying that I'm going to be in breach of the law for your decision to breach the law in the first place?
It is incumbent on the party to comply with the law. If the party does not act consistent with the requirements as proposed in this bill then it's the party that loses the benefit of that strict separation between federal and state electoral regimes. That is clearly a very significant incentive for parties to do the right thing. I suspect whoever the relevant political party—it's an entirely non-partisan statement—or politician is in this context would not want to find themselves in that situation. I think that there is a very significant inbuilt incentive to strictly comply with the requirements in this legislation.
I don't seem to be getting where we need to go here. I don't think this is very clear. Let me get this right: if the party misuses the donation, the donor is not to be held liable for that. I thought the opposite was the case.
Going through a hypothetical example, a donor that provides a donation to support a federal election or to support a party of his or her choosing in the context of a federal campaign effort has not done anything wrong. I don't know why you would want to impose a penalty on an individual Australian when all they have done is use their democratic right to participate in the democratic process. What you're suggesting is on what would happen if the party, subsequent to the donation being made, does not manage that donation in a way that is consistent with our federal and state legislation. If they don't observe the strict separation then the penalty imposed on that party is that they would lose the benefit of strict separation and they would become subject to the state laws, including, in the Queensland context, the relevant prohibitions that apply in Queensland. So you can't really blame an individual donor for any alleged or possible mishandling by a political party.
Question agreed to.