Senate debates

Thursday, 1 December 2022


Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Banning Dirty Donations) Bill 2022; Second Reading

9:02 am

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to reintroduce this bill today, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Banning Dirty Donations) Bill 2022, and to continue our efforts to get big money out of politics. If passed, this bill would stop dirty industries with a track record of seeking to influence decision-makers through donations: the fossil fuel, banking and defence sectors, and the pharmaceutical, liquor, tobacco and gambling industries. It would stop them from making political donations to buy outcomes to suit them. This bill would also limit the amount that can be donated by individuals and all other entities to $3,000 per electoral term, minimising the opportunity for anybody's big money to buy outcomes.

There has never been a more important time for donation reform. Our democracy is in trouble. Public trust in parliament and politicians is at an all-time low, and the community feel less and less confident that their representatives represent them, as opposed to the corporate donors. It's no wonder. In the past decade, $230 million have flowed in corporate donations to the Labor, Liberal and National parties from the likes of the big banks; from industries like mining, defence and big pharma; from property developers; and from alcohol, tobacco and gambling companies. These are just some of the industries that have paid the Liberal, National and Labor parties to put their private profits ahead of the needs of our community. These industries are not donating millions of dollars because they believe in the institution of strong democracy. They are donating because it gets results for them.

The Greens have maintained the Democracy for Sale website for over a decade, tracking publicly disclosed political donations and putting the spotlight on influence peddling. In 2018 the Senate Select Committee into the Political Influence of Donations laid out examples of the nexus between donations made by industry bodies and public policy outcomes or project approvals. The cosy relationships and the proximity of donations and policy outcomes that boost industry profits suggest undue influence. The community continues to pay the price through climate inaction, propping up destructive gambling practices and governments that refuse to make corporations pay their fair share of tax so that everyday people can get the education, health care, dental care, and income support that they need. Until we break the hold of dirty donations over the big parties—over all parties—big corporations will keep winning and the community will keep losing.

Recognising the corrosive influence of donations from the development sector and the influence that they had on planning policy, infrastructure and development, the Queensland and New South Wales governments have legislated to restrict political donations from property developers. The High Court has upheld those regulations, and this bill seeks to extend those to the federal arena, but it also recognises the influence of other key industries.

Since 2012, the fossil fuel and resources industries have donated over $9 million to both of the major political parties. The Australia Institute estimates that, in 2021-22 alone, Australian governments handed out $11.6 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel giants in things like grants, loans, cheap fuel and accelerated depreciation. That was $1.3 billion more than in the previous year, despite there being a COVID crisis that saw so many ordinary Australians struggling to make ends meet—what a great return on investment. Rather than turning off the tap in the most recent budget, the new Labor government gifted $1.9 billion of new money for gas in the Northern Territory, on top of continuing the nearly $40 billion in Morrison government fossil fuel subsidies, including $40 million for fuel tax credits enjoyed by that industry—again, a very good return on investment for fossil fuel donors and a terrible deal for the climate and the rest of us.

Generous donations bought a Liberal government at the time that was completely paralysed by the words 'climate change' at the same time as the Australian community was facing a future of more extreme bushfires, crippling droughts and floods. Donations continue to cloud the judgement of the Albanese government as new coal and gas projects keep getting approvals and public money. The gas industry donates millions of dollars, so it was no surprise when the former Prime Minister appointed his gas industry mates to a National COVID Coordination Commission without even needing to declare their conflicts of interest. It was also no surprise that the commission ultimately called for a gas led recovery that directly benefited the gas industry, despite strong support for a renewables led recovery from scientists, economists and policy analysts. Again, the community lost the opportunity for a sustainable recovery, because governments are beholden to fossil fuel donors.

The cozy relationships and financial support have led to a situation where, despite overwhelming scientific and economic evidence, we will not even reach the weak 43 per cent emissions reductions targets unless we end our attachment to fossil fuels. The Albanese government refuses to rule out any of the 113 coal and gas projects that are currently under consideration. In fact, they continue to hand out public money to support destructive new projects in the Beetaloo basin, Scarborough and more.

We saw the bullying tactics by the Minerals Council kill the Rudd government's mining super profits tax, and now we're seeing the Minerals Council use the same tactics against the Queensland Labor government's current plans to get resources companies to pay more. Those threats only work because the major parties rely on donations. The possibility generous donations will be withdrawn is the leverage the industry uses to keep governments in check.

The banking and financial sector is also a regular contributor and beneficiary. The sector has donated about $76 million since 2012 to both sides of politics. That support secured them immunity for some time, despite the evidence of customers being ripped off around the country. Both of the major parties had to be dragged to the banking royal commission—something the Greens had campaigned for since 2014—following scandal after scandal and public backlash over their inaction. How much faster would the commission have happened if the Liberal, National and Labor parties weren't on the payroll of the banks? Would we have seen stronger action in response to the scathing royal commission report?

The gambling industry is another significant donor to state and federal political parties. Their influence can be seen in the deeply entrenched support for poker machines throughout Australia, including exemptions for clubs from COVID restrictions, even when so many other venues suffered and despite the human suffering and toll that the gambling industry wreaks on ordinary people.

Property developers also continue to throw their donations weight around while fighting against planning restrictions or tax reforms or stronger environmental law. In Queensland, a destructive proposal for a canal estate within the Ramsar listed Toondah wetlands that are the gateway to Minjerribah—as Meanjin folk know Stradbroke Island—should never have gotten past the first hurdle. The federal environment department recommended that the project be rejected as clearly unacceptable. Yet the property developer, Walker Corporation, was a generous political donor and—hey presto!—the minister then allowed the deeply flawed proposal to proceed through the assessment phase. It was not rejected at the outset, as the department had suggested it should be. The minister at the time, who was Mr Frydenberg, even explored the possibility of changing the Ramsar boundaries to accommodate the proposal. We have the documentary evidence of that. I live in hope that the new environment minister will finally reject this destructive proposal, but the local community should never have had to fight so hard and for so long against such a clearly unacceptable development.

These are only the donations that we know about, none of which has been illegal. It doesn't include the money paid to attend business forums or 'cash for access' meetings. It ignores the exorbitant subscription or membership fees, and it doesn't include money funnelled through representative and fundraising bodies. Regardless of the source or the amount, the obvious expectation from industry is that donations will return results. They're buying outcomes. This feeds the public perception that decisions in this place are made improperly, with self-interest and with the interests of donors or mates consistently overriding the public interest.

In banning political donations from those industries that have a history of seeking to influence policy decisions, this bill implements a key recommendation of the Senate Select Committee into the Political Influence of Donations. It would make it an offence for a prohibited donor to make a donation or solicit another person to make a donation on their behalf. It would also be an offence to accept a donation from a prohibited donor. Another committee recommendation that this bill seeks to implement is to limit other political donations to $3,000 in an election term, or $1,000 per year. As the High Court recognised in McCloy v New South Wales, the uncontrolled use of wealth to influence decision-making compromises equal participation in democracy. By aggregating and capping political donations made by any person or entity, this bill seeks to level the playing field and avoid those with more money getting greater access to decision-makers.

The bill will limit donations made for political purposes but is not intend to limit donations made to third parties to support their non-campaign activities. The important work done by civil society organisations, many of them charities, must be allowed to continue. We will continue to call for the introduction of electoral expenditure caps to balance the participation of civil society organisations in the political process. This bill complements other reforms to strengthen the disclosure regime that the government has finally committed to acting on, including lowering the disclosure thresholds and requiring real-time disclosure of donations, so people aren't waiting 18 months to find out who's buying who.

The Greens strongly support these measures, but we recognise that transparency alone will not remove the corrupting influence of political donations. The 2022 election results confirm that the Australian public want more transparent and representative governments that act in the public interest. This bill is an important first step towards getting big money out of politics and restoring public confidence in our democracy. If we are committed to enhancing the democratic process—which is, surely, something that every parliament should regularly turn its mind to—this should be a priority. This bill does not stifle debate or prevent individuals from donating a small amount to support a political party; it bans donations from industries that have become associated with having a corrupting influence on how we work as decision-makers. It will return democracy to the community. Democracy should not be for sale to the highest bidder, and it's about time that we banned those big corrupting donations to political parties and capped the amount that anyone can donate to support a political party or grouping of their choice.

I commend this bill to the Senate.

9:14 am

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

Democracy is precious. It's one of the most important features of our obligations here in the Senate to think carefully about the work that we do here and the way that it protects and bolsters our really proud legacy as a multicultural, democratic nation with a universal franchise, and we should always be thinking carefully about the way that our system supports and recognises that. One of the puzzling things about being a participant in debates in this chamber over the last few years is the consistent approach that the Greens political party takes to democratic institutions, because almost every occasion that sees the Senate debate these questions sees members of the Greens political party come into this chamber and talk endlessly about how democracy is broken. Strangely, for a party that I think would see democracy as a core part of their tenets, the Greens political party choose always to assert that democracy doesn't work, and I would invite Greens senators to carefully reflect on the consequences on that narrative.

One of the interesting things I observe, from sitting in this part of the chamber as a member of a party of government and sitting on that side of the chamber as a member of a major political party that seeks to form government and enact change through the institution of government, is very close relationships between the rhetorical positioning of members who sit on this side of the crossbench and members who sit on that side of the crossbench, because what the Greens political party and One Nation have in common is a determination to tell their voters and their supporters that democracy doesn't work. That's the basis of their pitch to voters. It's important we talk about our democratic institutions. We'll always welcome that conversation, and I do thank the Greens for putting it on the agenda today. But I invite you as a political party to think about the consequences of that contribution and to reflect on the similarities between your own approach and the rhetorical approach taken by some of the people that I know you do not agree with.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Shoebridge, I look forward to your second reading when it comes.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

The truth is that electoral reform requires support from across the parliament. In August this year, as is always the case after an election, the Special Minister of State asked the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters to inquire into and report on all aspects of the conduct of the 2022 federal election, and I think the terms of that referral are important and significant and provide an important opportunity for all senators in this chamber to participate in a structured way in a dialogue with other political parties and civil society about how we best conduct elections. But it is worth looking at the terms, because they refer to reforms to political donation laws, particularly the applicability of real-time disclosure and a reduction of the disclosure threshold to a fixed $1,000; potential reforms to the funding of elections, particularly regarding electoral expenditure caps and public funding of political parties and candidates; and the potential for truth in political advertising laws to enhance the integrity and transparency of the electoral system.

As a government we are interested in exploring with the parliament the ways that we can improve and enhance our electoral systems, and we're interested in doing that in a collaborative way, not in a way that seeks to score cheap political points off political opponents. The truth is that we are very proud as a party of the contribution that we have made in leading reforms to electoral laws. It was Labor that secured the ban on foreign donations, protecting our political system from foreign interference. It was Labor's amendments that linked public funding to campaign expenditure, preventing parties from profiting from the political system. You can go back to Bob Hawke in 1983; Labor, under Prime Minister Hawke, introduced a donations disclosure regime for the first time. It's a Labor reform, and we do those things because we know that transparency is the key to preventing and identifying corruption. I think that those are shared values across the chamber, or at least I hope that they are. It's why we continue to drive a reform agenda. It's actually Labor, not the opposition or the Greens, who have been driving the agenda for political donation reform over a very long time, driving the agenda for transparency and driving the agenda for government accountability. It was Labor who fought for that ban on foreign political donations. The Liberal Party didn't want to stop taking donations from foreign sources, despite the risk of foreign influence to our democracy, and had to be dragged kicking and screaming to accept those amendments. It was Labor, of course, who protected charities—

Photo of David ShoebridgeDavid Shoebridge (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Wasn't in New South Wales.

The CHAIR: Senator Ciccone?

Photo of Raff CicconeRaff Ciccone (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I do want to draw your attention to interjections persistently coming from Senator Shoebridge. I know you have already raised the matter directly with him in the chamber, but I do ask that you draw his attention to your ruling earlier.

The CHAIR: Senator Shoebridge, please exercise restraint.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

It is Labor working to protect charities and not-for-profits from the legislation from the previous government that sought to silence and suppress their political advocacy. It's Labor again delivering an independent anticorruption commission.

We in this chamber should hold ourselves to the highest standards. We should be concerned about the persistent data and information that comes to us about declining trust in public institutions. I would like to see this chamber firmly commit to an entirely cross-party approach to improving the standard of democratic institutions and improving trust in the parliament and all of the institutions of government. But I make the point that I began with. I think it's important that we talk up our democracy. I think we should talk up how incredibly successful we are in having transparent elections conducted with integrity, with universal franchise and which the public has confidence in.

I don't think it's helpful to constantly and repeatedly assert that those processes are not working for Australians. I do think it has real consequences when people persist in that approach. We will take a different approach. It is to say that we have done well but we can always do better. Everyone in this chamber has the opportunity to do so. I note the process that is on foot at the moment through the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, but this is an important opportunity for a conversation, and I look forward to the contributions from other senators.

9:22 am

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Imagine waking up a Green! Imagine waking up as a member of the Greens of Australia. You'd wake up each morning and be so angry with the world. They wake up and they just punch the pillows because they're so angry with the world. I feel sorry for the Greens—'Woe is me that Australia is such a bad place, that we're all going to hell in a handcart. And guess what's going to make Australia a better place. We're going to stop someone who owns a pub from giving a donation to a political party.' That's what this bill is about. This bill is about stopping someone who owns a pub, whether it's the Queen's Arm, the Sandy Creek pub down the road from me, the Einasleigh Hotel—any of the many pubs across Queensland. If the publican and their family want to give $50 or $100 to a local political party, whether it's the Sun-Ripened Warm Tomato Party, the Greens, the LNP or Labor—but no. You own a pub, you support so many community groups, but you can't give $50 or $100 to your local political party, because stopping people who own pubs from giving donations is going to make Australia a better place!

The CHAIR: Senator Waters, a point of order?

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

A point of order on misleading the Senate. The limit is $1,000 a year, and I'm sure Senator McGrath will get enough free booze anyway based on previous years.

The CHAIR: Thank you for alerting Senator McGrath to the clauses in the bill. I haven't read the bill, but I think Senator McGrath was not necessarily referring to the maximum. But anyway.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

You're very lucky, Deputy President. If you do read the bill, it's about five minutes of your life you're not going to get back in a hurry. So I'd suggest you go for a walk—

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

It's my choice, Senator McGrath, what I do with my life.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

pat a cat or kiss a dog. Do something like that. But do not read this bill, because this is a waste of space and a waste of time, in writing. That is what this is. People wonder what people in Canberra get up to. Well, guess what? We waste time on pointless bills like this that want to stop law-abiding Australians from supporting the political party or the political cause of their choice. That's what this is about. This is about the Greens, who've become the puritans of Australian politics. Soon, we're going to be all walking around like the 'brides of green'. We'll be wearing dark-green or soft-green outfits, covering up any bodily features, because the Greens have become so puritanical in wanting to stop people from having fun unless it's their type of fun.

Quite frankly, I don't care what the Greens get up to in their spare time—I'm a libertarian. If they want to do things behind closed doors with the windows shut, they can do it. But this bill would apply to someone involved in a legal industry, such as a pub—because pubs are terrible places, aren't they, ladies and gentlemen! This shows how out of touch the Greens are. I'm someone who sends out a pub calendar each year. I pay for them myself and send out pub calendars. Because guess what pubs do? Pubs are actually community groups. Pubs are community organisations. Country pubs do so much for their local organisations. I look at the pubs in my district in the Darling Downs. If you go past a pub, often you'll see a tonne of cars out the front at 11 o'clock in the morning. You'll think, 'Jeez, people are starting early today.' But do you know what it is? Often they're having community meetings there. They're using the pub as the local community hall to talk about Landcare or about issues impacting the local community. That is because pubs are the bastion of their local community.

Under this bill by the Greens, they don't want those people supporting political parties or supporting political causes. Heaven help me—publicans are such bad people! If you don't think that people should participate in the democratic process, why don't you just ban them? Go and ban pubs. This is why the Greens are the puritans of Australian politics. They don't want you to have fun. They want to ban stuff that they don't like. They're quite happy to sit in their darkened corners and munch on a bit of moss and talk to each other about the grand old days when Bob Brown was leader: 'Wasn't it fantastic? We stopped everything from happening in Tasmania. Isn't it brilliant? The unemployment rate's up to 20 per cent under our policies.' That's what the Greens are all about because they're the party of misery. Imagine waking up as a green each morning. I suppose it could be worse; you could wake up next to a green! But anyway.

I have wasted five or 10 minutes of my life reading this bill. Another episode of Andor hasn't come out. Andor is a great series for those people who are watching it. I got up to episode 12 last week. I've got to wait for the next season to come out.

The Greens also want to stop people from giving money to political parties if they are involved in the sale, marketing or distribution of pharmaceutical products. So they want to stop pharmacists. They want to stop chemists. They want to stop community pharmacy. The other bastion of regional towns, suburbs and villages across Australia—those evil people!—is pharmacists. Do you know who makes up one of the most trusted professions in Australia? Pharmacists. Community pharmacy. The Greens want to stop community pharmacists—those people who do so much for the health and wellbeing of Australians. They want to stop that evil industry of pharmacists from getting involved in the political process by supporting a political cause. Are you serious? What were you on when you wrote this? You were probably on something that was prescribed to you by a pharmacist, and you overdosed on it, or, quite frankly, you should go to a pharmacist and get some medication to stop you from writing such rubbish.

This is just bonkers stuff. There are so many more important issues in Australia at the moment that I'm sure this chamber could be united on to make the best country in the world that much better. Quite frankly, being a bunch of wowsers on heat and wandering down the main streets of the towns and villages of Australia, being these puritans stopping law-abiding citizens from participating in the democratic process does not assist. It doesn't help democracy at all. What this does is stop people from participating in democracy. It stops law-abiding people from participating in democracy, and that is not a good thing.

I refer to the comments of Senator McAllister. The government, as is the case after each election, regardless of the political colours of the government, write to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and ask it to conduct an inquiry into the previous election. There are specific terms of reference, which Senator Farrell has put in his letter, asking the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters to inquire into. I sit on this committee along with Senator Cadell, and we are taking a very serious and sober look into the running of the 2022 election and also into the proposals that the Labor Party have outlined. It won't surprise people in the chamber to know that we do oppose many of the proposals that have been put forward by the Labor Party—for example, giving New Zealanders and other foreigners the right to vote in Australian elections. We oppose that. We certainly will oppose spending caps because we do not believe spending caps will assist in promoting a pluralistic democracy.

When you look at what's happened in Queensland, where the state elections are not run on an electoral system that is fair—there is a financial gerrymander, because political parties are capped at spending $15 million but unions are capped at $10 million. There are 26 registered unions in Queensland. There's one Labor Party, there is one Liberal-National Party and there are the Greens and various other minor parties. What it means is that those on the centre right of politics are capped at spending $15 million in an electoral cycle, but for those on the Left—the Greens, Labor and 26 unions—well, 26 times 10 is 260. For those who are arithmetically challenged, that's $260 million that the unions can spend in campaigning against the election of a Liberal-National Party plus $30 million from the Greens. That's $290 million, whereas my party is limited to $15 million. That is a complete and utter financial gerrymander. There is no fair electoral system in Queensland.

One of the proposals that I suspect Labor may bring forward will be a financial gerrymander at a federal level. That would not be fair and it would not be appropriate. What is also not fair and not appropriate is to bring in a similar financial gerrymander that locks out those who are engaged in legal industries from participating in the democratic process. If the Greens don't think that someone who is involved in defence industry or in a financial institution or has a pub or is in the resource sector or runs a chemist or is a property developer or anything like that should participate in the democratic process, it shows their Stalinist approach to a pluralist democracy, but it also shows their failure to understand how the Australian economy works, because you are talking about tens of thousands of people—indeed, hundreds of thousands if not millions of Australians—who depend on these industries.

What the Greens are saying is that you might work for your local pub, but you're a bad person because you work for a pub. We don't like pubs because we don't like fun. We don't like people getting out and enjoying themselves. We don't think your pub should be able to donate or support the political party of your choice, unless it's the Greens, because, let's face it, the Greens want to turn us into a one-party state. Being a member of the Greens party is just a massive example of waking up in a bed by yourself.

This is what the Greens want to do to Australia: you can only have thoughts that the Greens agree with, you can only have beliefs that the Greens agree with and you can only support causes that the Greens agree with. Now, if you want to support the Greens—because, quite frankly, you are one chromosome short of the village idiot—go ahead and do it. That is your choice. I'm not going to stop you from doing that. If you want to support my party, or Labor or any of the minor parties, do it. I encourage people to get involved in the political process. I encourage people to join political parties or causes of their choice. I'm not going to stop you doing it. I don't want to stop you doing it; we need more people to get involved in Australia's democracy, not fewer people. We need to stop shaming people.

Quite frankly, how many people work in the resource sector? I reckon it's almost 300,000 people whose jobs depend on the resource sector. So they say to them: 'Well, too bad. You can't really work there.' We're talking about people who work in the financial sector—probably also 300,000 people—and we're talking about people who work in the property sector, probably talking about another 200,000 Australians. Then we're talking about the hundreds of thousands of people who work in chemists and pharmacies across Australia. We're saying to those people: 'You're not worthy. You're not worthy of participating in Australia's democracy, because we don't like you—because we're the Greens. We're the puritans. We're pure. We wouldn't do anything wrong.' Well, the more someone tells me that they're pure, the more someone tells me that they're righteous and the more someone tells me that they're on the side of all that is good then the more I check my back pocket to make sure I've not been pickpocketed by them and the more I make sure I go to my house and make sure my TV hasn't been nicked by them!

This is what the Greens are all about. They sit in the peanut gallery, they throw rocks and stones at the parties of government, say how terrible we all are and how terrible Australia is. They run down Australia; they run down Australia from a democratic perspective and they run down Australia from a financial perspective, because their party is the politics of grievance. Their politics is angry politics. Their politics is not about what's doing best for Australia it's about what's doing best for the Green political movement. They want to stop people who run chemists and who run pharmacies. They want to stop people who run country pubs from getting involved in the political process. This is what the Greens movement has come to.

I don't know what Bob Brown is doing at the moment, but he could basically become a wind turbine at the moment in terms of oscillating around with his disappointment with the modern Greens movement—that they've shifted from the great environmental battles of the 1980s and 1990s to become the party of just: 'Nah, the computer says no. We're a bunch of puritans. We don't want you to have fun. We don't want people who own pubs or run country pubs to get involved with the political process.'

This is a waste of the Senate's time. Go back and do better, Greens.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thanks for the entertainment, Senator McGrath.

9:38 am

Photo of David PocockDavid Pocock (ACT, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to commend Senator Waters on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Banning Dirty Donations) Bill 2022. Clearly, if you want to trigger the major parties, just bring up meaningful political donation reform. This is the inconvenient truth in Australian politics, that we're in a situation where companies are gaming the political system, a system that is about Australians casting their vote and every vote having the same value. That is now being co-opted by companies across this country to buy political influence. Four of the five last federal elections have been won by the major party with the biggest war chest. I would suggest that this is not a direction we want to head down.

Australians want meaningful reform when it comes to political donations. Australians want to know their politicians are making decisions based on what is good for their communities, not just on what may be good for their donor. Senator McGrath talked about how this will limit people being able to participate in democracy and donate. On the contrary, this makes it more accessible to Australians, to actual people. Corporations are not people, and corporations are gaming the political system.

Reading this bill, I tend to think $3,000 per person per term is a fairly level playing field. We don't want to be in a situation where, because you have more wealth, you can donate far more than the average Australian could ever afford to donate. Clearly, when we allow corporations to donate they can outspend almost all but maybe the richest Australians. This is about returning democracy to the Australian people. People in the resources sector, workers who work in mining, making personal donations to the political party of their choice is not the same as resource companies making large political donations to the major parties.

In the last three years the Liberals have accepted just over $2.3 million from fossil fuel companies. Labor have accepted just over $1.1 million. The Nationals have accepted $221,000. That's $3.7 million of money that is clearly influencing the debate on crucial issues like global warming, like this parliament's response to what we're seeing on the news every day now, with worsening climate impacts, with a climate that is breaking down. We're seeing weather we haven't seen before; we're moving into a new climate. Clearly this isn't a good way to make decisions that are going to benefit everyday Australians and future generations.

Political donation reform is something that Australians want. People in communities across the country are calling for it. Today we're seeing the vested interests in the major parties.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

It's nonsense!

Photo of David PocockDavid Pocock (ACT, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

That may be nonsense, Senator McAllister. Let's take gambling as an example. I'm sure senators here would receive a fair bit of correspondence about gambling. There are Australians across the country very worried about the impact gambling is having—gambling advertising, specifically—on children. The statistics show it is having a huge negative impact on young people. We know that. Government agencies have the data, saying there are a large percentage of children now who think gambling is something that adults do, that it is normal. We're seeing children who are 16 and 17 not just gambling but being at risk of problem gambling before they are even legally allowed to gamble. Yet neither of the major parties are willing to implement the gambling advertising reform that most Australians want. Most Australians do not want to put on sport and see gambling advertising when they're watching with their children. Yet when we try and get the new government to take that seriously we get a change in slogans. You cannot tell me that all this money that is flowing into the major political parties from the gaming and gambling industry lobby is not having an effect. If we were listening to everyday Australians we'd be saying: 'This is a huge problem. It is not good for the future of our country. So, we're going to have a response that deals with it.' Experts have said that one of the things that should be done is to ban any gambling advertising in the hours that children watch television, as we've done with other products that are harmful. Yet we get this lukewarm response.

So, Senator McAllister, I simply do not accept your interjection that this has no effect. Clearly it does. We could say the same when it comes to climate politics in Australia. This has become a political football. We've seen the fossil fuel industry use politicians, political parties, to kick this problem down the road, to the point where we are now in a crisis and we're going to have to do things that rise to the level of crisis that we're facing, whereas if we had had a parliament that was connected to everyday Australians, connected to the science, willing to listen, then we could have started to deal with this a long time ago. It would have been a much steadier and simpler transition.

So I would urge the major parties to reconnect with Australians, to reconnect with the people we are all in here to represent. My sense from talking to people in the ACT is that political donation reform is right up there. People realise that our political system is being gamed, that companies have huge influence in this building. They walk the halls, they walk into politicians' offices, they make donations and they run events. We have to deal with this.

I welcome the government's openness to review this and to look into it, and I look forward to having the kind of reform that is being called for by everyday Australians and by experts who have looked at this issue for a long time. This is not a new issue or concern. Both sides of politics have been in government in recent history. Clearly, as with having a National Anti-Corruption Commission, which was on the back of the Greens and Independents pushing for that for a long time, it's politically inconvenient but it's good for Australia. As senators we have a duty to do what is good for the people we represent, not the party whose line we vote along. That's our huge challenge, for all of us.

I commend Senator Waters for continuing to push this issue. It resonates with everyday Australians. The longer we leave this, the more we're going to see Australians starting to find candidates who are willing to stand up and say: 'We can do better. We can return our democracy to the people. We can have rules in place that ensure that it is a level playing field, that big companies can't donate hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars which clearly are having an effect, and it's inconvenient on both sides. In 2021 the biggest donor to the coalition was Pratt Holdings, with more than $1.2 million in donations to the Liberal Party. On the Labor side the biggest support came from its associated entities and several unions, including the SDA, the UWU and the CFMMEU, who donated $3.67 million collectively.

Again, Senator Ciccone, I appreciate your interjection and I really welcome the renewed focus on political donations now we're seeing tens of thousands of Australians making donations to independents and minor parties. For the first time that I can remember we had the former Prime Minister in the campaign talking about it, highlighting the need to tackle political donations. Indeed, we now have a government that is committed to doing that. Let's remember that there is a clear difference between Australians donating their own money in a personal capacity, versus companies or unions donating. I sense there's an appetite to go back to having rules that make it a level playing field and that ensure that everyday Australians have the ability to donate should they want to. We don't want to stop that, but we do want to stop the undue influence that is clearly being seen and is playing out in the way that we are dealing with some of the really big and thorny issues we face, like action on climate, what our response to gambling is. We are the biggest losers in the world when it comes to gambling—$25 billion or so a year.

I commend this bill. On behalf of people in the ACT I represent, I will keep pushing this. This is something that is important to people in the ACT. They want to see meaningful action. They're sick of seeing decisions being made that aren't in the best interests of Australians. They're sick of having governments that argue that the government doesn't have a duty of care to future generations. If we don't have a duty of care to future generations, what are we here for? This is a meaningful way of putting checks and balances and added transparency in place so that Australians can look at this place and say, 'I can be more confident now that decisions are being made that are going to benefit me and my family and my children, and their future and their children's children, rather than some big gambling or fossil fuel company that can spray $100,000 a year to buy a bit of influence in this place. I commend this bill.

9:53 am

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to this bill, which is basically laced with hypocrisy. This bill does nothing. It's got one side of the picture, in terms of private sector, but doesn't mention anything about money coming from unions or super funds. It doesn't mention anything about the inherent influence inside bureaucracies. I know that the promoter of this bill worked for the Environmental Defenders Office for about a decade. Of course, she's one of many left-wing Marxists in the bureaucracy who get paid by the taxpayer to be impartial, but I have no doubt that this is a scheme that's employed by the left—whenever you talk about any environmental stuff, they always run off to the Environmental Defenders Office and then use the law—'lawfare'—to effectively shut down any sort of new production.

We have this slur going around 'we can't have money from fossil fuel donors'. Somehow a diesel fuel rebate is some sort of a rort. If you want to know what a rort is, it's the people who live in these inner-city houses. The biggest tax expenditure discount in the budget is the CGT grant on wealthy houses in inner-city electorates. Yet these same hypocrites come in here and call the diesel fuel rebate, incurred by producers who don't go anywhere near a road, a rort. That is not the case at all. When farmers plant their crops, they don't go anywhere near a road. I myself am from a farm of 150,000 acres. It can take you two hours to get to the boundary just to go and check your water. We would drive thousands of kilometres a year just to check our bores, and we're meant to pay for roads we don't use. How is this somehow a rort?

I notice there's a key word in there—that we're going exclude people that volunteer their time. The thing is, in the private sector, if you didn't know, small businesses work seven days a week, 24 hours a day. They don't always have the time to help the parties. That's why they decide to give money. 'We'd love to help you out. We don't actually have the time, but use it for advertising or whatever.' There's an implication that all donations are bad.

I don't like gambling any more than a lot of people in this chamber, but the fact of the matter is that that was brought in by a crony deal between the Goss Labor government; Kevin Rudd, who was the chief of staff at the time; and the unions, who wanted to bring gambling into Queensland. What have we got for it? I tell you what regional Queensland got for it: nothing. What we got was a lot of heartache. In my home town of Chinchilla, when I was growing up, we didn't have any poker machines in the pubs, but we had a maternity ward and we had a council. We don't have a maternity ward or a council anymore, but we've got poker machines. So no-one's going to be influencing me—and no-one does influence me when it comes to donations.

Another thing that this bill completely overlooks is the influence of lobbyists, who don't have to disclose how much people pay them.

You want to know who the real shadow government in this country is? It's the bureaucracies who are stacked with left-wing supporters—and they are left-wing supporters—and the lack of accountability in these so-called independent bodies. I did a post this morning, about my tenth one on RBA, about how they refuse to bring our gold home. They refuse to do a proper audit. There's no accountability there.

I'll give you another great example. The Bureau of Meteorology used to just have the weather—the vision. These guys would go out, they'd measure the temperature or they'd record the temperature, and that was it. End of story. But now they have this whole new division called the climate division. Their job is to go and create new sets of data that's been manipulated from the original raw data. They wrap big words around it, like 'homogenisation' et cetera, so that most people don't even understand what they're talking about, but it's actually manipulated data. You don't go back and create a new dataset, and fudge the data. You report the original data with a margin of error; that's what you should be doing. I've spoken to the ABC, another so-called independent body, about why, when they report this data, they don't distinguish between homogenised data and raw data. Why don't they report the raw data with a margin of error? That's how you do it.

In the private sector, if you came up with three, four or five sets of different accounts—Al Capone style—you'd be thrown in jail, but, no, not within the bureaucracy, because it doesn't suit the narrative of the bureaucracy that maybe the temperature hasn't risen as much as they claim it has. It hasn't. The raw data doesn't show anywhere near the increase in temperature that the homogenised data does.

That's just another example of the influence coming not from money or from the use of volunteer or paid power but from people who are paid by the taxpayer to deliver goods and services who aren't actually delivering goods and services at all. What they're doing is using the bureaucracy to push their own ideology, and that is corruption. That is corruption.

Then we go again to the hypocrisy of this bill with superannuation. The first thing the Labor government did when they got in was to remove the disclosure laws around how much money superannuation funds donate to political parties, via the unions or whatever. Did the Greens vote for greater transparency there? No, I don't think they did. They didn't do that.

What about the pharma industry? Big pharma—I'm not talking about pharmacies, by the way, Senator McGrath. I'm talking about big pharma. Did the Greens back our bill to get that contract disclosed? No, they didn't.

If we go and look at who the Greens' all-time biggest donor is, it's none other than Graeme Wood, a guy that made his millions through travelling—from being basically an online booking agent for people to travel the world. How much CO2 does travelling the world actually consume? And they have the hide to come in here and cast slurs on our primary producers, our miners and our farmers, that somehow these guys are bad. But it's gross hypocrisy.

If we look at the Victorian Greens party, their biggest donor was of course the Electrical Trades Union. They'd be making a lot of money out of wiring all of these solar panels, the wind turbines that we can't recycle and all the batteries that are going to be installed. Can you see the connection for the Electrical Trades Union, that's going to get paid a lot of money and a lot of jobs for the sparkies by setting up all this new electrical wiring? Think of all the transmission lines where they're going to be ripping the guts out and scarring our beautiful landscape. Think of the dead koalas from these transmission lines and the dead wombats from these EVs with greater braking speeds. Think of that! That's terrible. We have all those inner-city elites driving down from their North Shore suburbs or as they drive up to the snow every year from the inner city of Melbourne in their EV cars with 800-kilogram batteries in the middle of them which increase the braking speed. The hypocrisy of these people is breathtaking!

That was another comment I heard, 'Accelerated depreciation is somehow a rort'. No! If you're going to drop a million dollars on a tractor—and it costs a lot of money to buy a tractor to go around and around—you won't sell that tractor again any time soon for anywhere near a million dollars. It costs a lot of money for big capital-intensive equipment, and to claim that getting a tax deduction for a genuine cost of doing business is somehow a rort is just absurd. It is just absurd! But, yet again, we have the Greens completely divorced from reality. They don't seem to understand that small businesses in this country don't necessarily have the time to go out and campaign. We saw that.

The other great big hypocrisy in all this is with the teals, for example. Of course, their biggest funder is Simon Holmes a Court. He got his wealth from his father, Robert Homes a Court, who made lots of money in the eighties from investing in mining companies. We have this classic hypocrisy yet again: 'Don't worry about where my wealth came from. Once I've got my millions I'm then going to do the backflip and suddenly start being holier-than-thou to alleviate my guilt.' I know that Senator Pocock often talks about growing up on a farm and that he respects the farmers. I suggest, Senator Pocock, that if you want you could come out to our property one day and look at how far it takes to drive from our house out to our boundaries, and how much petrol we use each year. By the way, my dad never claimed the diesel fuel rebate. I used to tell him to do it, but he just won't take any sort of handout from the government. He just doesn't want anything to do with government—he doesn't want the government in his life. That's why he lives on a property of 150,000 acres, miles from anywhere. Obviously, I have inherited some of his traits because that's how I feel when it comes to government as well.

Yes: I came to the Senate to get government out of my life! Thanks, very much, Senator Shoebridge. I enjoy your interjections, and you'll quickly learn that you won't get away with them with me because I will eviscerate you! My intelligence will put you back in your spot very, very quickly. Through the chair—

Honourable senators interjecting

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Rennick, just pause for a moment. Interjections are always disorderly. Could everybody just enjoy each other's company and enjoy Senator Rennick's speech in silence, please. Thank you, Senator Rennick.

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I look at these figures and I ask myself, 'Where will we end up? The other thing we haven't spoken about—and I must touch on this—is their influence on the childcare industry. I've often said that you only have to look at the union movement in this country, which is down to 10 per cent of the workers. The reason why the unions grasp onto our children in child care is that the only growing union in this country is the United Voice, because of the rapid increase in child care. These people say that they want to look after our children; I don't want the government looking after our children. I want that childcare payment going directly to the parent and letting the parent choose. Just like when it comes to the transgender stuff, let the parent decide. When it comes to our space in this country, the government doesn't invade our personal space and there's too much of that happening with big government. I've seen that since I've come down here, whether it's in child care or how we look after our health, you name it, or how we save our money; the unions, big government and the bureaucracy are the true shadow government of this country and they have no accountability.

This is the hypocrisy of this bill. When we tried to move amendments to get greater transparency over costings on reaching the 43 per cent target by 2030—don't have a clue. Senator McAllister doesn't have a clue how many kilometres of transmission lines we need to reach that target by 2030. They don't have a clue how many batteries and how much energy needs to be stored, and they certainly have no idea about costings. We've done the same for the pharmaceutical contracts. I'm about to bring up another OPD on the Auditor-General. Another ex-Labor staffer didn't declare he was an ex-Labor staffer when he applied for a job. He seemed to think that was 30 or 40 years ago, so it didn't matter. Yet again, it matters because a leopard doesn't change its spots.

If you want to get all this stuff and tamp down on donations, I think every bureaucrat in this country should be made to declare whom they vote for at every election, so we know whether or not they're impartial. They shouldn't be allowed to vote. That would be the best way. Once you become a bureaucrat, you've got to be completely impartial. Don't let them vote, or we can make them disclose which way they vote, so we know how they think. For too long these guys have been running a protection racket for the left side of politics. We had one public servant in estimates start saying, 'We're the government,' and Senator Hollie Hughes very quickly picked up on the fact that he should've actually been impartial.

As I said, if you want to know who really controls this government, it's the bureaucrats, the unions, the super funds, the big end of town and the inner-city elites. It is not the battlers. They're out there. They're voiceless. Most of them are too busy working. Whether you like it or not in this country, politics is followed by only a very small sliver of people in this country, and most of the reason why is that they're too busy working. Some people, when they get later in life and they have a bit of money, might want to donate to the party, but this bill will destroy their right to participate in democracy, because they don't always have the time of young uni students. That's how Josh got rolled. Basically the teals got a couple of thousand people to go doorknocking and paid them $40. Is it going to apply to the teals, who pay their volunteers to go doorknocking? Is this bill going to apply to that? This says non-volunteer labour; how does it work out when the teals and the Greens pay their volunteers to go doorknocking?

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

They're not volunteers.

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, they're not volunteers. That's right. They should be called out as well. Are we going to make every little volunteer disclose how much they're getting paid? Are we going to do that? No, of course not. If we want to have true democracy in this country—and I'm all for disclosure, but this is one sided—next time I'll bring that big pharmaceutical bill up, Senator Waters, and see whether or not you want to vote on what we spent the $8 billion on with these vaccines, what we got for that and what was in that deal. You didn't do that, so I don't want to hear about how you're against the big end of town, because every time we try and wedge you guys on making the big end of town more transparent, you always vote with Labor. I'll be putting the bureaucrats up to ICAC. I'm going to have a lot of fun doing this, because Mr Albanese, the Prime Minister, will shut that down.

10:08 am

Photo of David ShoebridgeDavid Shoebridge (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Turns out if you want to trigger Labor and the coalition, mention political donations. Out come the wacko conspiracy theories, out comes the love of corporate Australia and out comes one of the strangest arguments that I've heard in this debate. The argument from Labor is what's eroding trust in democracy isn't taking hundreds, thousands or millions of dollars of donations from the fossil fuel industry, the gambling industry, big pharma, defence and the finance industry—that's not what's eroding trust in politics; it's not taking the dirty money—but what's eroding trust in politics is telling the public about it and asking for change. That would have to be one of the most perverse arguments that I've heard against calling for donations reform, but it came from Labor today in this chamber. Then of course we have this wacko, weird conspiracy theory coming from the coalition, obviously triggering some deep emotional problem they have, if you ever suggest we should take them off the teat of corporate Australia.

I commend Senator Waters for bringing this bill, and I commend former senator Rhiannon and so many others who have been campaigning for decades to clean up Australian politics. Do we need to do it? Of course we do. Right now there's a live discussion about the future of coal and gas. The Greens and millions of Australians are trying to keep it in the ground, and there are 114 live proposals for new or expanded coal or gas projects. Of those, at least 56 have made donations to the major parties—and that's just what is on the public record; it's likely to be much more.

We are about to decide key questions on climate policy, and we know that coal and gas has bought their way into this place. In 2020-21 alone, more than $1.1 million of donations were made to Labor and the coalition by fossil fuel companies. Woodside dropped more than $100,000 to the government of the day. Do you reckon they have a seat at the table when we're talking about climate change? Of course they do, because they bought it. Corporations don't give money to politics because they love democracy. Corporations give money to politics because they want to buy outcomes. They want to buy approvals for their coal and gas projects.

If we want to save democracy, if we seriously want to clean up this parliament, this bill is essential. I commend Senator Waters for bringing this bill. I am disturbed at the unhinged response we get from the major parties whenever we mention donations reform. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

10:11 am

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In the minute and a half we have left, let me say, first of all, that this bill has very many positive aspects, but there will be industries that will get around this. There is one industry that the Greens have not represented on their list. Without doubt it's the worst industry for influence-pedalling. This is an industry that actually owns outright seven teal members of the parliament—six in the House of Representatives and one here in the Senate—all on a mission to drive as many sales for their sponsors as they can. The industry I am talking about, of course, is nature dependent power industry: unreliable, expensive solar and wind. The members of parliament I'm talking about are the teals.

The very reason for the existence of the teals is to drive sales for companies associated with their financial sugar daddy at Climate 200. Simon Holmes a Court bought government in his first public foray into election funding. He bought his way in—

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Roberts, you will be in continuation. The time for this debate has expired.