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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
Conduct of the 2013 federal election and matters related thereto
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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
Rhiannon, Sen Lee
Pasin, Tony, MP
Gray, Gary, MP
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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
(Joint-Wednesday, 30 July 2014)
CHAIR (Mr Tony Smith)
ACTING CHAIR (Mr Griffin)
ACTING CHAIRMAN (Mr Griffin)
- Mr PASIN
Content WindowJoint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters - 30/07/2014 - Conduct of the 2013 federal election and matters related thereto
ALLMAN-PAYNE, Ms Penny, National Co-Convenor, Australian Greens
CONSTABLE, Mr Brett, National Manager, Australian Greens
Evidence was taken via teleconference—
CHAIR: Welcome. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and warrants the same respect as proceedings of the House itself. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. I will invite one or both of you to make an opening statement before we move to some questions.
Ms Allman-Payne : The Australian Greens would like to thank the committee for the invitation to give further evidence on aspects of the 2013 federal election and related matters. We commend the work of the committee thus far and would like to take the opportunity to formally express our support for the recommendations made in the interim report tabled on 9 May. We now strongly urge the government to act on the committee's recommendations to maximise the time available for the legislation and education before the next election.
The Australian Greens believe that all citizens have the right and the responsibility to participate in and equally access the process of government. Parliament should serve the best interests of all Australians, not just those who can afford to buy influence. Democracy is best served by an electoral system that has integrity and is open and transparent. Consistent with our beliefs, the Australian Greens have put forward a comprehensive package of recommendations for electoral reform following the 2013 federal election. The recommendations include but are not limited to: the abolition of Senate group voting tickets; caps on donations and election campaign expenditure; comprehensive disclosure rules; truth in political advertising laws; restrictions on the use of postal vote applications for party political purposes; auto-enrolment of voters; allowing public servants and dual citizens to stand as candidates in federal elections; and proportional representation in the lower house. The 23 recommendations are summarised in the Australian Greens' written submission, which has been previously provided to the committee.
Many of the recommendations contained in our submission have been consistently argued for by the Australian Greens over several years. Whilst we acknowledge that not everyone on the committee will agree with all of them, we would like to encourage the committee to give them genuine consideration as it deliberates on the need for further electoral reform. To that end, we note that the democratic process is currently perceived by many of the public to be damaged and fragile. As a result of the ICAC hearings in New South Wales, the resignation of the member for Redcliffe in Queensland, the suspension of the member for Frankston in Victoria, controversy surrounding a former Speaker and former member for Dobell, the election of candidates to the Senate on a minuscule primary vote and the issues surrounding the WA Senate election, politics and politicians are all under a cloud. This affects the reputations of all of us, including the Greens. Now, more than ever, something needs to be done given the current state of Australian politics. Whilst the committee's remit is restricted to matters that fall within the federal sphere, it is certainly in a position to play a leading role in restoring public confidence in the system and its representatives. For these reasons, we urge the committee to make further recommendations for reform, particularly around caps on donations and election expenditure and disclosure rules.
Whilst the recent case of Unions NSW and the State of New South Wales makes the banning of donations from corporations and other entities problematic, there appears to be no impediment to introducing caps on donations and election expenditure. Accordingly, the Australian Greens remain committed to a system of donation expenditure caps, combined with public funding for political parties, which includes party administration, and broadcasting time in federal elections.
Similarly, with respect to the current disclosure regime, the Australian Greens urge the committee to give serious consideration to raising standards at the federal level, which we note are behind laws currently in place in a number of states. The public both has a right to know and wants to know who is donating to political parties. Despite this, estimates indicate that, while 80 per cent of the major parties' funding comes from private sources, only 25 per cent of private funding is disclosed as political donations under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. To address this issue, the Australian Greens advocate for the lowering of disclosure thresholds and requiring a system of prompt, comprehensive public disclosure of political donations and funding on a public website to be established.
As I noted earlier, there are several other measures contained in the Australian Greens' submission to this committee regarding potential reforms to the electoral system. Whilst we would of course like to see all of them given serious consideration by the committee, we consider priority should be given to the recommendations made by the committee in its interim report as well as placing caps on political donations and election expenditure and a lowering of disclosure thresholds.
With public confidence in politics and politicians at an all-time low, the time to seize the opportunity to improve the integrity of our electoral system is now. We again thank the committee for its work thus far and look forward to reading its final report. We now welcome any questions the committee would like to ask us in relation to these comments and our earlier submissions.
CHAIR: Thank you very much. Mr Constable, we take it that that statement was on behalf of both of you.
Mr Constable : That is right.
Senator RHIANNON: You raise the issue of disclosure and the need to raise standards by lowering the disclosure thresholds. That obviously has administrative implications just in terms of the workload. Have you given consideration to what you foresee for your party and others if the government did reduce the disclosure threshold and reporting time frames?
Mr Constable : Yes. At the moment, we do annual reporting only to the AEC. That is all due for lodgement on 21 October and there is no problem for us in meeting that time line and has not been for many years. We actually do our accounting on a monthly basis, so we already have the systems and procedures in place that would facilitate reporting and disclosing donations, as I say, on a monthly basis. Our preference at this point is not for more frequent reporting than monthly, but during election campaigns, when we already increase our financial capacity to deal with the increased inflows and outflows of funds, we shift to a weekly reconciliation process. So we could even move to donation disclosure on a weekly basis during that period of time.
I am sure it is the same for the other major parties—they should have systems in place that would allow more frequent reporting. Similarly, for minor parties, even if they do not have the systems in place now, I think there is a benefit to be gained by increasing the disclosure frequency. As when the GST system was introduced, when there was a notable increase in the financial management capacity of small businesses as they lifted their systems in order to meet the requirements of GST, I think there is a similar benefit—and it should be seen as a benefit—to these minor parties to stay on top of their financial management, their reporting capacity to their membership and their reporting and accountability to the public via donations disclosure. So overall yes, we have the capacity to meet a tighter time frame for disclosure. We see no impediments to going down that path and see significant benefits in doing so.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you expand on the disclosure you do? Is that a system that you have set up, or are you using a system from the AEC?
Mr Constable : We have our accounting system, and at the moment there is online lodgement through the AEC website. At the moment there is a three-month gap between our online lodgement and public release of that information. I am not sure why there is such a gap. It is understandable if the returns are lodged on a manual basis, but now that it is all electronic I see no reason for that gap, and there is no impediment to us moving to a more frequent disclosure regime. We have the accounting systems in place, we have the online processes, and there is online lodgement. So, there is no reason we cannot disclose quickly after our reconciliation processes are complete, and then it is released by the AEC publicly, because it is all online.
Senator RHIANNON: I was just trying to understand something, and you may have answered this. The accounting system you use works quite smoothly with the lodgement system you fill in with the AEC, so I am just trying to get a sense of whether that is something that needs to be addressed in terms of the accounting system that parties use. Is that something you have already worked out and put time into? Or is that part of the package?
Mr Constable : Yes. Many of our donations are received online, and for those that are not, we enter everything that might come in by cheque or cash into a system that we use for fundraising purposes. Through that system we can pull out individual donations that are over a certain amount or even cumulative donations received by donors over a particular time frame. We have an online donor list that we update on a quarterly basis already, so we are doing that sort of data collection, analysis and publishing. Through that fundraising system, as I said, we can pull out details of individual donors who meet certain threshold requirements and it is simply a matter of exporting that to a spreadsheet and then uploading that spreadsheet to the AEC system, and that is all done.
Senator RHIANNON: Thanks very much. I would like to move on to the recommendation where you cover section 44 of the Australian Constitution. We have this requirement set out in the Constitution, as you have identified, that is a challenge for public servants who want to run for election. You may be able to quantify or just elaborate on why you have brought that forward and to what degree it presents a problem for the party and for individual people interested in running for election.
Ms Allman-Payne : The first point is that our democratic process should be open to everybody, and I think there is a significant detriment to those people who are public servants, particularly public servants in a capacity that has absolutely no conflict with their role as a federal candidate. Many of them are excluded from the electoral process in that they cannot put themselves forward as candidates—a situation where a person has to consider actually resigning their job to contest an election. For example, in the case of the Greens, where currently there is not more than one person in the lower house, we are essentially asking people to put themselves up for an election that they are unlikely to win. It is a very big call for them to have to resign their position only to find themselves five, six or seven weeks later needing to get their job back. There are some government departments that have conventions around automatically giving people their jobs back, but that is not always guaranteed. I guess that raises two issues. One is that if the normal course of things is that a public servant resigns their position, contests an election and then, when they do not find themselves elected, goes immediately back to their government employer, who then re-employs them, it is hard to see what the actual practical value is in requiring them to resign as opposed to take leave.
For example, here in Queensland if you are a teacher and you want to run in the state election it is quite acceptable for you to take leave to do so. Yet in a capacity where you are standing for a state government that is in fact your employer you are required to then resign to run in a federal election where arguably there is no conflict of interest between the two. So I think it presents issues in terms of (1) excluding a large range of people from our democratic process and (2) increasing the challenge for particularly smaller parties, where there is less chance of electoral success, to be able to put up a broad range of candidates when many of them are public servants who find themselves in that position.
Senator RHIANNON: We had some evidence this morning from the Palmer United Party and the issue of postal voting applications came up—how that should be handled. You are obviously aware of how it works at the moment, and you give some coverage to it in your own work that is now before us. You have a clear recommendation that is set out quite specifically that the postal vote applications should go directly to the AEC. What is your experience in the field with this? Are you suggesting it just because you are arguing that it would have greater integrity? Or have you seen problems in how it plays out?
Ms Allman-Payne : I think the argument is twofold. Yes, there is very obviously an issue with integrity. I think once somebody has cast their vote it should be going directly to the AEC and there should be no question of potential interference from a third party. Certainly one of the things we have experienced out in the field is a misconception from voters as to what it is they are filling out and who it is going to. Often if something comes with a particular party's branding all over it there is a perception that they need to vote in a particular way, I guess, because it is coming from that particular source. The other issue we are aware of is that a significant amount of data harvesting goes on. It is our understanding that there are many voters who, alternatively, think that when they fill in that form it is in fact going directly to the AEC. They do not fully comprehend that political parties are harvesting that data on the way through, which, once again, we think presents an integrity issue.
Senator RHIANNON: Perhaps you could elaborate: when you say 'data harvesting', what are the steps? Somebody sends their application back to a political party and before it goes on it is entered into whatever their tracking system is.
Ms Allman-Payne : That is our understanding, yes.
Mr PASIN: While we are on postal voting applications, do the Greens adopt a practice of being involved in postal vote application campaigns?
Mr Constable : Only to a limited extent.
Mr PASIN: For example, did you conduct one in the seat of Melbourne?
Mr Constable : I am not aware of whether they did or did not in the seat of Melbourne.
Mr PASIN: Perhaps we could deal with the section 44 issue. Are you aware of any circumstances where someone has stood for office, taken the necessary steps to resign and then not been re-employed by the Australian Public Service?
Ms Allman-Payne : I am not aware of particular cases with the Australian Public Service. I certainly would need to do some research to find out whether that has happened with state public servants. Section 44 actually precludes state public servants from standing—
Mr PASIN: There is a provision in the Commonwealth Public Service Act, which you would be aware of, I am sure—section 32:
(1) This section applies to a person if:
(a) the person resigned as an APS employee in order to contest an election prescribed by the regulations; and
(b) the resignation took effect not earlier than 6 months before the closing date for nominations; and
(c) the person was a candidate in the election but failed to be elected.
(2) The person is entitled to be again engaged as an APS employee, in accordance with Commissioner’s Directions issued under subsection 11A(1) …
So it is in fact effectively unlawful for someone who takes the measure that you have indicated—so as not to be subject to profit under the Crown and excluded by the Constitution—to be not re-employed. So I would be very interested in in any circumstances where you have got specific evidence of that taking place, because, provided those criteria are met—which I appreciate are strict, but they are criteria—then the spirit of what you are seeking to achieve by way of your recommendation, I suggest, is the current position. I know certainly in South Australia we have similar legislation with respect to the public service act in South Australia. I just raise that.
Ms Allman-Payne : I think that is of great comfort to those people who are Australian Public Service employees, and I am also heartened to know that that is the case in South Australia. What I can say is that it is not the case across the country for all states. In Queensland, for example, I know for certain that there are no provisions that guarantee a public servant who resigns will get their job back. The position here is certainly that it is simply by convention and it depends on the practice in the particular government department and the government of the day. So it certainly leaves people in Queensland feeling somewhat exposed, particularly in a context where we know there are circumstances where people in non-government organisations who have run for election have lost funding, and, in that context, public servants do not always feel confident that there is a reassurance that they will get their job back, because it is certainly not unlawful in Queensland.
Mr PASIN: It is a valid point you raise and one which I think will need to be considered by the committee, particularly in terms of a national approach to these things.
Ms Allman-Payne : Yes. Consistency would be great.
Mr PASIN: Can I just go to your recommendations, under 1, which I am interested in. You say that there should be campaign expenditure caps in relation to federal elections. That is certainly the recommendation. What would be the cap? What do you envisage by way of that in more detail?
Ms Allman-Payne : I would have to say that I do not think that we have given consideration to what the precise cap would be. I think that depends on a range of factors. One of the things that we also point out in our submission is that expenditure caps need to go hand in hand with public funding of political parties, including administrative costs and funding for broadcasting during elections. I think the premise of our recommendation is that we need to bring this back to a situation where we have a level playing field for all participants and that everybody has an equal ability to be heard. I think the last election, particularly in WA, gave us a prime example of the potential imbalance that we could be heading towards when parties, like the Palmer United Party, that have access to seemingly unlimited funds to be able to put forward their message can easily drown out other parties, including some of the larger ones if they do not have the capacity to meet the same amounts of funding that are being spent on the election. So, whilst at this point I think it would be premature for us to say that we have given consideration to precisely what that amount should be, we would certainly like the committee to look at that particular aspect of election expenditure and to consider whether or not we need to be in a position where we start evening up the playing field and preventing ourselves from moving down the path particularly to a US-style election, where the party that has the most money wins.
Mr Constable : If I can just add, it is not just a matter of capping expenditure and, yes, to keep the level of expenditure on campaigns within a reasonable amount so that the community does not switch off during election campaigns because they are just being bombarded with continuous advertising, which is made possible because there is no donations cap either. The cap on expenditure is to enable us to also implement a cap on donations so as to limit the potential, or at least the perception of, influence by people who have the money to buy influence in the electoral process.
Mr PASIN: Just on public funding, you talk of a level playing field so presumably your position would be that each registered political party would be allocated a certain sum. Is that how you see it?
Mr Constable : Yes, and this was covered before in a previous inquiry by the committee as to the electoral funding regime. We have always pointed to the Canadian model where there is an amount of funding for election campaigning as well as administrative purposes. Again the purpose is to reduce the need for political parties to do everything they can to raise funds through private and corporate donations. If we can limit the need for such donations by a process of implementing caps on expenditure and making available electoral funding from the government then they all will work together to achieve an outcome where new political parties can get a fair go in the electoral process and existing parties can ensure that they too have the funds necessary to mount effective campaigns and the community is not then bombarded with advertising that is being made possible because of the arms race, essentially, for fundraising.
Mr PASIN: Excuse my naivety—I am new to this committee. I just want to be clear about the Greens' position. If we do move to a public funded model, would each political party be allocated a specific sum that equates to the same sum as each other registered political party? Is that your position?
Mr Constable : No. Our position in the past has been an amount per vote gained during the election.
Mr PASIN: Just on the televised leaders debate and the commentary in your submission: how far do you see that going? You complain that your party's leader was not given an opportunity to be involved in the televised debate. Do you envisage a circumstance where there may be a dozen or more leaders? Do you advocate the position that the leader of your party as well as of the major parties be entitled to participate? I suppose what I am asking is: how far are you arguing that the band be stretched? Is it just far enough to include the Australian Greens? How far?
Ms Allman-Payne : Our submission is that a leaders debate commission be established so that they can investigate and be an independent arbitrator, I suppose, of who participates. If we are talking about expanding our democratic process and making sure that everybody can participate in it equally then it would be absurd for us to suggest that it should only be the Greens who are included in addition to the coalition and the ALP and it should stop there.
Mr PASIN: So it would ultimately be the leader of every registered political party?
Ms Allman-Payne : That may well be where it ends up. What would be the problem with that if people are able to hear from each party what their positions are rather than through the filter of the media that sometimes does not give equal coverage to everybody? I guess we would be potentially advocating that position.
Mr PASIN: I am not commenting on the suggestion but rather trying to understand it. I go back to the recommendations. You recommend—and I understand this is in the context of the public funded model—that individual donations be capped, excluding bequests. Can you talk me behind the rationale of excluding bequests?
Mr Constable : I guess it is on the basis that—
Mr PASIN: In this context individuals are the same in life as they are in death, aren't they?
Mr Constable : I guess it is on the basis that a deceased estate is not going to be perceived to be trying to buy influence in the electoral process.
Mr PASIN: I can consider a situation—and I am sure your imagination would not have to be tickled too much to envisage one either—where a deceased estate might have a significant amount to gain by influencing the outcome, particularly a very wealthy deceased estate, bearing in mind that invariably people seeking to influence the outcome of federal elections are usually uberwealthy individuals. I can certainly think of a situation—can't you?—that places a deceased estate at advantage under your scheme to a living individual.
Ms Allman-Payne : I think we would be open that if that was able to be shown that that was in fact the case that we needed to put caps on everything then that would be our preferred option. If it is a choice of no caps and caps excluding deceased estates or caps on everything and we would certainly take the option of caps on everything.
Mr PASIN: Perhaps before I end, you call for on a ban on all political donations by for-profit corporations. Is there any reason you have excluded not-for-profit organisations from that regime?
Ms Allman-Payne : That is a good point. But I think we need to point out also that our submission was made prior to the case of Unions NSW v New South Wales. Based on that decision it would appear that political parties are actually not able to call for a ban on donations from any particular entity necessarily, which is why we would argue that it is even more important that we look at going down the path of capping donations and election expenditure, because we suggest that the case of Unions NSW v New South Wales puts into question the ability to actually ban such donations.
Mr PASIN: I have not touched on that, nor have I touched on the reasons set out in the decision. But I was interested, in the context of coming up with your recommendations, why you would have considered it appropriate and important to effectively prohibited donations from an entity which is identified by its profit-driven motive as opposed to a class of entity that might not be for profit but have, arguably in some settings, a more substantial political interest in certain issues. That was all.
Ms Allman-Payne : I think historically if we were going for the groups that have actually had the capacity and the ability to buy influence, we are looking at for-profit corporations, and that is why there is that focus. But, as I said, I think that the debate has actually moved on a little bit since then, given the recent High Court decision.
Mr PASIN: I agree.
Mr GRAY: Penny and Brett, thank you for your contributions and thank you for your submission. It is a good, thoughtful, detailed and broad-ranging submission. Your comments on our previous report are much appreciated and echoed at this end too.
Penny, you make the points about section 44, which presents a range of difficulties. I should add that I have a personal interest in this. I resigned from my job at Woodside Energy before I was even preselected as a candidate, because I could see the potential for the perception of a conflict of interest. But section 44 was cast for a particular reason. Section 44, having been cast 115 or something years ago, was designed to stop particular classes of people in receipt of government income. The solution that is presented through the Australian Public Service, which Tony took us through, is an insightful and longstanding Commonwealth Public Service position. I think, Tony, from memory, that was an incorporation in the Howard government's amendment to the Public Service Act in 1999.
Mr GRAY: And it should be the case that all states mirror exactly that provision. But we should not lose sight of the fact that the constitutional provision is there for a particular purpose. Do you have a comment on that, Penny?
Ms Allman-Payne : I have been in a similar situation in that I have resigned my position as well to stand for election. I do not disagree with you that we need to make sure that there is no perception of bias or conflict. My point, in particular, is that we need to be able to give all people security of employment whilst still being able to stand for election. I think that there is a capacity certainly in the private sector to be able to speak with an employer and get a guarantee from that employer that they are going to hire you again, if it turns out that you are not successful.
The point that I am making is that if we have a situation where we do not have consistency of laws—based on the discussions that we have had this afternoon, it would appear that we do not—then at the very least we should be aiming for consistency so that people at least have that security.
Mr GRAY: I agree. However, there is a choice that people make to be a candidate. My opponent at the last federal election was a terrific opponent. She was a real estate agent. The time that Donna Gordon had to give to the campaign meant significant pain to her business. Her contribution to the public debate, as it were, as a Liberal candidate was not just standing up and being a candidate; there was a significant personal cost of being a candidate and a significant and enduring cost to her business.
Ms Allman-Payne : I agree, and I think that every single person who stands for election incurs significant costs. I would be very concerned though if we limit the ability to stand to only those people who have the capacity to incur the cost. That already in itself limits the number of people who can stand for election, and I have no doubt that there are many people out there who are potentially fabulous representatives who do not have the ability to incur the cost in the first place. What I am saying is that, if you overlay that cost with a doubt about whether or not you have job security, in a circumstance where Commonwealth legislation suggests you should not have job insecurity, then if we could move towards a system that is consistent across the country to remove that insecurity we would be taking a good step forward.
Mr GRAY: That would be, but, Penny, the differentiation I am making is that equality and equal standing in this process is a difficult proposition. One of my concerns as a Labor member of parliament is to make sure that candidate selections are equally able to be made from small business, from public sector and from every other sector equally before the people on election day, whenever it is held.
Ms Allman-Payne : Agreed.
Mr GRAY: Can I ask you another question, which comes back to the Constitution. Brett, you also had some observations here. The question is around expenditure caps. There is a clear possibility that a cap on a contribution to political activity could be seen as an infringement of an implied freedom of speech. We have only had this proposition tested once, and it was when I was a Labor Party official and the Labor Party in government had attempted and indeed passed legislation to stop commercial television advertising in order to limit the arms race, as we said in 1991 when we did that. The High Court found an implied freedom of speech and threw those changes out.
CHAIR: About a year later, yes.
Mr GRAY: The reason I draw on those elements is that I have a Western Australian constituent, a lovely old lady, who had been very fortunate in her life. She made a $500,000 donation to the Liberal Party in the 2007 election campaign, and my only regret is that she did not make it to the Labor Party. I fully supported her right as a lucky Australian and feeling indebted to the stability of our political system to make a very large contribution which, in her mind, reflected her gratitude for what stable government had created for Australia. I think it is a difficult step in relation to a lady who had no demands attached to her donation—she had simply heard that the 2007 election had been called—and who took the decision that of herself the only thing she could do to influence the outcome in addition to her vote was to make a very big donation. That was a choice she made. I did not support it but she made that choice. What right do we have, Penny, to infringe on her right to make that choice?
Ms Allman-Payne : Is it a question of infringing on someone's right to make a choice, or is it a question of having a system that actually puts someone in the position where they feel like the only way they can help a particular political party to achieve its aim is to give away that significant amount of money? I take your point, but I also think that the purpose of caps on donations is not to restrict people's freedom of political communication but to give everybody an equal voice in terms of political communication. If we move, and continue to move, to a system where the amount of money that gets put in influences the outcome, then I think we are going to continue to move down a path where people and the average voter are increasingly disillusioned and feeling disempowered by their ability to have a voice.
Mr GRAY: We did not even discover that this lady had made the contribution until well after the 2007 election. She had simply made the contribution. But I will leave that at that. Suffice it to say, Penny, although I see the integrity of your argument, I do not agree with it.
The next one is on caps on expenditure. Brett, you make the point that sometimes with the intensity of advertising and political messaging there is a turn-off in the community. I think all of us would intuitively think that, even though we in the political business might reach that point of insensitivity a long way ahead of anyone else. But if the heavy expenditure is not having an impact, by your own submission, why should we be concerned about it?
Mr Constable : I am not sure where you read into my comments that it is not having an impact.
Mr GRAY: You said the community switches off.
Mr Constable : Yes, based on the high level of expenditure and the impact that has on smaller parties which do not have the funding to spend that the major parties have. If the community is switched off because of the intensity of the campaigns mounted by the major parties, then they are less likely to hear the messages that are coming through a lot less frequently from the minor parties.
If we are able to cap expenditure on campaigning so that the community does not switch off from political advertising, then those messages that do come through from the minor parties are more likely to be heard by the community.
Mr GRAY: Thank you.
CHAIR: Brett, I have just a couple of questions. Mr Gray covered one area I was going to raise, and that is the constitutional questions around caps, and you would be aware of some of the history—not just on political advertising but also with respect to some laws in New South Wales. I think he has covered that. On disclosure, I want to ask a question about practice, because it occurred to me as you were talking. Leave aside strongly-held views just for a moment. You would have gathered through the conduct of this inquiry that there are various things we agree on and there are various things we have strong differences on, but the one thing we do not do is express a whole lot of rancour and have a circus. That will never happen as long as I am chair of the committee. I will give you an example that involves the Labor Party, because there has been some argy-bargy over the disclosure level for many years. It was $500 when it came in, and then it went to $1,000, and then it went to $1,500. Then it stayed there for a considerable period of time and then it went up to $10,000 under the Howard government and it was indexed. I am going to say this as politely as I can: the Labor Party opposed that at the time and said it should remain at $1,500. They said it should not be indexed. Whilst in parliament we all agreed to disagree, and at times rather vigorously, they took an extra step. That was their policy—and my understanding is that that is still the case; Mr Gray might correct me; I think Mr Wright had it in his evidence here. Notwithstanding the fact that the law requires disclosure above $12,000 and change, whatever the level is, the Labor Party has a policy of disclosing everything above $1,500, and my understanding is that they do that. Some companies do that, too, because it is a board policy. Is that something the Australian Greens do? Is it something you have considered, particularly with your other proposals about more regular disclosure and all the rest of it?
Mr Constable : We do voluntarily disclose donations to the Australian Greens where there is $1,500 or more on a cumulative basis from a donor over a 12-month period. So, yes, we are certainly in favour of the lower donation cap. I guess one of the reasons comes back to Penny's point before, about 80 per cent of funding for political parties coming from private donations but only 25 per cent—
CHAIR: You do not need to relitigate it. I am not trying to be rude. I genuinely was interested: given that you think there should be more regular reporting, do you think you will do that yourself?
Mr Constable : Yes. As I say, we are already reporting on a quarterly basis. We have the systems in place to increase that frequency. The organisation has not actually considered doing that but we can certainly do so. Just going back to the caps: at the moment, with the caps so high—
CHAIR: Sorry; you broke up then, Brett. It is just the telephone line. Just go back to where you said 'caps'.
Mr Constable : As to the caps at the moment—the caps at the level that they are—it is possible for an individual to make a donation—
CHAIR: Sorry—you do not mean the cap; you mean the disclosure level, don't you?
Mr Constable : Sorry—the disclosure threshold. With the threshold as it stands at the moment, it is possible for an individual to donate to a political party on a single day to different branches around the country, in the order of $90,000 plus, without any of that actually being disclosed publicly. Personally, I think that is well and truly an influential amount of money that they are donating to the party. Having a lower cap of only $1,500 means a reduced potential for significant donations, of the order of $90,000, to be able to avoid disclosure. There are other issues around the disclosure regime which enable donors to bypass the need for their donations to be disclosed, and one of those is that the threshold only applies to the donation made on a particular day. That means that they could make donations over consecutive days, and in total the amount could exceed the threshold but individually the donations would not, and therefore they would not get disclosed. So I think there is significant room to improve the transparency of the donation reporting and disclosure regime so that the public can have more confidence that the impacts that donors are trying to have in the political process are disclosed and are disclosed in time for voters when they are going to cast a vote so that they know where the funding has come from to fund the campaigns of all the parties that are up for election.
CHAIR: There being no further questions, I thank you for your time. Thank you for your evidence and for your earlier evidence as well, on behalf of the Greens, I mean, and for your statements on Senate voting reform. It is something we have spent a lot of time on and we travelled all around the country and produced a unanimous report on that issue at least. Thank you very much for your time today. As for all other witnesses, if there is something you would subsequently like to add by way of a submission, you are more than welcome to; just contact the secretariat in the normal way.
Mr Constable : Thank you.
Ms Allman-Payne : Thanks very much.