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Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Page: 9885


Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (15:30): I also rise to take note of answers given by Senator Brandis and Senator Cash and, in doing so, acknowledge what a lacklustre and insincere response we heard from Senator Brandis to questions regarding the introduction of foreign donations legislation. We know how insincere and lacklustre it was because Senator Brandis has been silent on the matter of foreign donations legislation for months now, if not years.

I think it was back in June when, on Sky News, Senator Brandis talked about how the government would introduce in the spring sittings legislation to ban foreign donations. Yet here we are, the day before parliament rises for the year, and Senator Brandis is flagging that, finally, the government wants to introduce foreign donations legislation. We know why this is. It is a political stunt by this government to show that it is finally doing something about foreign donations to political parties, unlike the Labor Party, which has for years been trying to legislate in this manner, both in government and in opposition.

There is a bill on the table right now that Mr Shorten tabled to ban foreign donations to political parties. It's been on the table for over a year, and yet the coalition has deliberately ignored this bill and tried to obfuscate and prevent any kind of debate being brought on simply because it is not interested in banning foreign donations. It is continuing to take foreign donations into its political coffers for the various elections that it has to fight. I have a very good question for Senator Brandis: is the Liberal Party taking foreign donations for the current Bennelong by-election?

What is really clear here is the government's insincerity in dealing with this issue. As Senator Farrell asked Senator Brandis, why did the coalition in 2010 vote against laws to ban foreign donations? Why has the coalition, time and time again, voted against laws—laws that are in place in the United States, in the UK and in Canada, and that Labor has been trying to legislate for in this place for years—to ban foreign donations? This government is not interested in doing that because it is quite comfortable continuing to take such donations.

If Senator Brandis were serious about this legislation, then the parliament would have sat last week so that the debate could have continued and so that we could have passed this legislation this year. But he is not serious about it at all. He has been dragged kicking and screaming to deal with it because of the politics that has come to light surrounding the issues at play—issues that, of course, the Liberal Party know very well they are tainted with themselves.

If we look back through the history of donations legislation in this parliament, it was under the Hawke government all those years ago that we set a disclosure threshold for political donations of $1,500. What did Prime Minister John Howard do the moment he came in? He lifted that threshold to $10,000—a $10,000 threshold for disclosure of donations. Not only did Labor's legislation that Mr Shorten introduced a year ago look at the issue of banning foreign donations; it also looked at the issue of thresholds. It also looked at the issue of banning anonymous donations to political parties. It also looked at the issue of donation splitting. It looked at a range of disclosure issues to ensure that we build in an automatic, instinctive process to ensure we are accountable, including donation disclosure in as close to real time as possible. All of that has been on the table in this parliament for over a year. The Labor Party have wanted to ban foreign donations for over a year. This government has not.

Senator Williams: You kept taking them!

Senator SINGH: No. The Labor Party has not taken foreign donations since July this year. Despite the government not wanting to debate it, we banned them anyway. (Time expired)