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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Page: 218

Donations to Political Parties


Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:12): My question is for the Minister representing and Special Minister of State, Minister Cormann. Minister Cormann, today there are some reports that a senator's parliamentary entitlements were subsidised by a Chinese government entity. Australia is one of the only countries in the Asia-Pacific that allow donations from foreign citizens or entities. Former Treasurer Wayne Swan recently said that foreign donations are potentially skewing the decision making in favour of donors, and many Australians would agree with the former Treasurer, Mr Swan. When will the government introduce a ban on foreign donations for political and parliamentary purposes?

Senator Ian Macdonald: Mr President, I raise a point of order. I can barely hear Senator Di Natale. The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate spent the whole of his question yelling at him and everyone else. I ask you at this early stage in the history of this parliament to bring the opposition leader to account and ask her to shut up.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left! Your leader is on her feet, seeking the call.

Senator Wong: On the point of order, I do apologise, Mr President. I was just overcome by the extraordinary chutzpah of the Leader of the Greens, who voted against banning foreign donations and now asks a question about it.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Wong. This is an appropriate time to remind all senators that interjections are disorderly. We need to hear the questioner and the minister giving the answer. A point of order, Senator Whish-Wilson?

Senator Whish-Wilson: With all due respect, President, I could not hear the question either, and I am sitting behind him. Could I ask that he gets the chance to ask it again, please.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! There was a lot of noise in the chamber. I have had now two requests because the question was not heard. Senator Di Natale, would you repeat the main portion of your question?

Senator DI NATALE: I know I am in a bit of strife when Senator Macdonald is defending me! My question is to the Minister representing the Special Minister of State, Minister Cormann. As I said, there are reports today that a senator's parliamentary entitlements were subsidised by a Chinese government entity. We know that Australia is one of only a few countries in the Asia-Pacific that allows donations from foreign citizens or, indeed, foreign entities. We heard from former Treasurer Wayne Swan who said recently that donations from foreign entities are potentially skewing the decision-making in favour of donors. Many Australians right around the country would agree with that proposition. The question is this: when will this government introduce a ban on foreign donations for political and parliamentary purposes?









Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:16): The first point I would make in response to that question is that the matter addressed by Senator Dastyari this morning did not, by my understanding, relate to campaign donations. That is the first point. The second point is that there is a well-established process whereby, after every election, the cross-party Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters reviews the election that has just taken place. If Senator Di Natale is serious about wanting to pursue these matters, then that would be the appropriate forum to explore these issues.

As a general point, what I would say is that the coalition believes that, when it comes to campaign donation disclosure, current arrangements reflect the appropriate balance between transparency and enabling Australians to participate in the political process. Where a donation is over the threshold, it is required to be disclosed to the Australian Electoral Commission by both the donor and the recipient, and that is a system that everyone is expected to comply with.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left! And my right!

Senator Bernardi interjecting

Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Bernardi and Senator Collins, if you want to have this discussion, go outside and have it. Senator Di Natale, a supplementary question.




Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:17): I take it from the minister's answer that we struck the appropriate balance. Does that relate to the fact that we have seen the foreign minister praise four major Chinese donors who also happened to donate half a million dollars to the Western Australian division of the Liberal Party? Is that the appropriate balance you are talking about, Minister?


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:17): That is obviously a political debating point. The electoral laws, including disclosure laws, are there for all to see. They are, obviously, openly and transparently on the books, so to speak. Everyone in Australia who participates in the democratic process is expected to comply with relevant laws of the land. That is what the Liberal Party does, and I would expect every other party in Australia to do the same.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Di Natale, a final supplementary question.



Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:18): The Prime Minister said during the election that, in an ideal world, donations could only be made by individuals on the Australian electoral roll, and those donations would be capped. This parliament can turn this ideal world into a reality. Will this policy proposition put forward by the Prime Minister himself inform the basis from which the government will proceed?


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:18): I thank Senator Di Natale for that final supplementary question. I would refer him to part of my initial answer: there is a routine process through the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which, I believe, will be chaired by a distinguished senator from the great state of Western Australia in Senator Reynolds. I would encourage Senator Di Natale to constructively and proactively participate in the processes of that committee.