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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2232


Senator LAZARUS (QueenslandLeader of the Glenn Lazarus Team) (20:57): I will be supporting this amendment and I agree wholeheartedly with all of its elements. I should note that I am all for Senate voting reform, as I feel the system needs to be simplified to make it easier for the people of Australia to participate in our system of democracy, but I am of the view that the reforms proposed as part of the dirty deal between the Greens and the coalition are an extreme form of reform which will crucify democracy in this country. As a result, I will be putting up a range of amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016 to try and improve the proposed changes. However, I am not confident these will be properly considered given the dirty deal between the Greens and the coalition has already been done. It is clear that the Greens only like to support transparency and process when it suits them to attack everybody else. Despite voting reforms, I also strongly believe that our system of democracy needs to be more transparent and there needs to be more accountability around government decision making, which is why I will be supporting this particular amendment.

I think most Australians would agree with me when I say that most people do not trust politicians and they do not have confidence in our political system. Having been in this place now for just under two years, I can understand why people feel this way. I shake my head at many of the things that happen in this place. When we see elected officials—such as the Turnbull government, who were voted in to lead our country safely into the future—making decisions which are not in the best interests of Australians, this hardly generates trust across the country. I am talking about the decisions like allowing 1.2 million 457 visa holders from other countries into our country to take our jobs while the number of unemployed Australians sits at around 800,000. I am talking about decisions such as the Turnbull government's decision to award a $2 billion Australian Defence Force shipbuilding contract to a Spanish company, which will generate 3,000 jobs in Spain and decimate the Australian shipbuilding and maritime industry across our nation. I am talking about decisions like allowing CSG mining companies to come onto people's land and destroy their properties, water, health, land values and farming businesses while landholders have absolutely no right to say no. I am talking about decisions by government such as allowing farmers and hardworking decent Australians across rural and regional Queensland to suffer due to unprecedented drought while the government supports pipelines to be built from one part of the country to the other to move gas, while water sits idly in reserves in South-East Queensland dams—water which should be moved to where it is desperately needed.

I am talking about decisions such as allowing the Chinese and other countries to buy up significant chunks of our land, including key agricultural land and farms, which take away Australian jobs for Australian workers and the opportunity for Australia to produce its own food and sell it to the rest of the world for a fair price; decisions which allow the Chinese and other countries to set up large coalmines in the middle of our country's key agricultural food bowl on the Liverpool Plains, which will affect the integrity of our underground water supply and in turn risk the viability of our farms and people's livelihoods; decisions which involve the sell-off of our major ports and other infrastructure to the Chinese, including ports which house our Navy vessels; and decisions which allow areas of North Queensland to suffer at the hands of job losses and high unemployment while fat cats sit comfortably in their offices in Parliament House oblivious to the pain and suffering people are experiencing right across our country. I could go on, but the decisions are depressing and leave people wandering what on earth our elected officials are doing.

I certainly wonder this myself, but unfortunately I have come to realise that most decisions made around here come down to donations, and this is the main reason I support this particular amendment to the bill. I want the issue of donations cleaned up and I want political parties to be held to account for the decisions they make and the reasons they make them. Lowering the donation disclosure threshold from $13,000 to $1,000 is a key means of achieving this and is a good start. It is not going to solve everything, but it is going to start shining a light on what is really going on in governments across the country.

Political transparency is a cornerstone of a free and democratic society. Without transparency there is corruption, deceit, filthy bargaining and self-interest. Transparency should be all about holding public officials to account and enabling free, open and informed debate on political issues. It should also be about ensuring that the right issues are dealt with by the right people and in the right way. Transparency ensures issues that are of importance to the people are addressed and are not kicked under the carpet. It is of critical importance that increased transparency is extended to political donations, because money talks and it is crucial that the people of Australia are fully informed on how donations are impacting on party politics and the decisions governments are making.

I believe making politicians disclose donations of above $1,000 is far better than the current amount of $13,000. The current threshold of $13,000 is a lot of money. The average income earner in Australia receives around $70,000 a year. Average Australians are not going to make political donations of $13,000, unless there is something really shady going on. Anyone donating amounts like that is likely to be a very wealthy donor or a corporate donor. I think all Australians have the right to know when a small number of people are influencing politicians and the decisions governments make because they have a large amount of money. I think it is in the public interest to know who is donating large amounts to politicians. If a political party is under no obligation to disclose political donations less than $13,000, donations are able to change hands without being linked to decision making.

Reducing the threshold to $1,000 will increase transparency and enable voters to make more informed decisions regarding who they vote for and why. In short, the people of Australia will have a better idea of who they want to support and why. For example, if a party is taking donations from a mining company, you can bet they will put the interests of the mining company ahead of the interests of the people. Under the current system, the majority of political donations go undisclosed. By reducing the threshold, the Australian public will be privy to a substantially larger pool of data regarding political donations, allowing even more informed decisions to be made.

Further safeguards must also be implemented to ensure that political parties are not abusing the system to avoid their disclosure obligations. In the past, major parties have accepted multiple small donations from the same donor of a total value greater than the threshold, but have waived their disclosure obligations because the donations were taken through different branches. Lowering the threshold to $1,000 would make it far more burdensome for donors to split their donation between branches to avoid disclosure requirements. The amendment before the chamber helps to avoid politicians cheating the system and misleading the public about where their donations come from. Parties have also abused a loophole whereby funds are received by the party's associated entities which then directs funds to the major party.

These dishonest practices greatly diminish political transparency and prevent the Australian people from being fully informed of their party's donors. I believe these changes will improve transparency in Australian politics. By lowering the threshold, a far higher number of donations will be disclosed, giving the voting public unprecedented information to hold their party accountable for policies which favour large corporate donors over their constituents.

I also support the need to place a $50 cap on anonymous gifts or donations. In fact, I would prefer all anonymous gifts or donations to be banned and, if a political party cannot clarify where the donation came from, the money must be given to charity to assist people who need the money. I, like many Australians, think this whole political system stinks. What value is there in allowing large anonymous donations to political parties? Who honestly thinks this practice is in the best interests of public scrutiny? This amendment is an important step in ensuring transparency within our political system.

Despite the real scepticism in the community, many Australians do place a great deal of trust in their elected officials and expect them to do the right thing. So it is very important that we deliver the highest levels of transparency and accountability for these people by placing a $50 limit on anonymous gifts, and by requiring a substantially greater range of political donations have declarations of the donor's name and address. This would ensure that strong records are held of who is contributing financially to each political party. In doing so, political parties could be held to a higher degree of accountability because the record would state precisely where the donations had come from. The other element of this amendment that I support is the banning of foreign donations. I talked earlier about decisions made by government that are not in the national interest. The thing that has sickened me most in this place is that I have watched the coalition government make decisions that have benefited other countries while crucifying our own industries, harming our own people, killing off our own jobs and wiping out our own businesses.

In summary, they have made decisions that are not in our national interest but are in the interest of other countries. I have left Parliament House some days feeling so overwhelmed by the stench of corruption in this place that I have felt sick to my stomach that any government would make a decision based on what benefits a donor from overseas, even if the decision was in direct conflict with what is in the best interests of our nation. I cannot state any more strongly that foreign donations must be banned.

Senator O'Sullivan: Jesus—you got here on Chinese money!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Edwards ): Order!

Senator LAZARUS: In fact, I would like criminal penalties applied to any parties that receive donations from overseas parties—

Senator O'Sullivan interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator O'Sullivan!

Senator LAZARUS: whether they be governments, businesses or individuals. Overseas donors are only making donations to political parties in Australia because they want something from us, not because they like us. They want something—like an Australian government contract of water to their business, or they want to buy our farms or our land and want a favourable decision from the government in relation to the sale, or they want policy or legislation changed to enable their business to expand at the expense of Aussie businesses.

Have we seen any government decisions that we think might have been impacted by overseas donations? Let's have a look. Let's see. What about the Shenhua mine? Did a Chinese company donate substantial amounts of money to state and federal governments to get favourable decisions—decisions which benefit the Chinese owned mine but decimate our country's agricultural land and local farmers? What about overseas CSG mining companies that are given full access to undertake mining on our people's property?

Senator O'Sullivan: You got in on Chinese mining money!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order!

Senator LAZARUS: The current laws give CSG mining companies all the rights, even though governments know that the people do not want it and that CSG mining is harming their health, their land, their water and their livelihoods. How much money are these overseas CSG mining companies donating to political parties? The political parties are prepared to turn their backs on the needs of hard-working, decent Australians who desperately need help and are being so badly abused. These people need our help. They pay taxes. They, like all of us, expect governments to do the right thing, but governments do not do the right thing—far from it. They actually do the wrong thing. Who is speaking up for the people? It is not the large political parties; they have all been bought out. The only people standing up for the people of Australia and the interests of Australians are the crossbenchers, but because we are being problematic and are putting pressure on governments to do the right thing instead of working—

Senator Nash: That is rubbish—it is absolute drivel!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order!

Senator LAZARUS: and looking after their donors, they want to get rid of us. This voting reform rubbish is not about getting rid of the crossbench because we are blocking legislation. It is about getting rid of the crossbench because we are exposing the big parties for what they really are—ugly, donor orientated political machines that have no interest in doing the right thing by the people. They are only interested in doing the right thing by their political donors. If the people of Australia have not worked this out, I hope they see my speech here tonight. I hope everyone hears it, because the Senate voting reforms are not just about democracy. They are about making sure the crossbench is removed so that we cannot continue to expose the sickening corruption and money changing that is really going on.

If the government were really interested in voting reform they would be doing positive, productive things like making voting easier, by getting voting online and making it available nationally on an electronic basis so that the process of actually voting is easier and more convenient for people. They would be removing non-voting fines for older Australians or the ill or busy young families or those who have to work because they need the money and cannot afford to take time off. They would be installing electronic voting into Australia Post outlets and agencies so that people can go to their local shops to vote. This would support struggling Australia Post business owners across the country and push people to their local shopping centres. They would be creating set terms and set voting dates to give the community and the business sector confidence and stability. This would also stop the system being gamed by greedy and unethical political parties. If the coalition were really serious about voting reform they would be doing things to ensure voting is improved, because our voting system is so antiquated that the entire country has to stop for a day to vote. People cannot go to work, businesses suffer, workers lose their salary, parents have to juggle getting kids to sport as well as getting to polling booths. The entire country is pretty much brought to its knees.

If the coalition were really serious about voting reform they would be doing things to improve the voting system as a whole, but they are not. All of the above are good ideas that the Glenn Lazarus Team has come up with. Instead of improving voting, the coalition, with the support of the dirty Greens, just want to get rid of the crossbench because we are becoming a problem for the government. We are asking too many questions. We are digging too hard.

The crossbench and I are annoying the government and their donors. I am asking the government why they are allowing people to suffer while CSG mining companies prosper. I am asking the government why they are giving Australian taxpayer funds to the Spanish to build Australian navy ships when the ships should be built here to support our country and to provide Australian jobs for Australian workers. But, as we suspect, the Spanish have probably donated a hell of a lot of money to the coalition and, as a result, the coalition has awarded the contract to the Spanish. And the Australian shipping industry will suffer.

Senator O'Sullivan: You got in on stolen Chinese money!

Senator LAZARUS: I am asking the questions. I am shining the light on the actions of big political parties. They do not like it, so they want to get rid of me. Well, they can try—

Senator Cameron: Acting Deputy President Edwards, I rise on a point of order. Senator O'Sullivan should withdraw the allegation he just made against Senator Lazarus. I just think that is totally unparliamentary and it is unacceptable.

Senator O'Sullivan: Can I speak on that?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Edwards ): No. You address the point of order.

Senator O'Sullivan: It is a matter of public record that a court in this land found that the money used to fund the PUP campaign was unlawfully removed from—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator O'Sullivan, you are well versed in the practices of this chamber and the standing orders. You are now debating. If you do not have a contrary point to make then I would ask you—

Senator Cameron: Just withdraw, mate.

Senator O'Sullivan: I do not feel inclined to withdraw, Doug.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: If you believe—

Senator O'Sullivan: I do not feel inclined to withdraw.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order, Senator O'Sullivan! I ask you to make an explanation or excuse yourself.

Senator O'Sullivan: I have attempted to make an explanation. But in deference to the chair, I will withdraw the remark.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you.

Senator LAZARUS: They can try to get rid of me, but we are not going down without a fight. Evil prevails when good men do nothing and I am a good man and I am not prepared to do nothing. I am not going to let the big political parties get away with this rot without exposing them for what they are, and they are traitors.

The more Independents and microparties there are, the better. We need voting reform, but what has been proposed is too extreme. This matter will end up in the High Court and, I believe, the High Court will rule that the reforms are unconstitutional. But until then, the coalition may do quite a bit of damage. Let's hope that everyone across the country is alive to what is really going on and supports the crossbench to keep up its good work and its important role in keeping this government accountable.

As I have already explained, we cannot keep them honest and they will not agree to a national ICAC to keep them honest, but we can continue to a shine a light on them which will keep them accountable. That is my promise to the people of Australia: I will always act in your best interests and the future of our great country and I will work hard to keep them accountable.