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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1665


Senator LINDGREN (Queensland) (17:40): Today's matter of urgency points right to those opposite. Let me quote from The Sydney Morning Herald:

Bill Shorten failed to disclose a $40,000 donation from labour hire company Unibilt to his 2007 election campaign.

I can only surmise that this motion has been cleverly crafted so those opposite can keep a tighter rein on the opposition leader. This motion clearly shows that the integrity of political donation reporting is not seen as important by the Hon. Bill Shorten. Today, those opposite are trying by way of this motion to make their leader more accountable, and I them for applaud that.

This is not a good look for the Australian Labor Party. Failure to disclose donations is the very reason those opposite need to encourage members of their party to better conform to the laws via way of this motion. I also would like the Senate to recall that this particular donation to the Hon. Bill Shorten was only made public when, in his words:

In preparation for the Royal Commission more generally, I wanted to make sure that everything that should be done and everything was checked, was, and this came to my attention.

In other words, this undeclared donation was only revealed at the last possible moment when it was about to be made public, not during the proper method of annual reporting.

This motion, it appears, brings to attention the correct way to declare donations. Everyone needs a little guidance from time to time, and I am happy to participate in this debate to help those opposite with the difficult task of ensuring that the opposition leader abides by the current requirements. Labor had six years to change the political donations system, yet decided not do to so. This was despite having the numbers in both chambers and having passed legislation in the House of Representatives.

The government believes that it is important that all political parties, associated entities and donors follow the appropriate disclosure laws. Financial disclosure returns must be lodged by 20 October each year and published on the Australian Electoral Commission website on the first working day in February of the following year. This being the case, one must seriously doubt why failures to disclose continue within the Labor Party.

Dyson Heydon, the trade union royal commissioner, was quoted in The Australian on January 9 this year as saying:

The Labor Party failed to disclose a $30,000 corporate donation to its 2013 federal election campaign that was brokered by the militant Maritime Union of Australia.

The Weekend Australian has confirmed that neither the ALP nor the donor, the marine contractor Van Oord Australia, disclosed the payment in election returns to the AEC. This means both may face potential penalties under the act. In fact, The Weekend Australian further confirmed that the donation had been kept hidden from public scrutiny, despite it being one of the biggest corporate donations Labor received during its 2013 election campaign. It was only just yesterday that Labor admitted to this non-disclosure and said it would send an amendment to its 2012-13 return to the AEC.

This matter of urgency we are debating today certainly needs to be questioned, as those opposite clearly need to adhere to the electoral donation laws. So often we hear words such as 'transparency' and 'conviction', but it undoubtedly must be frustrating when time after time members of the ALP do not adhere to those very words. Indeed even the ALP web page states, under 'Transparency in election funding':

Labor believes that all organisations in Australia should have the right to participate in our democracy, including through the provision of financial support to candidates running for elected office. This right to participate should, however, be transparent and accountable.

This principle holds true, whether government, company, not for profit or union elections. With greater transparency comes greater accountability and the earlier identification of wrongdoing,

Yes, organisations are allowed freedom of political activity and yes, quite often it can be more effective during election campaigns, but when you join the dots you come up with the lines—not dotted lines, not ordinary lines but bold, highlighted lines that go directly to those who sit opposite. It should also be noted that the matter of political donations is currently the subject of an inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. I believe we should wait to see all facets of the issue before we undertake further debate. (Time expired)