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Thursday, 9 December 1976

Mr YOUNG (Port Adelaide) - I second the motion. The mover of the motion, the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes), has concentrated mainly upon the first 3 matters mentioned in his motion. I want to pay attention to the final two, that is, the funding of political parties and the recognition of political parties. It is a subject about which the Labor Party has made continuous proposals over the last 4 years. It is a subject about which it gave the Government an opportunity to grasp the nettle this year and to do something about this matter in the form of legislation. Again, before this House rises, the Opposition asks the Government to take action at least to appoint a select committee to look at these questions involving the very basis of the operation of political parties in the Parliament, the funding of political parties and the operations of the Electoral Office. It seems strange to members of the Opposition that while the Government has been able to set up committees on a variety of subjects, the latest of which is concerned with tourism, there is always this great reluctance on the part of the Liberal and National Country Parties to look at the question of the funding of political parties, the funding of candidates and the recognition of political parties.

One can only assume that the Liberal and National Country Parties have a great deal to hide about the way they receive their funds and the way in which they are funding their political campaigns. The position in Australia is becoming quite frightening considering the amounts of money that are required for respective elections. It is not just for one election that comes along occasionally. Whilst we separate elections of the Senate and the House of Representatives, the amount of money required by each of the candidates and by all parties in each of the States, taking into account the State elections as well, is becoming enormous. Honourable members know from their own individual experiences or from experiences with the campaign committees of our respective parties, that the amount of money being raised now is an amount which is not recognised by the public. The general public in Australia does not realise the amount of money that is spent on campaigns. There is no effort made by any authority in Australia to try to ascertain the amount of money being spent. As I have said previously in debates concerning this matter, the only way that we can perhaps get some idea of the amount of money being raised is through the annual report of the Broadcasting Control Board when that annual report covers the period of an election. Then we can find out how much money each of the political parties has spent on television and radio.

In 1974 we saw that the Liberal and National Country Parties spent something like $1.4m on radio and television. In 1975, as a result of having witnessed the campaign by the LiberalNational Country Parties, it would be no exaggeration to say that they had millions of dollars available to conduct their election campaigns. People are entitled to know what amount of money is being spent on elections in Australia and they are entitled to know where that money comes from. The day before yesterday in the Melbourne Age, it was stated that the devaluation of the Australian dollar means a hand-out to the Utah Mining Co of approximately $35m in a full year, based on last year's production figures. The Opposition would like to know whether Utah is a major contributor to the financial pockets of the Liberal and National Country Parties. It has been the understanding in Australian political circles that the mining companies, the banks and some of the larger financial institutions are the big backers behind the coalition parties. The people in Australia are entitled to know what is going on. Otherwise we will run into the same sort of difficulties faced by other countries.

The Opposition is asking the Government to set up a select committee to investigate this matter. We will not reach any conclusions by merely conducting a debate in the House. We will reach conclusions only if a committee of the Parliament is set up to look at all these questions. The Opposition is asking this Government to do exactly the same as nas been done in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany and the United Kingdom. All of these countries have set up committees of their respective parliaments to look at these questions. In every case the committees of those parliaments have recommended in their reports that the funding of political parties be met mainly by the State, that the Governments themselves pay out the moneys that are needed for the political parties to conduct their campaigns. They have recommended that these moneys be based on the percentage vote which parties received at the previous one or two elections. If all those countries are reaching those conclusions, what is wrong with the suggestion that a committee of this House should look at the question to see whether it is working in those countries and to see what sort of corruption that action has perhaps avoided. We have all witnessed the mammoth corruption of the American system in a couple of election periods, not too long ago. It is very fresh in our memories. That situation should be avoided in Australia.

We do not want to put ourselves in a position where it is alleged that there is corruption in the funding of political parties in Australia. The only way to avoid that situation is to bring everything out into the open. The Labor Party is very much in favour of this. Why do not the Liberal and National Country Parties join the Labor Party in this? Why are they trying to hide who their donors are? They will not even go as far as to establish a public register of those who make donations to their parties. When the Labor Government tried to legislate in 1973, 1974 and again in 1975 to establish a public register so that the public could see who made donations to political parties, the coalition parties joined together in the Senate to defeat the legislation. They will continue to be charged with all these sorts of things until such time as they agree that it would be in the national interest for the very basis of the Parliament, the funding of political parties and candidates, to be made clean, because the Australian public is entitled to know who the Government's backers are. Perhaps this could then be related to some of the actions taken by the Government. The Government must not continue to hide and refuse to recognise the importance of this subject, simply saying that it is going to overcome the problems of the people of Australia by establishing a committee on tourism, or on Aboriginal land rights, or on foreign affairs, or on expenditure. The very presence here of all of us will be in a very grey area until such time as the Liberal and National Country Parties recognise the corruption that can creep into the funding of political parties and the funding of candidates, and until such time as they recognise that something has to be done and that a committee must be set up, as has been done in parliaments right around the western world.

I reiterate that we are not now spending $100 to run a campaign in a marginal electorate. Honourable members on the other side know this as well as the Opposition does. The honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) knows this. He is probably spending in the vicinity of $15,000 or $20,000 every election just in the electorate of Griffith. If that amount is multiplied by the eighty or ninety seats that are hard fought, the amount of money spent by the candidates themselves, ignoring the amount that is being spent by the head offices of the political parties, shows that the conduct of elections is a multi-million dollar affair. The people of Australia are entitled to know- it would be in the interests of members of Parliament more than of anyone else- where those funds come from. If that were known it might be concluded again that it would be in the best interests of Australia if the funds to conduct elections came out of general revenue. That is the pure way of doing it. That is the best way of doing it. That is the fairest way of doing it. It has been said since Federation that perhaps the Labor Party does not have the ability to raise the same amount of funds as the Liberal and National Country Parties. In relation to receiving very large donations from major companies that is true.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! As it is now 2 hours after the time fixed for the meeting of the House, consideration of notices is interrupted.

Motion ( by Mr Viner) agreed to:

That the time for discussion of Notice No. 1, General Business, be extended.

Mr YOUNG - As I was saying, if we multiply the amounts that are being spent in individual electorates and get some idea of the millions of dollars that are being spent on campaigns this adds to the Labor Party's case that everybody should come clean on the funding of political parties. We see no reason why the Government will not accept these proposals. The Government can set up a committee upon which it has a majority.

Let us analyse exactly what is going on. The honourable member for Griffith says quite rightly- I believe him; I do not challenge himthat he raises his campaign funds in the electorate of Griffith itself. But the honourable member cannot tell me because he would not have access to the books, how much money is paid into the headquarters of the Liberal and National Country Parties in Queensland. Not only is that sort of information denied to the public but also it is denied to the parliamentarians. Parliamentarians have no idea how much money is raised by their Party headquarters; what money exists in the slush funds all around Australia; or how money is paid to the political parties. All these aspects should be looked at by the proposed committee; then we can debate its report.

The only reason we can see why honourable members opposite will not accept this proposalthey have defeated similar moves over the years to appoint such a committee- is that they must have something to hide. Do honourable members opposite believe that the problems of funding political parties in Australia are any different from the problems experienced by the other countries that I named? Are we presented with different problems? Are we presented with different problems because of the number of political parties or the number of candidates? Why do we not follow the lead of all those other countries? Perhaps we may reach different conclusions, but all the people in Australia would be glad to see that we have come clean on the funding of political parties.

I reiterate that the charges exist. Everybody believes that the big backers of the Liberal and National Country Parties are Mt Isa Mines Ltd, the Bank of New South Wales, the Shell Co. of Australia Ltd and the Utah Development Company. People will go on believing that until such time as they know exactly what relationship exists between all these major companies and the government of the day. The only way we can find out that relationship and rescue ourselves and our reputations in the process is to appoint a select committee to look at these questions. The committee may reach conclusions and make recommendations to this Parliament similar to those of other such committees around the world, that is, that it is not in the best interests of the political system of this country to have private donations at all to political parties. Irrespective of the fact that we all get up and say that there are no ties with the donations that are made to us individually or between donors and political parties, who believes us? The public does not believe us. The public thinks a definite relationship exists between the donor and the political party.

We are putting forward a rescue operation for politicians in this generation and in this Parliament and for future generations and future parliaments. We ask the Government to look seriously at accepting the proposals. The committee may present interim reports and final reports with the result that future elections may be conducted by a new process. Millions of dollars will be spent in the elections of 1978, 1981 and 1984. If the honourable member for Griffith and the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock) are each spending $ 1 5,000 or $20,000 on each election now in 6 years' time they will want $30,000 or $40,000. There is no ceiling; honourable members raise and spend as much as they possibly can. If the honourable member for Parramatta is raising $30,000 or $40,000 in 6 years time the political machine in New South Wales probably will want $5 m or $6m.

Where will it all end? Even the United States has put a ceiling on the spending of its Presidential candidates. The United States has had all the trouble of Watergate and the corruption involved with political donations. It is trying to wipe out the corruption. The United Kingdom, West Germany and other countries have moved in this area. But this Government continues to hide behind the present situation which embodies aspects that we really cannot understand or be fully informed on. Why will the Government not accept the suggestion by the honourable member for Corio that a committee of this Parliament should look at the whole question of the operation of the Australian Electoral Office, electoral laws, funding and voting procedures? All these questions are very basic to us. Our operations will be in a grey area until such time as we clarify our position. I make it clear that the Labor Party will not change its views on this question. We will continue to try year after year to get the Government to come out into the open on this question.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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