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Wednesday, 9 November 1983
Page: 2537


Mr SCOTT(7.15) —I make first of all a few brief comments about the work of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform and its Chairman. It was a unique committee in that all of its members were experts by practice in the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. It was perhaps mainly for that reason that members of the Committee worked so well together. It was quite an experience for me to work with Senator Sir John Carrick, who played a devil's advocate. I am sure that he could not have been serious about some of the points he made, but his points were helpful in teasing out facts so that the best result finally emerged. The Committee worked long and hard during the recess and , of course, our electorate work suffered. But I have noted many compliments from both sides of the House on the work of the Committee. It should not go unrecognised that the final result came about because of the hard work that went into it. There were many submissions from various groups, all of the political parties took part-individuals and so on.

On 21 April 1973, at the opening of first session of the Thirty-third Parliament, the Governor-General said:

A wide range of proposals and legislation designed to enhance the quality of government in Australia and to strengthen the foundations of Parliamentary democracy will be submitted for your consideration.

My advisers deeply believe that public confidence in the effectiveness and integrity of our parliamentary institution must be strengthened.

Legislation will be introduced to ensure that the principle of one vote-one value is clearly established.

My Government will introduce public funding of election campaigns and measures to reduce the incidence of informal voting through simpler voting procedures.

The Parliamentary Committee system of the national Parliament will be strengthened to give Members of Parliament a more effective role and participation in the great affairs of this nation.

The Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill which is being dealt with today will bring in those measures referred to in the Governor-General's Speech, along with many others. The Bill and the reports, however, are the result of possibly the greatest review of the Australian electoral provisions yet undertaken. Consequently, a great number of issues can be touched on. I will try to refer to a few matters in particular.

Public funding of political parties for election campaigns is one area of some controversy. However, the Labor Government clearly put this issue before the public and was elected with public funding of election campaigns as a part of its election platform. A great deal of the work was carried out by the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform, which was set up by the former Special Minister of State, the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young). I wish to pay tribute to his long years of campaigning for public funding of election campaigns in order to put an end to corrupt funding and big corporation funding of certain conservative parties. Any perusal of speeches made in this House over a number of years by the honourable member for Port Adelaide will reflect a consistent view on public funding. Political parties, including the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia- sometimes referred to as the Country Party-the Australian Democrats and many other minor parties and individuals made submissions to the Electoral Reform Committee with regard to public funding of political parties.

The Australian Labor Party put the view that elections should be decided on the quality of the policies put forward, not the quantity of money, which has always been more readily available to the conservative parties, such moneys coming from the large corporations. The Australian Democrats also supported public funding of election campaigns on the grounds that it would ensure a greater level of equality between the aspirants for public office and would minimise the risk of financial considerations corrupting the political process. The Liberal Party was opposed to public funding. One can only assume that its finances from the big corporations will continue.

However, on the assumption that public funding would be introduced, and clearly there is a mandate for such public funding, the Liberal Party suggested a fund related to a cost per elector to be divided into State and Territory funds directly proportional to the numbers of electors in each State or Territory. The Liberal Party also put forward a proposal for annual party maintenance activities, referred to by the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman), the Chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform. The National Party was also opposed to public funding but, like its conservative Liberal Party colleague, the National Party organisation in Victoria and New South Wales proposed an estimate involving a pool raised by tax check-offs to be disbursed one-third to candidates, one-third to State party organisations and one-third to national level party organisations on the basis of percentage of the formal vote cast, with a maximum of 50 per cent of any section of the vote. It is significant to note that both the Liberal and National parties added to their basic objection that, should a system of public funding be introduced, they would participate, otherwise their parties and their supporters would be disadvantaged in the process. The question of public funding was well canvassed and the foregoing merely touches on the positions of the major parties. I again refer to the Governor-General's speech on that question.

A great deal was attempted to be made of union donations and affiliation fees to the Australian Labor Party, and there were some outrageous suggestions of vast sums that were supposed to be tax free. I want to take on board the arguments of the honourable member for Boothby (Mr Steele Hall). I take as an example the $50,000 recently donated by the Amalgamated Metals, Foundry and Shipwrights Union, my organisation, to the Australian Labor Party. The $50,000, if divided by 150,000 members-actually there are 171,000 members, but let us keep the mathematics simple-makes 33c per member for each election. On a three- year basis, that is 11c per member per year. If the tax due is 30 per cent, that makes each member's contribution 3 1/2c. That is the tax free dodge which those opposite are talking about and trying to make an issue of. That is what the conservative parties call tax dodging-3 1/2c per year!


Mr Hand —The Liberals always take their money though.


Mr SCOTT —They get it from the bottom of the harbour, but we are trying to keep this debate friendly.


Mr Hand —Why?


Mr SCOTT —Because the argument is on our side. We do not have to resort to the kind of muck thrown around by the honourable member for Boothby. I am sorry that he did that, because he did not do it in the Committee. Affiliation fees, which are separate again, would not be much more and would certainly be less than 10c a year. The point should be made that union subscriptions and professional association fees for the individual are tax deductible. Whether one is a fitter and turner, a doctor in the Australian Medical Association, a civil engineer or even a Qantas pilot, one's union subscriptions are tax deductible; and it is only 3 1/2c per year which these conservatives are trying to make an issue of. I hope that argument is put to rest.

Let me look at some of the other points raised by the honourable member for Boothby. On the question of disclosure, much has been said about unions hiding their political donations. Under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act unions are required to publish their accounts. They are available to every member. The are priced at 10c, but one can get them free from any union office. The accounts are available for every member who wants to see them. So let us stop this humbug about unions hiding their donations. Really it would be better for Australia if political parties stopped the kind of conniving that surrounded the last donation of $50,000 when, by trickery, a photographer managed to get Laurie Carmichael into the picture with a caption saying: 'Communist chief Laurie Carmichael gives donation to Bob Hawke'. That is really hitting below the belt. It is the kind of dirt those opposite seem to enjoy being in.

Donations to the Liberal and National parties were touched on by my good friend the honourable member for Prospect. Those details came to the Committee through its consideration of the Bjelke-Petersen Foundation. That was one aspect. Also in the Business Review Weekly of 26 February 1983 there was a list of companies and individuals who donated to the New South Wales Liberal Party. That list runs into pages and pages. I am quite sure that that document is not normally available to the public. The amounts of donations are not made known in that list, but reference has been made to over $1m being donated. So I contend that my earlier argument is correct. One of the problems discussed in the Committee was that of some organisations supporting different parties and the amount of money involved in advertisements during the elections. In South Australia we have had a long run of this kind of anonymous advertisement, normally from someone using a box number as his address. I have here one published during the election campaign in 1980, dated 17 October and authorised by Nigel Buick, Kingscote, Kangaroo Island, South Australia. The caption at the top says: ' Independent Election Advertisement'. That is the kind of thing that is indulged in, whereas unions donate publicly. Their leaders have their pictures taken and are proud to donate to the Australian Labor Party, not this anonymous crap here. Another advertisement authorised by the same person on Kangaroo Island stated:

A win by the Labor-Socialists could give the left-wing Unions effective control of Canberra.

I wish it was true, but it did not happen. Perhaps the daddy of them all was an advertisement in the News in South Australia which again was depicted as an independent election advertisement. It was inserted by 'a large group of businessmen vitally concerned with keeping a responsible Liberal Government in Canberra' and was authorised by D. Hill, 39 The Esplanade, South Perth.


Mr Kent —Who is he?


Mr SCOTT —Nobody knows who he is.


Mr Kent —From the bottom of the harbour?


Mr SCOTT —They are quite good at that kind of thing over in Perth. Because of an agreement to limit speaking times to allow other members to speak, I will wind up by touching very briefly on a number of other matters, including the habitation review. I wish to record my respect and admiration for the work done by those people in the Australian Electoral Office.


Mr Maher —Hear, hear!


Mr SCOTT —I point out that in a 12-month period in my electorate there were 14, 000 new enrolments. I heard my friend the honourable member for Lowe saying: ' Hear, hear!' Of course, one of the problems is not having enough stamps to send out letters to welcome people into one's electorate. That was a good commercial for the honourable member for Lowe! Habitation reviews are important, if they are carried out to try to get people on to the roll, as are the enrolment of Aborigines, educational programs, the Distribution Commission and the question of positions on ballot papers not being determined by the alphabetical method. I would have liked to say a lot more, but there will be an opportunity no doubt at the Committee stage. Mr Speaker, I thank you for your indulgence.