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Monday, 16 March 2009
Page: 2634

Mr NEUMANN (1:48 PM) —In the last few days I have had a look at what the coalition have said about the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2009, including what the shadow special minister of state, Senator Ronaldson, had to say about it in his speech on 11 March. I wanted to see what ideas the coalition might have with respect to the comprehensive reform they so eloquently talk about. I went through his speech in detail. He put on record their very, very strong support for comprehensive reform. We heard the member for Mayo say the same thing today. But where are their ideas for the kind of reform they are talking about? You cannot find them in the speech, you cannot find them in the two pages the Liberal Party submitted to the green paper and you cannot find them in anything that the member for Mayo had to say. Those opposite mouth the words but do not offer ideas.

I grew up in Queensland, so do not come into this place and talk about electoral reform and political donations. In Queensland, where we had a National Party government, they delivered brown paper bags to the executive building in George Street. We had an inquiry into it—the Fitzgerald inquiry. We had a gerrymander electoral system through which Joh Bjelke-Petersen was voted in with 18 per cent of the vote. Do not come to this place and give us lectures about electoral reform and political donations, because the Queensland LNP, or the National Party—whatever political characterisation it wants to use these days—has form. For years we had a Queensland Premier who did not have a clue about conflict of interest, did not have a clue about the separation of powers. One of his most disgraceful performances was his testimony before the Fitzgerald inquiry in relation to that. So do not come in here and give us lectures about electoral reform and political donations as if you are the high priests of virtue, because you have form too. There is vice over there, not just virtue. Do not come here and talk to us as if somehow you are lily white and pure.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—The member for Blair might restrain himself from referring to the Deputy Speaker as ‘you’ in those comments. I would not like to be associated in that way. You might refer to the people on the other side of the House.

Mr NEUMANN —The Deputy Speaker would know that I hold him in high regard. It is quite sad that he happens to be a member of the National Party, but that is another matter entirely.

We strongly support public transparency, we strongly support integrity in the electoral system and we strongly support change and reform. So we introduced legislation to amend the electoral system to improve the situation, and it was voted down in the Senate. Senator Faulkner, point by point, characterised what we sought to do. We responded to the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters by making a number of amendments. We listened to what the committee had to say, took on board what they suggested, spoke to the minor parties and made changes. But the coalition has entirely vacated the field. It has left it to us entirely to do this.

I would like to see a bipartisan approach because I think that reform to political donations should be like constitutional reform—we should have a bipartisan approach to it because that improves the confidence of the Australian people in the integrity of the system. But we cannot get it when those opposite criticise, do not offer any ideas and then just defend their position.

We had the member for Mayo in here defending Work Choices again—he just cannot help himself. He says it is dead, but he wants to keep defending it all the time—defending, now, the advertising campaign as if it were some public information thing that was divorced from political reality.

They did not do that advertising just because they happen to like putting ads on Channel 9 or Channel 10 or Channel 7. It was not just because they want to line the pockets of the producers. They were in there advertising their political agenda. They were spending tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ funds on a political campaign to convince the Australian public of the virtues of Work Choices. So do not give us lectures about that particular point in time and that particular campaign.

A strong and healthy democracy means that we must support the integrity of the Australian electoral system. One of the great things about this legislation is that it introduces a claims-based system for electoral funding. It ties funding to electoral expenditure.

I happened to live in the federal electorate of Oxley. I lived in that area until it became Blair when my residence was redistributed to the federal seat of Blair before the 2004 federal election campaign. I also happened to be the Labor Party’s campaign director at the height of Hansonism, so I know something about campaigning against Ms Hanson. I have been doing it for most of the last couple of weeks—trying to defeat this woman in Beaudesert. I have been doorknocking and working as hard as I can to ensure that a Labor candidate gets up for the people of Beaudesert so we can have jobs in the area and protect our rural lifestyle.

You are the people that, all that time, allowed the likes of Ms Hanson to rort the system when standing for the Senate but doing nothing—doing nothing! I know because she lives in my area and I saw her great contribution in the 2007 campaign: a few signs up in a few trees; no real campaigning in the electorate. Then she stands there at Silkstone State School and hands out one how-to-vote card, walks away, and that is it. She was there just in time for the QT—the Queensland Times—to take a picture of it. That is her contribution. Then she pockets the money—‘Thank you very much on and off I go.’

That is why we need to change the law in this area, and that is why the reforms in this particular legislation will do that. It is a disgrace that the coalition is opposing reform in this area. We support public transparency. We opposed the Howard government’s 2006 changes where they raised the disclosure threshold for political donations from $1,500 to more than $10,000—CPI indexed—and raised the limit for anonymous donations from $1,000 to donations exceeding $10,000. We opposed that. We stood against it when we were in opposition. We fought against it. We put our position in our national platform in Constitution 2007. I was a national conference delegate and proudly voted for it.

It was our pre-election policy that we intended to make further changes to the electoral system. These included reversing the increase in the donation threshold established by the Howard government and removing its tax deductibility for donations. I would contend that we have a mandate to do this. We took this to the Australian public. They voted on 24 November 2007 to oust the coalition government and Mr Howard and to bring in a Labor government which campaigned on this platform. I campaigned on it with every person on this side of the House and all our candidates.

We sought reform. We put it to the Australian public and they voted for it. They voted for it, just like they voted to get rid of Work Choices. We supported changes. A simple fact is those opposite do not want to be embarrassed. They claim that somehow the legislation that we have before the House today favours our side of politics.

I have gone through it. Show me a provision in there that supports the Australian Labor Party. It does not support the Labor Party. It does not. There are no pro-Labor Party provisions in the legislation. It is just a fiction. It is a myth. It is an urban myth from those opposite. They claim that is the case because they are worried.

They are not genuinely in favour of political donation and electoral reform. They will not do it. They have never supported it. They did not support it all through my infancy and my adolescence. After I became a voter, back in 1979, and I got on the electoral roll and voted, all through that time, we never saw it from the National Party of Queensland and we do not see it from those opposite.

When they had the chance in 2006 to bring about electoral reform, they made it more difficult. They made it more secretive and more furtive and made it in such a way that transparency was not there. They made it so that big donors could rort the system. They could give bits and pieces, get up close to $100,000 across different states and territories and in that way effectively suppress what contribution they were making to the various state and territory parties—or branches of the Australian Labor Party, Liberal Party or whatever. The coalition claim that, somehow, they are in favour of transparency and openness. But in my submission, I do not believe they are credible at all on this particular matter—because they have form. For a starter, donors could split the donations, and we have seen it happen time and time again.

We are the ones who brought forward legislation to improve the integrity of the system and these amendments do that. They do that for a variety of reasons. But the reforms reducing the disclosure threshold to $1,000—a flat rate—are good reforms, because I think that the Australian public thinks that those people who put more than $1,000 in should have their names disclosed.

The reduction in the current time frames for lodging returns—from 15, 16 and 20 weeks to a period of eight weeks—is, again, appropriate. You should be able to organise your affairs to do this. The obligation to lodge every six months returns that were prev-iously required to be provided to the Aust-ralian Electoral Commission once every 12 months is good, because the Australian public can then get access to that information.

Requiring donors to disclose total amounts above $1,000 related to political entities is again a good way to avoid the kinds of arrangements that the coalition, for one, have used in the past. And I do not think that the Australian public believes that we should have overseas donations given to political parties here in Australia. So a ban on the acceptance of overseas donations is, again, a worthy reform in these circumstances.

Extending the ban on the acceptance of anonymous donations to include other key players in the political process is, again, an important reform. Preventing attempts to obtain a windfall payment of election funding—as Ms Hanson achieved in two Senate campaigns, which I can hardly call campaigns at all—is another important reform. Updating current offences and introducing additional penalties are also worthy reforms.

I submit that what we should be doing is bringing forward this legislation and having it passed through this place and then through the Senate as well. If those opposite had any integrity on this particular issue—any credibility, any fortitude and any common sense—they would support it. This is an important reform. It has been supported by the Democratic Audit of Australia. They have supported the kind of reforms we are talking about. It has the support of the Greens as well, and it is important legislative reform.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 97. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.