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Monday, 16 March 2009
Page: 2691


Mr SLIPPER (5:55 PM) —There are a number of measures included in the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2009, as was indicated by the honourable member opposite. One could sum up the meaning of most of these amendments as essentially assisting the ongoing re-election of Australian Labor Party governments. One can have a debate on political funding in Australia, but I think most of us would agree that all political parties ought to have access to moneys to be able to put forward their points of view so that the public, at a state or federal level, as the case may be, have the opportunity of weighing what each of the parties has on offer, with a view to making a thoughtful decision which is well considered and in the interests of the country or the state.

The Australian Labor Party seems to have access to unlimited amounts of trade union dollars. These amendments will have little impact on the Australian Labor Party because many of the donations to the Labor Party come from the trade union movement. The Labor Party is the party of the unions. It is controlled in many respects by the unions and it governs for the unions, as we have seen in the industrial relations changes which have been introduced to the parliament by the Deputy Prime Minister. So it is not surprising that members opposite come in and quite enthusiastically support the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2009. I suppose that in a sense they are coming in here and voting not for personal self-interest but for the political self-interest of the governing party, the Australian Labor Party.

It is just ridiculous to suggest that the donations disclosure threshold in 2009 should be reduced from $10,900, the current rate when CPI indexed, to $1,000 with the removal of CPI indexation. Even if one could mount a valid argument, which I do not believe that one can, to reduce the disclosure threshold right back to $1,000, what on earth would be the moral justification for removing CPI indexation? After all, CPI indexation simply preserves the real value of the basic figure—that is, the $1,000.

I believe that we in Australia ought to have a debate about political reform. I believe we ought to have a debate about political funding. There are a range of views right across the political spectrum on the best means of guaranteeing political parties access to funds so that they are able to put forward democratically the policies that they have on offer. Our democracy would be crushed if this legislation became law and if political parties other than the Australian Labor Party were economically prevented from putting forward their case.

Given the fact that a lot of the policies introduced by the Labor government have been quite disastrous, it would be very sad for democracy in Australia if we had a situation where, come the next election, the conservative side of politics were starved of political donations because of the fear of retribution that some of those possible donors might feel were it necessary to disclose publicly the amount of their donations. No-one would support political corruption; I certainly do not. I do not believe that we have a high level of political corruption in Australia. We are fortunate that we have a system that is largely open and transparent. But the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2009 undermines the integrity of the electoral system in Australia, and democracy in Australia would be the poorer were it to become law.

It is important to recognise that the union movement is the basic financing vehicle for the Australian Labor Party. Were this legislation to become law we would find that, because of the disclosure requirements, more companies would feel intimidated into making perhaps equal donations to both sides of politics. If companies wish to make equal donations to both sides of politics as a matter of free will, that is fine and I certainly would support that. But it would be wrong if companies or individuals were coerced into making equal donations because of the fear of economic penalties from the government of the day.

It is appropriate in a democracy to have a disclosure limit, but the changed disclosure limit, as introduced in 2006 by the former Howard government, is indeed the appropriate level. It is also important, given the fact that we have a degree of inflation—and under Labor Party policies we will have more inflation—that we have CPI indexation so that the true value of the disclosure limit is preserved. As an aside, I think it is a tragedy that, for many years, the eligibility limits for access to the Commonwealth seniors health card have not been indexed. I am getting a lot of complaints from constituents who are now losing access to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme at the concessional rate because they are losing the Commonwealth seniors health card because the income limits are not being indexed. So people who are at a stage of their lives where they have increasing health needs are being tossed off the card because there has not been indexation and there has not been a preservation of the real value of the income limits.

And the principle is the same for this bill. If one does not index the disclosure limit then one distorts the value of the disclosure limit. With the level of inflation, the value of the amount of $1,000 will be diminished. In five or 10 years time, if the disclosure limit is not altered, $1,000 will be worth much less in real terms than it is today. The Liberal-National opposition is indeed supportive of the principle of ongoing political reform, because if there is not integrity in the electoral system—a situation where the people of Australia get the government they vote for on the day—and if people do not have confidence in our political system then Australia will not maintain its good reputation for democracy.

Part of guaranteeing democracy is to make sure that political parties and independent candidates are able to get access to appropriate levels of funding so that the Australian community is able to look at what is on offer and make an intelligent decision. If this bill is carried into law, it is possible that the overwhelming message that will get back to the Australian people will be that of the Labor side of politics because our side of politics will be starved of the capacity to put forward the other point of view.


Mr Windsor interjecting


Mr SLIPPER —The honourable member for New England is a fair-minded person and he would believe that everyone should be given the opportunity of putting forward a case and of being able to finance a campaign. But, unfortunately, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2009 could be summed up as simply being a self-interested piece of legislation introduced by the Labor government to help guarantee the continuity of the Labor government in this country despite the appalling policies it is imposing in view of the international economic situation. I am not in favour of this bill. I think it is a retrograde measure, a regrettable measure. It is a trampling on democracy, and the government stands condemned for introducing it.