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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2394

Senator MINCHIN (10.17 a.m.) —I am happy to support this motion, and I do so as a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. On behalf of the coalition, I commend this report to the Senate. I also speak as someone who had to work with the legislation as a state director of the Liberal Party. I am pleased that these recommendations are bipartisan. They are designed to improve the operation of the public funding and disclosure provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act.

  These recommendations follow two years of operation of this act and the deficiencies in it have now been exposed. I do not want to say `I told you so', but the coalition, at the time this legislation was being debated, did point out to the Labor Party some of the problems that we envisaged occurring in relation to these very onerous provisions in respect of political parties. We are delighted that the ALP has now seen fit to agree with us that there are significant problems. This has led to a bipartisan report designed to ensure that the objectives of the legislation are met but in a way which does not impose undue and onerous burdens on the political parties which have to work with this legislation.

  It is important for the parliament and the community to remember that these political parties, which have to comply with the legislation, are voluntary organisations with thousands and thousands of ordinary Australians giving up their time to work within the political process to maintain the vitality of our democracy. It is very clear from both sides of the fence that this legislation is imposing very major problems on the political parties. It is expensive, as Senator Foreman pointed out, and it is time consuming. There is an enormous bureaucratic burden on cash strapped political parties that they simply cannot wear.

  The worst of it is that the legislation is, in fact, discouraging voluntary involvement in the political parties, which I think is a distressing event. All of our political parties are suffering from membership decline and the last thing we need is legislation which—

Senator Carr —No, that is not true.

Senator MINCHIN —Well, with the exception of a temporary increase in the membership of the Victorian branch of the Labor Party, the general trend is downward. Despite this legislation, the Victorian ALP seems to be increasing its membership. But I make the point that, just in the South Australian Liberal Party alone, we elect every year about 300 treasurers, all of whom are volunteers and all of whom have to deal with this legislation, which at the moment requires them to keep the most extraordinary records of every cent they spend and every cent they gain. No doubt, in the Labor Party, as in the Liberal Party, it is getting more and more difficult to get people to take on these officials tasks. We may be able to encourage them to join the party, but to get them to take on responsibilities within the party that have anything to do with finance is made much more difficult by this legislation.

  We believe that these bipartisan recommendations will not compromise the objectives of the legislation, which we accept are required to ensure that the community does know where the political parties get their money from, but they will make it much cheaper and easier for the parties to comply with the legislation. Most particularly, they will enable the Australian Electoral Commission to enforce the legislation. We have the ridiculous situation at the moment where we have passed legislation when it is quite apparent to all of us that the Electoral Commission does not have the capacity or the resources to enforce it. It is completely snowed by it and unable to cope. The recommendations will make it much easier for the commission to enforce and apply the legislation.

  In summing up, both the Labor Party and Liberal Party members of the committee hope that the government will act quickly to give a clear signal to the parties and the Australian Electoral Commission about its legislative intent so that they can operate within the new regime as quickly as possible.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.