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Wednesday, 11 March 2009
Page: 1261


Senator FIELDING (Leader of the Family First Party) (11:57 AM) —Australia is often described by people as ‘the lucky country’. Unlike many other nations, since Federation the Australian people have known only one form of government—democracy. Even though there are plenty of countries around the world that are democratic, our democracy is special. Just like anything special in life, we need to protect it from harm’s way and make sure that it is safe and sound. That is why we have laws regulating how democracy works. It is too important to be left to operate without boundaries or controls. Power is vested in political parties, and these same parties are responsible for setting the rules for themselves. This makes it all the more important that, as self-regulators, we do everything we can to retain the public’s trust. The Australian people place a lot of trust in their elected representatives and we owe it to them to demonstrate the principles of responsible government.

A vibrant democracy is a democracy where people have confidence in the system. It is a democracy which is free from corruption. That is why I joined the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission. Rooting out corruption is something I feel very passionate about. I have always taken a strong stand on this issue because, for me, it is black and white; there can be no grey. Corruption must be exposed, no matter what shape or form it comes in.

One of the biggest opportunities for corruption arises under public funding for federal election campaigns. Without proper controls it can easily turn into a set of kickbacks for the major political parties. Public funding of federal election campaigns began for a legitimate reason: to provide for the reimbursement of legitimate campaign expenses—and fair enough. The key word here, of course, is ‘legitimate’. But since this legislation was introduced in 1984, it has been rife with rorting, rife to the degree that public funding of federal election campaigns has skyrocketed by more than 55 per cent over the last four elections. In real terms that means that public funding for the major political parties has spiralled. It was $28 million of public funding—and that was excessive enough—but it has jumped to an obscene $43 million of public funding for election campaign spending. That is $43 million of hard-earned taxes paid by ordinary Australians that is spent by political parties to brag about themselves and what they have done and what they are going to do. It is all about them.

Times are enormously tough for so many in Australia and our leaders are telling us to expect tough times to continue. We have even heard the grim news from one of the Rudd government ministers that no job is safe. So how can political parties justify taking that money given to them by hardworking Australians and then excessively spending that money to tell those same Australians how fantastic their political parties are? If political parties want to spend huge amounts on election campaigns they can dig into their own pockets and get their hands out of the public purse. Australian families should not be expected to fund excessive spending by the major political parties. We are sick and tired of being bombarded with excessive TV ads every night and having our letterboxes stuffed full of excessive campaign mail during every election especially when we end up paying for it—that is, taxpayers are paying for it.

The government’s Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2008 [2009] fails dismally to address this rorting. Labor has only proposed to limit public funding of political parties to actual campaign expenses. This will stop profiteering but will do nothing to rein in the excessive campaign spending. That is why Family First is moving to cap the amount that each major political party can claim from the public to fund their election campaign to a maximum of $10 million.

Let us be real: $10 million is more than enough for any one political party to spend in each election. Having this cap of $10 million will save the taxpayers over $20 million per election. So by capping how much each political party can claim to be funded by taxpayers to $10 million, this will result in stopping political parties rorting the system and will save taxpayers $20 million per election. This saved $20 million could be spent on giving a fairer go to veterans and pensioners and giving more funds to hospitals and schools. All Australians would agree it would be better to spend the $20 million on these services rather than seeing it spent on politicians telling us again and again how good they are. Let us stop the real political rort and stop political parties from spending excessive amounts on the election at taxpayers’ expense. Ten million dollars is enough money for that. Let us use the rest for something much more important.