|Title||COMMONWEALTH ELECTORAL AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 1) 2002
|Speaker||Webber, Sen Ruth
Senator WEBBER (10:21 AM) âI join with my colleagues from the opposition to speak today to the extraordinary Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2002. In fact, I join many other members on this side of the chamber to state my wholehearted opposition. As Senator Faulkner so eloquently said earlier in this debate, this bill is commonly described on our side as the `dash for cash' bill. It is outrageous that the mechanics of this bill are basically to allow a party interestâin this case the federal secretariat of the Liberal Partyâto overcome its own internal difficulties. The specific nature of this bill is to allow the federal Liberal Party to circumvent the operation of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. The Electoral Act is designed, above all else, to ensure that elections in this country are conducted in a transparent manner. If we cannot be guaranteed that, then what can we be guaranteed? What the Liberal Party want us to do is to amend the act so that they can ensure that the distribution of funds between the federal secretariat and the state branches of the Liberal Party is undertaken in the interests of the federal wing. In essence, the federal secretariat of the Liberal Party is forcing this parliament to pass legislation because it cannot get the numbers to make the organisational changes necessary to allow it to receive moneys from public funding.
When I gave my first speech in this place the other day, I started by quoting Edmund Burke, and a number of people opposite congratulated me on that. I now have another one. Edmund Burke once observed:
One of the first motives of civil society, and which becomes one of its fundamental rules, is that no man should judge in his own cause.
This bill seeks to allow the federal secretariat to circumvent the Electoral Act to judge in its own cause. The Electoral Act currently provides for public funding to be paid to the agent of the state branch of the party for which the candidate stood. We all know that; we have all had to sign appointment of agent forms as part of the process of getting elected.
The current act allows a mechanism through section 299(5A) whereby a state branch lodges a notice with the Australian Electoral Commission requesting that payment be made to an agent of another party. Section 299 allows a straightforward approach that permits public funding to be paid to an agent rather than to the state branch for which the candidate stood. Unlike Mr Lynton Crosby and his colleagues, our national secretariat in the ALP is quite capable and has reached agreement with each state branch of our party and, in accordance with section 299, such notice was duly lodged.
Everyone carries on about the internal difficulties that the ALP is supposedly having because we are quite happy to have an open and transparent process where we engage our rank-and-file membership and the community at large in our internal processes and our process for policy development, yet we can make sure that, whilst we are doing that, the mechanics of conducting an election and the mechanics of managing our own internal structural affairs duly comply with the act. Why is it that we now have to change it because the Liberal Party is completely unable to achieve the same thing?
Those opposite know that this legislation is being proposed only because they cannot achieve it. They cannot manage to get it together. Having met some of the more interesting characters from the WA division of the Liberal Party, it is little wonder Lynton Crosby cannot get them to agree. They cannot agree amongst themselves. As Senator Hogg said before, when Senator Lightfoot was preselected they had to have two goes at it. They ran it up, he nominated, it was a contested preselection and he won with the able assistance of former Senator Crichton-Browne. Some did not like that result, so what did they do? They did it all over again. And just to prove that former Senator Crichton-Browne could actually count, Senator Lightfoot won again. In the meantime my state of Western Australia was underrepresented in this chamber because the Liberal Party could not manage their internal difficulties.
Having been involved with the WA branch of the ALP for some time and having worked for our former state government, I understand how difficult it is to make the transition from government to opposition. I went through that process. As I say, I worked for the Lawrence state government and therefore went through all the heartache that goes with losing government, so I have some sympathy for what Colin Barnett is going through as Leader of the Opposition, and I am sure he is trying to do his level best. I think he would have a fair bit of sympathy for Senator Stott Despoja at the moment in that he is being undermined by four of his own at every turn.
Not only do we have Colin Barnett, who wants to be and is Leader of the Opposition, but also we have Matt Birney, the new member for Kalgoorlie, who would really like to be leaderâbut the trouble is that, with one vote, one value, he will probably lose his seat; he is actually going to have to find a seat because you have to be in the parliament to be the Leader of the Oppositionâand Mike Board, who is the AMA spokesperson for health in the state parliament, who would really like to be leader as well, although it is a bit of hard work and you need more than the AMA to help you develop policy if you have to deal with more than the health portfolio. Next is Rob Johnson, who seems to be trying to be involved in who is going to be leader. He would probably like to be leader and, if not that, at least deputy leaderâthat is when he is not helping to organise the members of One Nation to be elected to his local council! Then, of course, there is the dark horse, Cheryl Edwardes. She has had a longstanding involvement in the northern suburbs of Perth, and I would have to say that, of all of those candidates, she is probably the one I am most in awe of it. She has a tremendous network within her local community and an incredible work ethic; she works really hard. She is probably the one whom they would all like to draught, but she is frustrating them because she just won't play: she keeps saying that she is backing the current leader. So the Liberal Party have all sorts of internal difficulties in my part of the world. And I gather, from having listened to some of the debate here, that my state is not on its own.
As I say, if you cannot manage who is going to be the leader and you cannot successfully manage to preselect senators, little wonder that you cannot sign forms and make sure that you are going to disburse public funding accordingly. In fact, I would like to be so bold as to suggest that it would be far more appropriate if the Liberal Party invested some of their time and effort into getting their own house in order rather than devaluing the role of this place by proposing this legislation.
Why should the federal parliament be forced to pick up the pieces because the Liberal Party hierarchy cannot get all of their state divisions to reach agreement on the public funding disbursements under the current act? Simply, it should not. Instead of having the courage to adopt a truly national structureâand what is wrong with having a national structure?âwe now have to have federal legislation to deal with their internal difficulties. This comes from the states rights partyâthey come into chambers like this all the time and give us lectures about how you have to stand up for your own state and are not allowed to be partisan and about how we all have to be from Western Australia together or from Queensland together or whatever. But it would seem that they cannot actually bring all of those state branches together into a federation and act as a truly national body.
Instead of adopting a truly national structure and having a proper national structure with an enforceable code rather than nice reports and critiques of what goes wrong in each state branch, the Liberal Party want the Australian parliament to pass a bill that is nothing less than a shameless attempt to impose a legislative solution on a purely internal matter. They have the cheek to claim that the ALP is the party with internal problems. Where is this nonsense going to end? How many other pieces of legislation will we be asked to pass to resolve their internal difficulties? Perhaps we could have an act to restore the former President of this place to her former positionâthat would certainly resolve another internal disputeâor we could introduce a bill to allow Dr Napthine to be returned as Leader of the Opposition in Victoria. Of course, we can do none of these things, and nor should we allow this bill to pass into law.
If we pass this bill we will create a precedent that at any time it is acceptable to pass amendments to laws that are to the direct benefit of one political party. This bill is so obviously a bill for the benefit of the Liberal Party that it is mentioned directly by name. This bill was not designed for the general operation of the disbursement of public funding but specifically for the benefit of the Liberal Party alone. As I said before, no-one should be entitled to be the judge in their own cause. Neither should the legislative power of the Australian parliament be used to act as the circuit-breaker for an internal problem of the Liberal Party. This government has become so arrogant that it comes into this place with legislation that is designed for nothing other than its own benefit. How could anyone support this crass attempt to resolve its own organisational and structural problems? In fact, it must be incredibly embarrassing to actually have to draft and introduce and then try to negotiate the passage of a bill for an act of parliament to address your own internal structures.
It is clear that this attempt to amend the Electoral Act to their own benefit is a case of their judging in their own cause, and they just assume that the Australian parliament is going to roll over and assist in their self-interest. In fact, if you examine the statement of Senator Abetz on 15 May this year when the motion for the bill's second reading was moved, there is no doubt that this is solely to the benefit of the Liberal Party. You need only read the minister's own words to confirm that the bill is intended to allow the Commonwealth legislation to be used for the purpose of resolving an internal party problem. He said:
However, as the Federal Secretariat of the Liberal Party is responsible for federal election campaigns, it is appropriate that all or part of the public funding be paid to the agent of the Federal Secretariat
I agreeâthat is the way it is handled within the ALP. We do not need an amendment act to make sure that that happens; we have an agreed structure that governs the conduct of federal elections. We have lots of robust internal, and sometimes external, debates, but we can actually agree on the fundamentals of the organisation of our party and the conduct of an election campaign. As I have said before, that payment of public funding to the federal secretariat can already be achieved through section 299 of the current act, if the Liberal Party could only get all of their state directors to actually trust their federal director.
There can be no doubt that a mature political party should be able to resolve these matters. On this side of the chamber we have copped nothing but abuse and criticism because we are prepared to review and reform our structures in a very public, open and transparent manner, whilst those on the other side cannot even agree, it would seem, on who is going to bank the money. After 60 yearsâ60 long, hard years in some casesâ the Liberal Party are so poorly organised and structured that they would rather skulk in here and use parliament's legislative powers than address their own structural and organisational problems. This legislation does absolutely nothing to create any benefit for our fellow Australians: it does not create one additional job; it does not help one Australian achieve a better standard of living. It is a shameful exercise that is designed to benefit the federal secretariat of the Liberal Party, and for these reasons this bill should be rejected.