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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 3292

Mr GILES (Scullin) (16:31): On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, I present the committee's advisory report, incorporating a dissenting report, on the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017, together with an addendum to the report.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

Mr GILES: by leave—I'm pleased to be able to present a report which is, in essence, a consensus report dealing with very difficult and important matters forming part of a complicated bill. Before making some short statements on the substance of the report and its significance, I acknowledge the extraordinary work of the secretariat, who dealt with a very challenging series of issues with the utmost professionalism and deep courtesy. I see that the member for Tangney is here, and I hope that he will join me in expressing those sentiments if he has the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I also acknowledge the hard and indeed tireless work of the chair, Senator Reynolds, and all of my colleagues—my Labor colleagues especially. I pay particular mention to Senator Rhiannon, who also gave her all in an effort to bring the parliament together to resolve these fundamental questions which are contained in the bill.

What the work of the committee and the evidence brought before it showed was that there were fundamental flaws in this legislation. The recommendations, fairly read, show how unworkable the legislation would have been, regardless of some of the issues going to the motivations attaching to particular provisions in the bill. What this shows as a matter of process is that legislation of this nature—legislation which requires, really, the parliament to speak as one in adopting—must go through a proper consultative process and regulatory impact statement. With these steps having been taken, we may have been able to advance this vexed issue of donations reform.

I have next to me in the chamber the member for Isaacs, who had carriage of these matters in government. He knows only too well that for more than 10 years the Australian Labor Party has put forward a considered package of proposals which would advance this debate. We recognise, in Labor, that this has to be a matter upon which the parties can reach substantial agreement. We have been trying to reach that agreement for some time, and I hope this report shows where progress can be made—that we need to look to the broad principles of what we are trying to achieve rather than narrow political advantage or attending in an unfair way to regulate some groups within civil society, in a way which clearly seems designed to regulate them out of existence. A strong democracy requires a very strong civil society. When we talk about a level playing field in politics, political speech and political donations, we have to recognise that a level playing field treats actors appropriately, not as if they are all exactly the same and with the same interests. Those of us who seek to hold executive roles and those of us who have legislative responsibilities are engaged in political activities of a different order than are civil society activist groups.

As we debate this report and as we debate legislation—if the government brings the legislation back on—we also have to recognise that we all have a great duty to all of our constituents to raise the standards of political discourse and to rebuild trust in our political institutions. This requires us to look seriously at the influence of money on politics and to provide for much greater transparency. As I mentioned earlier, the Australian Labor Party has, for some time, set out a series of propositions which would go a long way towards this. I hope they can form the basis of further debate in this place in the very near future. We should be arguing about our competing visions for Australia, not about putting in place rules that benefit the wealthy over those who don't have those material advantages.

I'm pleased that this is substantively a consensus report. In presenting this report, I note there is much more work to be done. Labor members in this place and in the other place stand ready to work with the government and with the Greens and other crossbenchers on advancing donation reform, noting that this report deals with a package of legislative proposals that don't, and can't, constitute the whole of this debate. There is much more to be done, and I ask members to think about those proposals around donation limits and real-time disclosure that the Labor Party has put forward. It's also time for all of us to consider the issue of caps on expenditure, and caps more generally, if we are to genuinely achieve the level playing field that is essential for a democracy in which everyone feels that they have their say and in which they do, in fact, have their say.