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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 2423

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (11:51): I was also a coalition member on this Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, and I rise, basically to support the dissenting report that was put in by the coalition on this inquiry.

The inquiry found some rather disturbing things. I think if the inquiry had not been in many ways a political exercise it could have done a lot of good work in doing some further investigations into some of the things that arose from it. I point, in particular, to a matter which is with the other chamber. I do not, in any way, want to reflect on that, but evidence was given with regard to a specific large donation to the Greens. Also a large donation was given by the CFMEU to GetUp!. That opened a political can of worms in relation to how we deal with affiliations when it comes to campaign donations.

If this inquiry was to lead to anything, the next steps taken should be to look at how we deal with the whole issue of affiliates. Sadly, what happened was that the Labor Party and the Greens—one assumes that this was part of the grubby deal that was done by the Labor Party, and by Julia Gillard in particular, to get Greens support for her minority government—recommended that the threshold be reduced for political donations. There was really no compelling evidence whatsoever provided to the committee that would lead to this.

So, sadly, we can see that the inquiry was set up with a preordained purpose and outcome. But sometimes inquiries that are set up do not go the way you want them to go. We saw this with the whole issue of affiliates. If we are to go further in looking at how funding of political parties and political campaigns can be addressed and made—if not fair—transparent, we need to look at the whole issue of affiliates. Some of the evidence which was taken with regard to GetUp! points to the fact that it seems to have been set up deliberately to help the left wing cause in Australian politics, especially during campaigns. It has been set up to get a large email database. It does not seem to have a proper membership base. How the money is directed to various campaigns seems to be a decision that is taken by a rather ad hoc committee. The whole democratic principle around how that committee is formed and how decisions are made seems to be a rather large grey area. It became clear to me that how they decide what campaigns they will favour or will not favour seems to be that they will always favour left-wing campaigns; it is just a matter of whether some of them are more to the extreme Left or not.

We have to be very clear and very transparent about what the organisation is about. I am not saying that we need to ban affiliates. All I am saying is that, if we are going to be truly transparent about the processes we look at, we have to ensure that there is full transparency of all those involved in election campaigns. If we do not we will see a move, which we have seen in many ways in the US, to these affiliates being set up and see large amounts of money pour into those affiliates. That will be at the expense of the proper and transparent process which occurs normally now where, if people donate to a political party and that donation is over the current threshold, it is rightly recorded and is there for all to see.

I also think that we need to be very careful to make sure that the threshold is set at a sensible level. One of the worries that small businesses, farmers and corporations have in donating to political parties is that they do not want to see retribution as a result of their donation. There needs to be the ability for them to donate without having a political party go through and examine records and then, potentially, seek retribution for that donation. That said, the threshold needs to be set at a sensible level so that people can give to a cause they believe in and that they think serves their overall interest by reducing red tape, by cutting taxes and by stopping government waste. They should be able to contribute to making sure we get good governance in this country and they should be able to do that without their names being held up on the public record.

I think the current threshold that we have is very sensible in that regard and should be maintained. In this report we have one side saying that the threshold needs to be lowered. It seems quite ironic that the Greens in their deal with the Labor Party made it a precondition that the threshold be reduced, yet we saw compelling evidence that a very large donation had been made to the Greens without their even batting an eyelid. How you reconcile that seems, on the face of it, to be gross hypocrisy, and as you delved into it it became even more apparent that it was gross hypocrisy. I do not know. That is why I think that, if we are serious about taking the next steps in this inquiry, there definitely should be a detailed examination of how affiliates work in our electoral system. We saw that with GetUp! There are also arguments to be made about how the trade union movement should be examined in that regard. I think we are seeing some interesting developments in the Australian democratic process because the unions have, on the whole, always donated to the Australian Labor Party but now we are seeing more and more that they are prepared to throw their weight behind the Greens as well. I think we need to have a look at the nature of that funding, what is happening with it and how it would be used because those affiliations are important. In the same way that we do that, we should look at affiliations across the board. I think that is where we should head with this inquiry.

I am sad to say that this inquiry did seem to be preordained in nature. We did hear some very good evidence, but the line of questioning seemed be heading in the direction that the government and the Greens want to go on this. Therefore the coalition has put in what I think is a very detailed and a very good dissenting report. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the other members of the coalition who worked so tirelessly on this report. We had Bronwyn Bishop leading the way. Anyone who sat in on any of the hearings would find it difficult not to have been impressed by the way that Bronwyn interrogated, examined and left no stone unturned in trying to get to the bottom of all the issues when it came to this inquiry. Occasionally there were some fierce interchanges with the chair, but I think Ms Bishop was very determined to make sure that all the issues were examined very thoroughly and that we were not wasting our time. I commend her for the way she went about her business. As a new member of parliament in my first term, there was a lot to learn from the way Bronwyn Bishop went about her interrogations. To the member for Mackellar I say well done.

Senator Scott Ryan, who has a very detailed knowledge and interest in these areas and follows these issues extremely closely, was also a pleasure to work with on this committee. His knowledge and background was invaluable in teasing out all the issues. I must say that his dedication to the cause also came out. Scott became a father during the process and I would like to congratulate him on that wonderful achievement. That did not stop him from being on the phone when we had hearings. I would like to thank the committee for allowing that practice because it meant that Scott could continue to participate, examine witnesses and get to the heart of what the inquiry was all about. He did an outstanding job at that.

It was a very good experience to sit on a committee such as this with my friend from the other side of Victoria, the member for Gippsland, Darren Chester. We were both able to bring a very strong regional and rural perspective to this issue, which I think is important because in trying to raise funds for election campaigns we have to deal with these issues in a different way to our urban colleagues. I think we both agree that this is one of the reasons why reducing the cap is going to make it harder, especially for those out in regional and rural areas where communities are a lot smaller and public disclosure of these things can be more significant. There is a need to set a sensible threshold. I would like to thank the member for Gippsland for his camaraderie and, I think, the very valid points that he raised through this.

I would ask that when this issue is taken forward our dissenting report be examined as closely, if not more closely, than the government's report. We put a lot of time and effort into really getting to the heart of the matters here. I think in particular that if we are serious about taking the next step from this committee inquiry that we need to have a serious inquiry on how affiliates work in the electoral process—particularly when it comes to funding campaigns. I think we all would agree that transparency is the first step we need to ensure.