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Thursday, 15 November 2018
Page: 8270

Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and the Public Service, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (11:48): I seek leave to move a motion to provide for the consideration of the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017.

Leave not granted.

Senator CORMANN: Pursuant to contingent notice standing in my name, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Cormann moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to provide for consideration of the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017 may be moved immediately and determined without amendment or debate.

The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017, which is before the chamber today, is a very important reform to our electoral system. It's a reform that seeks to ensure that the electoral system in Australia is not subject to undue foreign interference, because Australia is, of course, one of the few Western democracies in which foreign donors can still influence domestic elections. It's also a bill which seeks to ensure that all political actors are subject to similar disclosure, transparency, reporting requirements and are subject to the same ban on foreign political donations. It's very important for this bill to be dealt with before we leave. The government is concerned, given the slowness with which government legislation has progressed through the Senate this week, albeit some very important reforms have been passed. There was the reform to GST-sharing arrangements, which delivered a better deal for Western Australia in a way that's good for the national economy and good for every other state in that it leaves them better off. And, of course, earlier today the Senate dealt with the My Health Record bill.

However, progress has been slow. There are a whole range of bills that are important and that need to be dealt with. The government doesn't have confidence that this will happen unless we move this particular motion. I hasten to say that this bill was introduced some time ago. It's gone through a very thorough parliamentary inquiry process. It's gone through the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in what I would argue was a non-partisan spirit on several occasions. The government has really worked overtime to ensure that the piece of legislation which is in front of the Senate here today has the broadest possible consensus in terms of support in this chamber. Indeed, I would like to thank publicly on the record the shadow special minister of state and Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Farrell, for the constructive way in which he and his office have engaged with me and my office in making sure that we reach a sensible balance in relation to the reform proposals in front of us.

Given that there is a consensus—and I believe, a sensible consensus—I think it's important for us to deal with this legislation before we leave the Senate this week so that during the next sitting fortnight this can finally be sent through the House of Representatives in good time for the election which, of course, is due to take place sometime in the first half of next year—more likely towards the latter part of the first half of next year. But, nevertheless, with electoral reforms of this nature there are always a range of practical implementation arrangements and administrative matters that have to be dealt with. The sooner we can provide certainty to organisations like the Australian Electoral Commission and also to all the relevant political stakeholders—political parties, political campaign organisations and associated entities—which will have to comply with the requirements of enhanced transparency and disclosure and also be subject to the ban on foreign political donations, the better. They all deserve certainty.

I would say that, as the government, we very much appreciate the spirit in which the charitable sector and other stakeholders have engaged with the government. We have genuinely sought to listen to legitimate issues that have been raised with us. But, obviously, we've also drawn the line in making sure that the important parts of the reform were maintained in the bill that's in front of the Senate.

One of the issues that was raised early, of course, was in relation to whether or not the charitable sector should be excluded from the scope of this legislation altogether. The reason that couldn't be done is that unless there is a consistent approach in terms of a ban on foreign political donations in relation to anyone who may get involved in political campaigning then, of course, any such ban could easily be circumvented. What we have sought to do in this bill is to get the balance right, so we have narrowed the definition of what 'political expenditure' means to ensure that it is more narrowly targeted. I hasten to add that the definition of political expenditure is, of course, not something that we in this parliament put into the Electoral Act. It is something— (Time expired)