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Thursday, 15 November 2018
Page: 8271


Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (11:53): I indicate that the opposition supports this motion. I don't believe we can wait another minute to end the foreign donations in our political system. For 120 years of elections, foreigners have been able to participate in the Australian political process. This legislation, if it passes, will end that. Only Australians—and a few New Zealanders—will be able to participate in a practical way in the Australian process.

We've been trying to get this legislation up for two years. Mr President, you'd know that because, for a period of time, you were Special Minister of State and you would have seen, almost two years ago in this place, that I introduced a bill that was going to ban foreign donations. It didn't get the support of the Senate, so my leader, Bill Shorten, took up the cudgels, and he produced a bill in the lower house of the parliament. Again, that bill failed to get through the parliament. We had to wait until the last day of the last week of the parliament last year before the former Prime Minister, Prime Minister Turnbull, introduced his response to the two Labor bills in respect of foreign donations. We saw, correctly, that he was going to ban foreign donations, but he was also going to do a whole lot of other things that were going to curtail the ability of charities, the non-government sector and civil society to participate properly in the political debate.

There were a lot of people throughout that process who thought that it would not be possible for the government and the opposition to sit down sensibly and negotiate about these things, but, as Senator Cormann has kindly acknowledged, we were prepared to do that. We were prepared to do that because we knew the importance of ridding foreign donations from our political system. We had to do it. We had to sit down with the government, and we did that. My staff—young Ben Rillo there, and the rest of his colleagues in my office—have been working tirelessly for the last 12 months to do that. We've had two JSCEM inquiries into this legislation. There have been 12 months of debate and consultation.

I have to say that the charities have been terrific throughout this process. They have been prepared to accept the fundamental proposition that we have to end foreign donations in our political system. You've only got to look, Mr President—I know you're a fan of the American political system—at what's happened in the United States since the last presidential election on the issue of foreign involvement in their political process.

Senator Cormann: Alleged.

Senator FARRELL: Okay—alleged foreign interference in their political process. I don't want there to be one skerrick of concern after our next election that we've got anything like the problems that have occurred in the United States. How do we fix that? We ban foreign donations.

I listened to the contributions of Senator Waters and Senator Siewert, and both of them acknowledged that this legislation progresses that issue. They don't like it. I accept that they aren't going to vote for the legislation. But they both acknowledged this was a step forward. You don't always get everything you want in politics—that's the nature of our system—but this is one of the most significant steps forward in the Australian political system as it relates to donations. This is a significant issue of donation reform. We can't wait any longer. We need to get it done today so that in a week's time we can get it through the lower house. Time is running out. We've only got two more weeks of sitting this year. If we don't get it done today, there's a chance we won't get it done, and a whole lot of question marks will then potentially arise over our next election.