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Thursday, 15 November 2018
Page: 8416

Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and the Public Service, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (17:17): The government will not be supporting any of the Greens amendments. The first Greens amendment would change the commencement date to push back commencement until after the next election, rather than allowing a ban on foreign political donations to come into effect from proclamation, which would be well and truly in time, before the next election, to ensure we can prevent inappropriate foreign political interference in our next federal election. I don't quite know why the Greens would want to help facilitate continued foreign political interference in our Australian federal election next year. I don't understand the intent behind this amendment, to be honest. It would be bad policy to deliberately delay the start of a foreign political donations ban until after the next election, given the increased evidence around the world of the risk of foreign interference in elections. The parliament needs to act in a timely way to prevent future risks to our democracy.

In relation to amendment (2) Senator Waters is entirely incorrect—Senator Waters is not correct—in her assertion that Queensland laws would need amendment to avoid conflict with federal law. I can only assume that Senator Waters hasn't sufficiently reviewed government amendments that were passed through this chamber a few minutes ago. The government's amendments make it clear that the mere decision to spend a donation on a state electoral expense will invoke state law. That's a very important point. The mere decision to spend a political donation on a state electoral expense will invoke state law.

The government's intent here has been very clear from the start. We have worked successfully with the opposition to refine the way that we are approaching this. Our intent is to ensure that there is clarity, that federal laws regulate federal elections and that state laws regulate elections under state jurisdictions; principally state and local government elections. We also believe it's very important there is clarity for all of the impacted stakeholders who have to comply with various regulatory regimes in terms of where the boundary is between federal law and the regulation of federal elections and state law and the regulation of elections under state jurisdiction.

Government amendments comprehensively dealt with the Commonwealth and state law interactions. This amendment would reverse those changes. If the government's amendments were not made, there would be ambiguity for regulated entities and, in light of recent court decisions, overlap between various state, territory and Commonwealth laws on political donations. Any ambiguity and overlap would increase the regulatory compliance burden for affected entities, with multiple laws in different jurisdictions applying to the same financial transaction. On that basis we would urge the Senate not to support this Greens amendment.

In relation to the disclosure threshold, this amendment would reduce the disclosure threshold from $13,800 to $1,000. This amendment is very badly drafted, because it not only impacts donors but also has the consequence of reclassifying numerous very small organisations as third-party campaigners if they spend more than $1,000 in a year on electoral expenses. The Greens would tie up the sectors that they supposedly support in massive additional red tape; they would choke the charitable sector in massive additional red tape. This change alone would, as I say, drag numerous not-for-profit and charitable organisations under the new reporting rules for third parties. This would sweep up tiny groups like neighbourhood associations, RSL branches, footy clubs and other tiny players who comment favourably or adversely on a federal politician or federal party. This extreme change in this third amendment, in terms of expanding the reporting net, has not been discussed, as I understand it, with the charitable or non-profit sector, and, unlike other major amendments, was not considered by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. You see, we, the government, have exposed ourselves to proper process; we have exposed ourselves to thorough, constructive and good-faith engagement with the opposition, and so we have a high level of confidence that there is broad support—perhaps not 100 per cent support—for the balance that we have reached. This third amendment would be an extreme change in the reporting net and, as I say, would actually have a massively negative impact on the charitable and not-for-profit sector, which the Greens assert they are standing up for in this chamber today.

The fourth amendment, redefining gifts, is in our assessment lacking in logic. The amendment would treat the cost of food at a fundraising event as if it were a gift. By contrast, the government's amendments, which are supported by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, have greater logic, because it is only the profit component of an event price that should be treated as a gift.