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Thursday, 15 November 2018
Page: 8418

Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and the Public Service, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (17:28): I'm very disappointed that my good friend and valued colleague Senator Farrell allowed himself to be provoked into partisanship, but the only thing that I could detect in the garbled first half of his contribution was that he was talking about a donation that never happened. It took him a very long time to get to the proposition that there was some suggestion of a donation that might happen but never happened. He didn't quite get to that conclusion, but that was the effect of what I heard him say.

Let me give a more coherent answer to the question that Senator Hanson has asked. At present, while details of political donations above the threshold of $13,800 need to be disclosed under the current rules, it is often not possible to ascertain whether a foreign source is involved. Thus it is not possible to ascertain, under the current disclosure rules, how common foreign donations are or what their value is. However, we do know that preventing undue foreign influence and the perception of such undue influence is critical to our democracy. Our amendments will increase the transparency and assurance about the source of donations to help keep foreign donations out of Australian elections.

Media reports increasingly document foreign attempts to influence elections around the world, which is a disturbing development. As I've indicated, Australia is one of the very few Western democracies in which foreign political donations are not as yet prohibited. It is good electoral reform housekeeping for us to catch up with what is already the prevailing law in most other Western democracies. Nobody can actually tell you with precision what has happened in the past, but, given international developments, given what's clearly been a matter of public debate in Australia for some time and given the views and the recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters on what should happen here, this is the best way forward. I hasten to add that it was, of course, the Liberal-National government that put forward this legislation. We put forward this legislation a year ago. It would have been great if we could have passed it more quickly, but we did think it was important to get this right in time for the next election, which is why we engaged in good faith with all relevant stakeholders and the opposition. I was somewhat saddened to see that that level of constructive bipartisanship disappeared for a moment.