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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 5

Senator FIELDING (Leader of the Family First Party) (12:54 PM) —This is a time when all Australians are tightening their belts. Politicians should share the burden and demonstrate to the public that sometimes turkeys do vote for Christmas. The Tax Laws Amendment (Political Contributions and Gifts) Bill 2008 is a piece of legislation to stop tax deductions for people and organisations that pay membership fees or make donations to political parties and politicians. Two and a half years ago Family First moved an amendment in the Senate to abolish tax deductibility status for political parties. The then government increased the tax deductibility amount from $100 to $1,500, which was just a rort. Family First argued that political parties were not charities; they are self-interested organisations pushing their own agendas. Community groups and lobby groups that push political agendas do not and should not have tax deductibility status, and neither should political parties.

While Family First agrees with the thrust of the bill, Family First wants to move an amendment to get rid of yet another rort where the major political parties are clawing back more and more funding for their excessive election campaigns. Public funding of federal election campaigns began for a legitimate reason: to provide for a reimbursement of legitimate campaign expenses, and people would say that is fair enough. The key word here, of course, is ‘legitimate’. But since this legislation was introduced in 1984 it has been rife with rorting—rife to the degree that public funding of federal election campaigns has skyrocketed more than 55 per cent over the last four elections. In real terms that means that public funding for the major political parties has spiralled. It was $28 million—excessive enough—but it has jumped to an obscene $43 million. That is $43 million of hard earned taxes paid by ordinary Australians that is spent by political parties to brag about themselves—to brag about what they have done and what they are going to do.

Times are enormously tough for so many in Australia, and our leaders are telling us to expect tough times to continue. So how can political parties justify taking that money given to them by hardworking Australians and then spending that money telling those same Australians how fantastic their political parties are? If political parties want to spend huge amounts on election campaigns, they can dig into their own pockets and get their hands out of the public purse. Australian families should not be expected to fund excessive spending by the major political parties.

We are all sick and tired of being bombarded every election with campaign mail and political TV ads every night, especially when we are paying for it. Family First will be moving an amendment to cap the amount that each major political party can claim from the public to fund their election campaigns to a maximum of $10 million. Ten million dollars for each major political party in each election is more than enough. That is a saving to taxpayers of more than $20 million each election. We must ask ourselves: do the public want their hard earned money spent on political junk mail when it could provide real services? Think about it. That is $20 million that could provide 57 dedicated breast cancer nurses. That $20 million that is saved could be used to invest in teachers. That is $20 million that could be used to help the poor and disadvantaged in our community, who are already struggling to survive.

I know what ordinary hardworking Australian families would choose. If we get it wrong today the public will remember how we gave priority to our own needs instead of the community’s needs, especially when times are so tough. Ten million dollars is more than enough money for any political party to spend on junk mail. Let’s use the rest for something much more important.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Marshall)—Senator Fielding, you indicated you had an amendment. Is that foreshadowing an amendment for the committee stage, or do you have one to move now?

Senator Fielding —That is foreshadowing an amendment.