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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 109

Senator RONALDSON (5:59 PM) —As honourable senators will be aware, our strong view has been that this bill should never have come before this chamber and that this bill should have been pulled, pending comprehensive campaign finance reform discussions. This amendment bill is of the government’s own making, quite frankly, and the government must wear the outcome of it. It had the opportunity to make this bill part of the campaign finance reform agenda. I indicate that the coalition will be supporting the Greens amendments for a number of reasons.

The minority report on the initial bill in relation to this matter, the Tax Laws Amendment (2008 Measures No. 1) Bill 2008, quite clearly showed—as quite eloquently referred to by my colleagues Senators Birmingham and Ryan—that Treasury could not actually indicate what the savings were going to be in relation to this matter. It was a hotchpotch from the start. It was never, ever designed as campaign finance reform, as I indicated earlier.

The Labor Party refuse to acknowledge that, under their proposals, were this bill to go through, they would retain quite an extraordinary advantage, to the detriment of all the non-government parties. That, clearly, has been recognised by us and it has been recognised by the Greens. I again refer to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, JSCEM, discussion, when the committee had to decide whether it would indeed deal with this bill. Senator Bob Brown voted with the coalition for the committee not to deal with it. It should be part of comprehensive campaign finance reform discussions. The Labor Party committee chair, with a casting vote, refused to make it so. So the outcome for the Labor Party today, as I said before, is entirely of its own making, and it must wear it.

The reality is that, as has been indicated by a number of speakers today, it is totally inappropriate for the Australian Labor Party to get very, very large donations—in fact, $36 million, as shown by the AEC yesterday—via union subscriptions which are tax deductions in the hand of the person who paid the subscription. Of course, that is then passed on to the Australian Labor Party. This bill seeks to give one treatment to people sending subscriptions to a union—and then back to the Australian Labor Party—but someone who wants to participate in the political process because they are passionate about it, who does not send this money back via a union subscription, is not able to get a tax deduction. That is totally inequitable. It is self-serving and it is only designed to continue an advantage.

The Labor Party stands condemned for that in this day and age, when we are seeing a diminution of community involvement in political parties and voluntary organisations, as I am sure honourable senators both younger and older than me will be aware. Because of the pressure on people’s time, they are no longer involved. This was one way for the average Australian who did want to participate in the political process, at a very low level of donation, in the main, to have the same advantage of tax deductibility as those who were donating via other methods such as subscriptions to unions and other organisations.

Our preference would have been for this bill to have been taken out and made part of campaign finance reform, but we have been swayed by the Greens argument that now is an appropriate time to bring these amendments in. We have thought long and hard about this, given our approach to this bill over many, many months. We have reflected on it, and the fact that it is a chance for all—or maybe all; I am not too sure what others, apart from the Greens and Senator Xenophon, are doing—to protect, one would hope, forever the right of individuals to make a small contribution to a political party or an individual within the system which is tax deductible. It is the same opportunity given to their next-door neighbour who might be putting in a donation by way of a union subscription or another method. So, having given this due consideration, we will be supporting the Greens amendments.