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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 113

Senator RONALDSON (6:20 PM) —The coalition will not be supporting Senator Fielding’s amendment, but I will say that Senator Fielding has obviously raised an issue that needs to be discussed at some length in this campaign finance reform process. I would have preferred that discussion to take place in the context of that process, but I can understand that Senator Fielding has been moved to do that because the Labor Party themselves have not, in my view, done the right thing with the deductibility bill. That should also have been part of this wide discussion.

Back in March of last year, Senator Fielding supported the coalition motion on a reference to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. Part of that was the appropriateness of current levels of public funding provided for political parties and candidates contesting federal elections. This is a debate that has to be had and it should not be done in isolation. It should be in toto. I agreed with Senator Ludlam when he said that this is just the start of the process. The coalition believes absolutely that this is just the start of the process. It needs a commonsense approach to an issue that the Australian community believes is a serious one, and quite rightly so. It will require the goodwill of everyone in this place. In fact, we are charged with the responsibility of putting in place a campaign finance reform proposal that restores some faith in the process to the Australian community and provides a workable solution to an issue that I think is of concern.

Senator Conroy —Why don’t you start by declaring Cormack.

Senator RONALDSON —I find it quite unbelievable that Senator Conroy has interjected in relation to this matter. Sometimes it is smarter to say nothing than to toss in a throwaway line. I appreciate that his recent ‘marriage’ to Senator Carr in Victoria has probably clouded his judgement a little bit. In fact, if it had happened to me it would have completely clouded mine.

I think it is extraordinary that we had evidence this morning that the federal Labor Party rejected a donation of $499,980 from the wife of Mr Stanley Ho but that the New South Wales division of the Labor Party was quite happy to accept—taking a figure off the top of my head—something approaching $600,000 or $800,000. And where did that money end up? In the finances of the federal Labor Party. So do not talk to me, Senator Conroy, about foundations. Please, jump up and tell the chamber that there are no foundations run by the Labor Party that are providing administrative support to the Australian Labor Party, because you know as well as I do that that is patent nonsense.

That sort of interjection is actually standing in the way of a sensible approach to this issue. We have all acknowledged that there is an issue and we all acknowledge that we have got to do something about it—or we can play games. You were prepared to sit back and accept $61.4 million in funding from the union movement between 1 July 2006 and 30 June 2008, and then you come in here with legislation that is designed to protect union donations going to Australian Labor Party coffers but that denies tax deductibility for ordinary Australians who want to participate in the political process. The level is very small, but they are passionate about it. I think we have got a clear indication of who wants campaign finance reform and who does not. I suspect that it is this side of the chamber and the Greens and Family First and Senator Xenophon, but it is not the Australian Labor Party. So either we approach this sensibly or we have churlish and childish interjections about who is doing what.

I am backing the side that thinks we need to do something. I am backing the side of the Australian community, who think there is something terribly wrong with our system. They have watched the Wollongong sex and bribery scandal and they know that if we do not do something the only ones who will suffer will be the Australian community. But we have got this tax deductibility bill that does not resolve the Wollongong sex and bribery scandal.

Let us have a sensible discussion about where we are going to take the campaign finance reform agenda. Let us work together, which I think we are capable of doing, and let us get an outcome that is an appropriate legacy to restore some confidence in the system, because I think that confidence has, quite frankly, disappeared. It is incumbent upon us to do something about it. But when you are protecting your funding base by bringing in legislation that is designed only to maintain a difference in ability to raise funds, I do not think you are terribly serious about it. If it is trying to entrench a differential between the Australian Labor Party and every other political party in this country, I think the Australian Labor Party needs to have a good, long, hard look at itself. There is no point in going through processes such as the green paper and protesting that you are engaged in this process when today, 24 hours after the AEC released its figures for last year, you are prepared to debate in this place a bill with which you are trying to entrench that differential. It really does beggar belief. So let us do this properly and acknowledge the role of political parties and individuals within the political system and let us acknowledge that they do require funding to maintain their activities. Let us sit down and work out the best way of delivering that which restores some confidence back into the system for the Australian people.