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Monday, 16 March 2009
Page: 2675

Mr NEUMANN (4:45 PM) —It would surprise a lot of Australians to know that the current legislation in this area places no restriction on foreign donations. It is a fact that in Australia, unlike in America, foreign individuals or companies can contribute to political parties and candidates in such a way as to potentially influence the way they might vote, think or act. This came to prominence in 2006 when it was revealed in a number of newspapers, including the Australian and the Canberra Times, that a prominent British peer, Lord Ashcroft, in 2004 had donated $1 million to the Liberal Party of Australia. That sort of thing is simply outrageous and should not take place. I think most Australians would think it a matter of national sovereignty that large overseas companies were not in a position to exert influence in such a way. The legislation before the House, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2009, deals with such actions and will ensure that in future they cannot take place.

Also, there is the matter of anonymous donations. It is outrageous that a person can contribute up to $10,900, CPI indexed, and remain anonymous. That is a large sum of money by any stretch of the imagination. To think that you can remain anonymous in the circumstances is simply ridiculous. The initial bill proposed to prohibit all anonymous donations to registered political parties, candidates and members of a Senate group, but we have made some amendments to include a $50 exception, in response to the JSCEM’s advisory report on the bill. Responding to concerns that were raised, the JSCEM report recommended that the definition of ‘electoral expenditure’ be broadened to cover a range of campaign costs. The government, through these amendments, proposes to add three further categories of electoral expenditure that can be reimbursed. These include the rental of dedicated campaign premises; the hiring and payment of dedicated campaign staff; and the purchase, lease, hire or hire purchase of specified office equipment used for or during an election period. There is also an expansion of the categories of electoral expenditure to ensure there is no potential to double dip, because we do not want members of parliament making claims that have already been met, through their entitlements, by the Commonwealth.

As I indicated, the report recommended that there be a $50 exception to the prohibition on the acceptance of anonymous gifts. The basis for this recommendation was simply to overcome onerous or burdensome record keeping in certain circumstances—for example, a trivia night or barbecue, which is a very small fundraiser. The legislation is not meant to cover those sorts of things, so the $50 exception is a sensible approach in those circumstances.

This legislation goes a long way to restoring the integrity of our electoral system and processes. It makes a big impact with respect to the transparency, openness and accountability of our system for political donations. It bans political parties and candidates making a profit from the public purse in circumstances where they get on the Senate ticket or other ticket simply to raise money for themselves or an institution they are affiliated with and not to strive to be elected. Not to treat the electoral process as fair dinkum is outrageous. We have seen it in the past, and I have seen it locally up my way. Providing that a candidate has sufficient proof of electoral expenditure in submitting their claim and provided they do it in the time frame set for public funding, I think the public, and certainly my electors in Blair, would think it reasonable and appropriate.

These amendments are sensible and reasonable, and I submit that the bill should be supported by both sides of the House. It is not contentious and, in my view, it should be accepted. It is really quite disgraceful and shameful that those opposite, who have not offered one idea about electoral reform in terms of political donations, have opposed this legislation. I look forward with interest to seeing those opposite make even one constructive suggestion in the future with respect to electoral reform rather than continue to delay the very important reformist agenda of the Rudd Labor government.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr KJ Thomson)—I call the member for Gippsland, and in calling him I commend both him and the member for Blair on their new hairstyles—very fashionable.