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Wednesday, 24 March 2004
Page: 21824

Senator MACKAY (3:06 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer (Senator Coonan) to a question without notice asked by Senator Mackay today relating to the deductible gift recipient status of the Constitutional Education Fund.

In the time available to me I wish to lay out the case as the Labor Party sees it. The Constitution Education Fund Australia has been sending out information about its Constitution Education Fund prize scheme. The material being distributed lists the fund's trustees as Professor David Flint, Commissioner Gareth Grainger and John Barrington Paul Esq. The address for the fund is Kent Street, Sydney—the same street and postal address as the organisation Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, whose national convener is Professor David Flint. This material states, inter alia:

In June 2003, the Federal Government granted tax deductibility for all donations to the Fund to the value of $2 or more.

A quick check of the Australian Taxation Office web site shows that in fact the fund does not have deductable gift recipient, DGR, status. The Constitution Education Fund prize scheme was launched at the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy national conference in October 2002. The Australians for Constitutional Monarchy web site tells those wanting `more information on the Australian Constitution and these prizes' to `visit the official web site of the prize scheme'. However, no search engine I used could find any such web site. The only references to the Constitution Education Fund and the Constitution Education Fund prize that I could find were on the ACM site and in a press release issued by Minister Coonan that is in fact on her web site.

According to the information on the ACM web site:

The Fund's principal objective is to educate Australians of all ages on the detail and workings of the Australian Constitution and the Australian system of government.

This is a noble objective—nobody on this side of the chamber would disagree with that. However, I am concerned about the balance that may exist in the educating of Australians when the fund itself is being administered by Professor Flint and Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. The Commonwealth identifies civics and citizen education as a priority. The opposition supports the $32 million that has been put into the Discovering Democracy program—it is a good program. In contrast to this program, or `complementing' it, as Minister Coonan's press release says, we have the proposed Constitution Education Fund prize program. This is administered by Australians for Constitutional Monarchy and with judging panels to `be announced' but selected from `distinguished Australians'. There is no indication as to who they are. There are a number of prize categories with different sections for public speaking, web site design and essay writing. I am very intrigued with respect to the essay question. According to the web site, students will be asked to imagine that they are an adviser to the Prime Minister and then provide a:

500 word factual scenario for an hypothetical constitutional crisis to be inserted here.

I wonder what that hypothetical constitutional crisis will be. The year 1975 springs to mind. What will the winners of the Constitution Education Fund prize program receive? There are a few categories and a number of prizes, but my favourite is the prize for the winner of the secondary public speaking section. That lucky student will get:

... an all expense paid ten day holiday for a family of four to the Palace of Westminster in the United Kingdom and the Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

Senator Sherry —We're subsidising this!

Senator MACKAY —That's right, Senator Sherry. Senator Coonan said on 20 June 2003 that she would introduce legislation as soon as practicable to give effect to her announcement that this organisation would be granted deductable gift recipient status. This makes me very angry. I am not sure that the minister should even be presuming that the Senate will pass this legislation. I call on the minister and the government to thoroughly investigate this issue to ensure that there are clear and valid grounds for granting DGR status to this Constitution Education Fund, before the legislation comes back before the Senate. I also call on the minister to act urgently to stop Professor Flint from continuing to mislead potential donors by promising that his fund holds DGR status when it does not at this point in time and may never depending on the will of the Senate.