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Thursday, 9 December 1976
Page: 3588

Mr VINER (Stirling) (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) - It is really a long time since we have heard so much specious, hollow, hypocritical, insincere humbug as we have just heard from the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) who has spoken on the funding of political parties. In the history of the Australian Federation no Party has had such a remarkably clean record in government and in Opposition as have the Liberal and National Country Parties. The honourable member for Port Adelaide speaks about donations, which have ties, to political parties. He should remember recent events in his own Party. He is not prepared to listen to this. I notice he is leaving the House. In recent memory is the escapade at breakfast time of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) seeking half a million dollars of Iraqi money to finance the debts incurred by the Labor Party in the last Federal election. What tie was there to be for that money? That was secrecy par excellence in that proposed provision of funding for political parties not from inside Australia but from outside Australia. It was obviously intended to tie the fortunes of Australia to a foreign country. What more despicable conduct by a political party is there than that?

In more recent memory is the $25,000 that the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union paid to the Australian Labor Party as the price for getting amendments to the industrial legislation of the Commonwealth as required by that union. What about the conduct of the Premier of South Australia, which is the honourable member for Port Adelaide's own State? The Premier turned against the Federal Leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party because when the Labor Party was in government it introduced amendments to the taxation provisions affecting the wine industry contrary to the commitment that Mr Dunstan had made to the wine industry as the price for donations to the Australian Labor Party. What more tied funding of a political party could exist than that?

Mr Scholes - Do you not think that that information should be disclosed?

Mr VINER - It is all very well for the honourable member for Corio to interject but that fact would not have been disclosed if the Australian Labor Party, under the leadership of the present Leader of the Opposition, had not turned against the commitment which had been made. Mr Dunstan denounced his leader. That is another example of a secret commitment made to tie political funds to the advantage of a section of the Australian community.

What humbug, hypocrisy and insincerity we have heard from the lips of the honourable member for Port Adelaide. This is a typical example of the way the Opposition goes about its argument in this field. It uses insinuations without any statement of fact whatsoever to support its argument. The Opposition constantly points the finger at this side of the House and says: What have you to hide? You must have something to hide if you are not prepared to agree with this proposition'. Again, it is the kind of approach that is so shallow that I wonder that the honourable member for Port Adelaide has not learned the lesson of good debate. I think that what I have said is sufficient to indicate why the Government is not prepared to accept the argument put forward here today.

The Government wonders- as it has wondered before when the Opposition has spoken on this matter- if the Opposition's principal motivation is to seek the disclosure of the source of campaign funds so as to invade the privacy of individuals who contribute to political parties other than the Australian Labor Party. That is inherent in the Opposition's proposition. It wants to be able to have access to names of donors to individual members of Parliament, let alone to political parties. I remind the Opposition that when it proposed this motion when it was in government the former honourable member for Grayndler, Mr Fred Daly, who was handling electoral matters for the then Government, refused to accept a proposition put by us when in Opposition that a parliamentary committee be set up to examine electoral reform and to examine the Electoral Act itself. The then Leader of the House indicated at that stage on behalf of the Government that our proposal was a phoney stunt. If our proposal was phoney, the Opposition's proposal today is much more phoney. It completely lacks credibility.

I remind the honourable gentleman who proposed this motion that a census was conducted recently on the basis of which there will need to be a redistribution. A decision also is pending by the High Court of Australia on a challenge based upon the way in which quotas are fixed for determining the numbers of electors in electorates. The case before the High Court will determine whether people in the Territories are to be taken into account in determining the quota of electors for fixing the size of electorates. For those 2 reasons alone, it is premature to consider the establishment of any parliamentary committee to examine the Electoral Act. As well as that, the Government has said that a review of the Electoral Act is at present under way by the Australian Electoral Office. Let me remind honourable gentlemen that the Australian Electoral Office is a statutory body, independent of political parties. That body is conducting the inquiry and will advise the Government. So the Government can expect an impartial, objective review of the present provisions of the Electoral Act. When it has received that advice, the Government will consider what amendments need to be made to the Electoral Act. Proposals can always be put forward to fix the order on a ballot paper by ballot or by the alphabet or to change the closing time of polling booths on election day. These were a couple of the matters that were mentioned by the honourable member for Corio but they are incidental. I think that if members of the Opposition had some patience they would find that the review being conducted by the Australian Electoral Office, independent of all political parties, will be a satisfactory objective basis for advice to the Government. With those remarks, I think the debate should come to a conclusion and I move:

That the question be now put.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Original question resolved in the negative.

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