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Friday, 29 May 1987
Page: 3599

Mr GRIFFITHS(10.23) —There is an old colloquialism that immediately springs to mind. The honourable member for Richmond (Mr Blunt) must have more cheek than the rear of an elephant. I was on the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform when it was originally formed. Of course, that Committee presided over the most significant overhaul of the electoral laws of this country. On any objective criterion, it has brought about a situ- ation in which the electoral laws in this country constitute the fairest and most democratic laws of any country. Indeed, that is a matter of which the Parliament can be very proud. It is worth noting that to a very large extent there was bipartisan support for the fundamental reforms that were brought in at that time. I recall quite vividly the honourable member for Richmond and one of his colleagues, Mike Evans, the then Queensland Director of the National Party of Australia, coming before our Committee and articulating to the Committee how they got around the tax laws in Australia to provide effectively tax free donations to the National Party. If I recall correctly, the honourable member for Richmond was madly kicking his garrulous colleague when he was giving evidence before the Committee.

Mr Hollis —With his white shoes?

Mr GRIFFITHS —Yes, with his white shoes, and in an attempt to shut him up from proceeding on a most embarrassing course of disclosure. It is mind boggling to listen in this chamber to a member of the National Party waxing lyrical about the alleged unfairness of some aspects of the electoral laws in this country. It plumbs the depths of cynicism. Not one person out there, whether he be a National Party, Liberal Party, Australian Democrats or Australian Labor Party supporter, would take the sort of tripe put here by the honourable member for Richmond without a very large grain of salt. There is not one person in this country who does not understand that one of the fundamental themes of government in this country is the gross distortion of the electoral process by the National Party generally and the National Party in Queensland in particular. It makes me a little angry to come into this chamber and listen to the sort of tripe we have been forced to put up with for the last few minutes.

Let me just witness what I would consider to be a couple of embarrassing objective examples that should prevent any member of the National Party getting up in this chamber and talking with clean hands on the issues of electoral laws and electoral fairness. The Premier of Queensland uses the taxpayers' money to the tune of $2,800 per hour every time he takes his jet on non-Queensland government business, as he often does. For goodness sake, at the moment he is flitting around Disneyland-fantasyland.

Mr Peter Morris —Do you know why he didn't come back? Because he had paid for all his rides in advance.

Mr GRIFFITHS —Yes, I heard that last night. My colleague the Minister for Transport confirms that the reason why Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersendid not return to Australia immediately the election was announced was that he had pre-paid his rides at Disneyland and wanted to use up his tickets. I think it is worth noting in this House that the sum of $2,800 per hour for the use of that jet for non-government business constitutes a massive and direct transfer of taxpayers' resources to the interests of the National Party. It has nothing to do with the philosophy that underlies public funding of political parties in this country.

Mr Tim Fischer —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. I point out that the House is debating a specific measure-the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill. Obviously, whilst we are in a pre-election mode and this deals directly with the conduct of the next election, the matters now being referred to by the honourable member are clearly outside the scope of the debate. You brought the honourable member for Richmond back to the terms of the Bill. I suggest that you should apply that same ruling to the honourable member now speaking.

Madam SPEAKER —I reply to the honourable member for Farrer by saying that two or three times I advised the honourable member for Richmond to return to the Bill. He chose to ignore the advice on a couple of occasions and opened the debate fairly wide. I think under the circumstances the honourable member for Maribyrnong should be allowed the same latitude.

Mr GRIFFITHS —Thank you for your much appreciated protection, Madam Speaker. Of course, the honourable member for Farrer is a Joh candidate; there is a degree of sensitivity attaching to any criticism of Bjelke-Petersen. Simply because he is too scared to be in the same chamber, where constructive criticism is put forward--

Madam SPEAKER —The honourable member for Maribyrnong should leave criticism of the honourable member for Farrer out of this.

Mr GRIFFITHS —Thank you, Madam Speaker. I will be guided by you on that issue. In the recent past there have been a couple of spectacular examples of attempts to override and rort the electoral and taxation laws of this country. To be bipartisan about this, I need only witness the Cook electorate council of the Liberal Party-this has been documented and raised in this House before-which recently wrote to Party members advising them how they could go about rorting the tax system so as to provide tax free donations to the Liberal Party of Australia. As a corollary to the rorting of the taxation laws of this country proposed in the correspondence there was the entree for three dinners with Ministers of that Government should they be brought to power. For goodness sake, if there is any objective assessment as to what would constitute fair and reasonable behaviour by political parties and individuals, that must be in gross breach of those standards. I think most members of this House would abhor that sort of behaviour and that sort of attempt to rort the electoral and taxation laws of this country.

Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen just a short while ago, and again on the public record-this is not something that the honourable member for Maribyrnong is dreaming and it is not coming straight off the top of my head-proposed that should he become Prime Minister or should the Government change he would retrospectively end the disclosure laws that are an inherent and fundamental part of the electoral laws of this country. That is an open invitation to the white shoe brigade and the sleaze brigade to make donations to the National Party without any public disclosure at all. I find that attitude to the governance of this country abhorrent and I have no hesitation in using the strong terminology that I have used. That would really be government by a group of renegade thugs and crooks; we would get to the stage where we positively invited the rorting of our taxation laws and corruption by having a quid pro quo in terms of access to Ministers.

To top it all off, we could go a little further. Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen campaigned strongly and ad nauseam on the issue of the repugnance of retrospectivity in government legislation. He proposes, without blushing-that is what offends me the most-to embrace the same philosophy of retrospectivity to abolish disclosure laws that provide a window through which the Australian people may view those who seek, either for altruistic reasons or for more sinister motives, to fund political parties in this country and therefore to seek influence in the government decision making processes. That would be an abhorrent series of issues that every honourable member in this chamber, notwithstanding his political position or prejudices, ought properly to denounce. One could go on.

I say only in passing that I had a discussion last evening with a colleague-and I will not say who it was, but he happens to be a friend of mine from the other side of the House-and the honourable member for Dunkley (Mr Chynoweth). We were talking about the difficulties of fund raising, which we all face. The honourable member from the other side pointed out that he had held a function for about 240 people that raised $20,000. I say good luck to him. That is a fair and reasonable way to go about raising the funds required to carry out the duties of the political parties of this country. However, it is also worth making the following point: Both the honourable member for Dunkley and I expressed surprise to that honourable member that with a catchment of 240 people a profit of $20,000 was made. That represents an awful lot of money for each individual. I have no embarrassment in saying that the Labor Party simply would not be able, and in my experience never has been able, to put on a constituency function --

Mr Tim Fischer —As opposed to Bob Hawke's black tie one.

Mr GRIFFITHS —I am making the distinction, which is an obvious one. The Labor Party would not be able to hold a constituency function that pulls in that much money from each individual. Our constituencies cannot do that. However, I will say that it is a fair and reasonable way to go about fund raising, and it is a damn sight better than the Bjelke-Petersen Foundation. It is better than people in public forums in this country owning up to the fact that they purchased knighthoods of the realm. That is an absolutely disgraceful state of affairs.

Mr Scott —What was the going rate?

Mr GRIFFITHS —It was about $60,000-an anonymous donation to the Bjelke-Petersen Foundation. Even I, the humble member for Maribyrnong, could be Sir Alan Griffiths. Perish the thought; perish the day! It is absolutely disgraceful that the laws and privileges of the gov- ernments of this country can be rorted in such an abhorrent and public way. People can put $60,000 into the kick and they become a knight of the realm. Of course it goes much further.

Mr Humphreys —Twenty-five thousand dollars.

Mr GRIFFITHS —Twenty-five thousand dollars, as my colleague the honourable member for Griffith reminds me, for--

Mr Humphreys —Twenty-five thousand dollars for breakfast with Joh.

Mr GRIFFITHS —Yes, for breakfast with Joh. There would have to be an awful lot of cornflakes for $25,000. Of course, there are an awful lot, because everyone in Queensland knows that, if they do not donate to the Bjelke-Petersen Foundation, the government contracts dry up. We had a classic example of that in here the other day. The honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Ian Cameron), a member of this chamber and one of the battling members of the National Party of Australia, was involved in a $460m land development project in Queensland. The Queensland Premier and some of his Ministers indicated on the public record that they were going to fast track the applications through the processes of the Queensland Government. Why were they prepared to do that? A charitable interpretation could be that the project has importance for the future of Queensland. A less charitable interpretation could be that he is a member of the National Party and one of the boys, one of the mates.

Mr Tim Fischer —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise under standing order 76, which states:

All imputations of improper motives and all personal reflections on members shall be considered highly disorderly.

What the honourable member for Maribyrnong is developing now is an attack on the honourable member for Maranoa and on the motives of the honourable member for Maranoa in quite properly proceeding with a project in his home State. I believe in that respect he is now out of order.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —I am listening carefully to what the honourable member for Maribyrnong says. At this stage he is in order, but I caution him about proceeding to attack another member.

Mr GRIFFITHS —Mr Deputy Speaker, I have no intention of reflecting on the honourable member for Maranoa. If one uses an ounce of intellect and goes over what I have just put, one will see quite clearly that I have been very careful not to do that. I hasten to add that, were I of a mind to do so, I would contact the honourable member for Maranoa and I would then go ahead while he was sitting here.

The issue that I want to raise here is this one fundamental reality; and this comes not from the honourable member for Maranoa but from senior Government Ministers in Queensland: They were prepared to fast track that $460m land development project that our honourable member for the National Party is involved with-and good luck to him, if that is how he likes to spend his business time.

Mr Millar —His parliamentary allowances.

Mr GRIFFITHS —His parliamentary allowances; that is fair enough by me. I do not reflect on him at all, but I do say this: It is on the public record that the Queensland Government was fast-tracking his application. Whether it was doing that for the benefit of Queensland or because the participants in the project included people very close to the Queensland National Party and a member of the Queensland National Party, I will leave to others to judge. But it is very important to note this point-the most important point on this aspect of my contribution: When the honourable member for Maranoa had the temerity to question the Joh for Canberra crusade explicitly and implicitly, what happened? This great project for the future of Queensland had the old rug pulled right out from under it, and the Queensland Government Ministers said on the public record that they were giving no further assistance. It was a classic case of the heavy handed blackmail that has become the hallmark of the operations of the Queensland Government. I notice that no-one is taking a point of order on that, because everyone in this House knows that those comments are fundamentally true and fundamentally accurate, and are comments that we all ought to be fundamentally ashamed of. I could go on in terms of the National Party, and I may come back to it if I do not run out of time.

There are a couple of other points that I wish to make. The honourable member for Richmond pointed to what he saw as a discrepancy between the number of senators for the State of New South Wales and the number for Tasmania. He described that as a gerrymander. His describ- ing as a gerrymander the similarity in the number of senators for Queensland and the number for New South Wales, pursuant to our Constitution, clearly allows only one implication to be drawn. The National Party, because it does not do so well in Tasmania will, if it has an opportunity, knock off the representation that Tasmanians deserve and expect under the Constitution of this country. That is the only conclusion that one can draw. I think it is important that I place on the public record my view that the National Party should not attempt to rort the Constitution if it has the opportunity to do so in this Parliament, by preventing Tasmanians from having the appropriate numbers of senators for which provision is made under the Constitution of this country.

Mr Tim Fischer —You are drawing a long bow.

Mr GRIFFITHS —The honourable member says I am drawing a long bow. The honourable member for Richmond described-and he can check the Hansard-as a gerrymander the fact that New South Wales had the same numbers of senators as Tasmania. There is only one objective implication that can be drawn from that statement-that is, he would reduce the number of Tasmanian senators if he had half a chance to do so.

There is a range of other important issues on which I will touch briefly. We talk about political parties. I do not think there is a political party in this country which can enter the debate about the fairness of electoral laws with completely clean hands. But this Government has gone so far down the track to make the electoral laws of this country fair, democratic and reasonable that I think we can legitimately lay claim to being the best of a sometimes very bad bunch. Let me give a couple of important examples. In Queensland the politicians draw the boundaries. What happens in Queensland? There are zones. There is a farcical situation in which numbers of voters are extracted from the middle of electorates to rort the outcome when the ballot finally proceeds. The gerrrymander in Queensland, on any objective assessment, is a rort. Everyone ought to accept that point. It fundamentally underpins the rort that constitutes the Queensland Government.

I do not want to concentrate only on the Queensland Government. This Government has brought about a situation in which we have an independent Electoral Commissioner. We do not draw the boundaries any more; the independent Electoral Commissioner does that. Compare that with what happens in Queensland. As a result, we have a fair redistribution. Compare that with what happens in Queensland. We have public funding and disclosure rules that are probably as good as one could expect to find anywhere in the world. The issues that are before this House today are of fundamental importance.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.