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Tuesday, 9 May 2000
Page: 16080

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (5:07 PM) —This bill and these amendments are before the House for the third time; therefore, we have had a pretty considerable discussion in relation to these issues so I do not particularly want to canvass each of the points that have been made regarding this legislation and the amendments that have been the subject of dispute. But just to recap the basic points: there are amendments that are the subject of dispute between the House and the Senate because the parties in the Senate, including the Labor Party, have taken issue with some of the government's propositions on environmental philanthropy and the question of tax deductibility for contributions to funds describing themselves as charitable when in fact they are engaging in providing monies or other benefits to political parties. So we have had a debate in the Senate essentially around those two issues.

Unfortunately, the Australian Democrats, who had previously supported Labor concerning this matter, have decided to support the government. We think that is a matter of great regret. Firstly, in relation to the issue of environmental philanthropy, we moved amendments in that area because we felt that was an appropriate place to deal with measures that go to the issue of environmental philanthropy. We saw the extraordinary step of the Australian environment minister, Senator Hill, writing to environment groups to try to get them to lobby the Australian Democrats against their own amendments. This was not our view. We felt this was a good policy. It was a policy supported by the CSIRO and we certainly would have hoped that the Senate would have stuck to its guns and insisted on those amendments. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Having said that, the question of rorting of the philanthropic provisions of this legislation is something that is a matter of considerable concern to us. We are concerned to ensure that tax deductibility is denied for contributions to private funds where those funds provide money to political parties. These amendments are very important because they address the somewhat shadowy area of Liberal Party fundraising. The history of this issue in the Senate is that Senator Faulkner sought to get from Senator Kemp a commitment that would have ensured this rort was not available. Senator Faulkner sought a commitment that the Greenfields Foundation would not be a prescribed fund for the purposes of the act, but he could not get that from Senator Kemp. He sought a commitment that the Treasurer would declare in writing that a fund like the Greenfields Foundation would not be a prescribed fund for the purposes of the act. He could not get that commitment either. He sought a commitment that we could have a separate regulation for the Greenfields Foundation so that, if it were regulated under the Income Tax Assessment Act, it could be disallowed by the Senate. Again, no such commitment was forthcoming.

So, when the Assistant Treasurer is unable or unwilling to give those commitments, you have to ask why. We expressed the concern that the government wanted to put in the fix through the Greenfields Foundation to launder donations under the guise of donations to charities. You have to understand that the issue we have been looking at here is whether Greenfields should be given a break. You have to remember just how the Greenfields Foundation came to be set up: basically, the Liberal Party were broke but Ron Walker thought up the idea of giving them some of his own money—presumably it was his own money—an amount of some $4.6 million. So they set up the Greenfields Foundation. But they did not give the money; they lent the money to the Liberal Party with virtually no interest payable. (Extension of time granted) The intention of this was so that they could avoid disclosure. You have to ask why the Liberal Party sought to hide a donation from Ron Walker of $4.6 million. The answer to this is quite simple: it is because Mr Walker and Mr Williams were doing very nicely out of the Kennett government in terms of the operation of Crown Casino in Victoria and the changes made by the Kennett government to the terms of the licence of the Crown Casino where the government put a cap on the number of poker machines that would be in competition with them, and they were able to lift their bid for the original casino licence to match that which Sheraton had put in. These things apparently happened by osmosis.

Given those concerns we have about the background to the establishment of the Greenfields Foundation, we believe that the Senate should have persisted with this amendment because it would have knocked off one of the great rorts of Australian politics; in fact, it is the case that the Liberal Party have opposed every tightening of the disclosure laws, from 1983 right through to the present. They have never supported them; they have always opposed them. They have always wanted to get some grubby money together and hide the source, and we are concerned that they will be able to do this using this associated entity, Greenfields, to raise the money and, lo and behold, they get a tax break in the process! We think that is a disgrace and we are opposing it here.

We know that there have been some donations to charities from the Greenfields Foundation, but the problem is that well in excess of $4½ million has been loaned by the Greenfields Foundation to the Liberal Party as a so-called charitable trust. It might have given $80,000 in donations to registered charities, but its real operation is about supporting the activities of the Liberal Party. What the Liberal Party is really on about is trying to ensure that the identity of those responsible for providing money to the Greenfields Foundation is not disclosed. It is a mechanism established for the sole purpose of exploiting a loophole in the Commonwealth Electoral Act. It is a breach of the spirit and intent of the act in relation to disclosure of political donations.

I will conclude by again expressing my disappointment that the Australian Democrats have folded and have not seen fit to support this position. They were prepared to support the amendments on previous occasions in the Senate. I suspect that some Australian Democrat senators with finer feelings continue to support it but that they have been overruled by others. Senator Bartlet, in support of their new position, said that Mr Slipper—referring to the parliamentary secretary—was quite openly happy to say that the government has no intention of using the Greenfields Foundation for this purpose. I have to assure the Australian Democrats that a statement made in here by the parliamentary secretary does not constitute a legal guarantee. Senator Bartlett said:

There is no doubt that the Greenfields Foundation has operated in a way that is highly dubious, to put it politely.

Given that background, it is appropriate that we have some legal framework to prevent rorting of this kind. On that basis, we have put forward the amendments that we have. We believe they are important amendments and regret that neither the government nor the Democrats have seen fit to support them.