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Friday, 12 June 2020
Page: 4188


Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (11:15): Firstly, I'd like to thank the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters for undertaking an inquiry with respect to my private member's bill, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Lowering the Donation Disclosure Threshold) Bill 2019. I would say that the bill was not asking for the world. It just sought to make the political world more transparent to an increasingly cynical nation. The committee examined the issue of lowering the political donation threshold from $13,800 to $1,000 and removing ongoing indexation. The decision of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters not to recommend that it be put forward to the parliament is not only disappointing but, I would go as far to say, a blow to democracy. I would like to thank Labor for their dissenting report and I would encourage people who are interested in this area to read the report.

I would like to note the committee's comments on what they were potentially concerned about. They say the bill 'would potentially place considerable additional administrative and financial burdens on the Australian Electoral Commission; minor political parties; independents; community groups; charities; and third parties'. I can say, as a member from a minor party, that we can live with that administrative burden. We don't have the resources that even, say, the Greens have. They actually have party status. There are just three of us. We would be very satisfied, as would be a number of Independents in this place who want to see this kind of donation reform.

Let me be quite clear: right now, a family of five can give $60,000 to a political party and no-one in Australia is any the wiser. I don't think that's a good situation. I think that there are many people right across Australia who don't think that is a fair and right thing to exist in our democracy. The Museum of Australian Democracy report in 2018 clearly showed that trust in democracy is on the decline, with satisfaction in democracy more than halved in a decade and trust in key institutions and social levers eroding. As leaders in the political system, it's up to us—it's up to the parliament—to address this decline. We cannot continue to avoid the reality of the decline in trust in us and the decline in respect for us. You only have to look to the United States to see how the collapse in trust of those in authority has driven millions to the streets to protest in the middle of a pandemic. Trust takes time to rebuild, but the first steps towards that, I believe, include transparency. That 2018 Museum of Australian Democracy report showed that most Australians are happy with democracy as a system of government. They just do not like the way politicians practise democracy. One of the first steps towards fixing this is to open the books so people have a greater understanding of exactly who is funding politicians to get into the job before they go to the ballot box.

I am forever an optimist. I note that there will be a review in November that the committee will be undertaking. That will look at the new legislation, the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Act 2018. It will undertake a holistic examination of the current disclosure regime of political donations. As I said, I am optimistic that we will see change. I think it will benefit all of us: minor parties, Independents and major parties. The more we can do to regain the trust of the Australian community the better for all of us.