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Tuesday, 27 November 2018
Page: 11594

Mr GOSLING (Solomon) (13:25): I thank the previous speaker, the member for Scullin, for his words and for framing the debate in a bipartisan way. But, in doing so, I want to remind people of some history, because I think history's important. The intent of the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2018 is to ban foreign donations from the Australian political system, and this has been Labor policy for years. Labor went to the 2016 election with a policy to ban foreign donations, require disclosure of donations over $1,000, ban donation splitting, ban anonymous donations over $50, limit public funding of campaign expenditure and to introduce new offences and increase penalties. Not just did we go to the 2016 election with that policy; we introduced a bill into the Senate in 2016 to ban foreign donations.

The government insisted on bringing in its own legislation, which had the remarkable effect of uniting all the charities, not-for-profits, advocacy groups, churches and industry associations against it—a remarkable achievement! They got GetUp! and the Institute of Public Affairs to agree on something; it was remarkable. The government's bill created such concern that a number of our trusted charities and not-for-profits formed the Hands Off Our Charities alliance to oppose the changes. The government's first bungled attempt at this bill would have captured a whole range of worthy organisations—charities, churches, community groups—in a maze of regulations and obstacles. It was absurd and ridiculous overreach. I think it's important to remember that it was incompetence on a grand scale. These organisations would have been unable to meet their quite legitimate aims. Some of these organisations were so concerned that they demanded the bill be opposed outright.

During this policy and legislative disaster, we on this side did two things—took two constructive actions. We voluntarily decided to refuse to take foreign donations, something I'm very proud that we committed to. I would add that those opposite, the Liberal and National coalition parties, made no such commitment. Clearly, it was to our financial disadvantage to limit the groups and organisations we were able to receive support from, but we believed that it was the right thing to do. This was an action which did not require legislation; we simply did it. The Australian public is wondering why those opposite, the coalition parties, are not doing the same.

The second thing we did was to work constructively with the charities—the churches, the not-for-profits—to fix this legislation. The bill was referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters for the committee first to review the bill and then to review the proposed changes. The Labor members of this committee—the member for Scullin, who we just heard from, the member for Oxley and Senators Ketter and Brown—did great work in making the bill more workable and more effective. That's why I want us to remember the bill's history and remember the principled stand that has been taken by members on this side of the House, members in the great Australian Labor Party. Labor members of that committee did very good work.

This bill is important. We believe that foreign donations are eroding our political system and eroding public trust in our democratic processes, and we believe that there are external threats to Australian democracy and our democratic institutions.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Rob Mitchell ): Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.