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Thursday, 15 November 2018
Page: 8424

Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and the Public Service, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (17:51): Let me firstly agree with something that Senator Waters has said: the Australian people are absolutely entitled to expect that decisions be made in their interest. Do you know who judges to what extent is we have made decisions in their interest? The judge of that is the Australian people at every election. That is the process. Senator Waters is essentially implying that the Australian people are too stupid to form their judgements in relation to how individual candidates or relevant parties are performing. This is clearly just part of the democratic discourse.

If there is a level of concern about policies, and a view by the Greens about what influences certain policies, then under our democratic system you are entitled to express that view and to inform the Australian people. The Australian people might believe you and then they will vote for you if they think that it is a really terrible thing that there is a particular policy that supports the mining industry, the farming sector or access to pharmaceutical products. If people share your view that that is a bad thing, they'll vote for you; if they believe that policies that support the mining sector, the agricultural sector, the education sector and access to pharmaceutical products for patients across Australia are good things then they will support relevant candidates and parties who promote those particular policy agendas. That is the way democracy works: if you have a concern, you point out your concern and seek to persuade the Australian people of your point of view. Ultimately the Australian people are the judge.

I also agree with Senator Waters—so there are two agreements in relation to one amendment; I am sure the senator is very surprised by that—that the Senate will be opposing this amendment, because the Greens are proposing an entirely arbitrary ban on eight different specific categories of businesses from giving donations. There are clear questions of constitutionality. Senator Waters dismisses this. Clearly Senator Waters doesn't believe in freedom of political communication, but some of us do believe in freedom of political communication.

A level of internal logic and consistency is also lacking. For example, under the Greens amendment, businesses manufacturing pharmaceuticals would be banned, but not those involved in distribution or sale of such products. If you are involved in the manufacture of tobacco you are banned, but if you are involved in the distribution of tobacco you are fine. Even more unusually, the proposed ban will put only donors at risk of criminal offences while keeping it lawful for a recipient to accept such a gift. That doesn't sound very internally consistent.

The more fundamental point is that, under our Constitution, under our principles, under the constitutional principle of implied political freedom of communication, the best advice that we have is that this would not be constitutionally sustainable. In any event, we have great confidence that the Australian people voting at elections are very capable of making judgements on what they think is right and wrong.