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Wednesday, 16 August 1989
Page: 183

Senator PUPLICK(5.56) —The report which has now been brought forward by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is illustrative of two important trends that are taking place in the political arena at the moment. It is typical of a government and its allies in a group like the Australian Democrats, when they perceive some electoral threat-particularly when the Democrats perceive some electoral threat-that the first thing they try to do is to corrupt the electoral system. This is precisely what this report attempts to do-to corrupt the Australian electoral system. Nobody had adduced the slightest degree of evidence that, in terms of the Federal elections which have taken place in this country since Federation, money or other influence has corrupted the political process. Nobody has adduced any evidence which relates to that particular allegation. Nor can they, because the evidence is not there.

There are a couple of things which I wanted to start talking about in relation to comments made by Mr Lee, the honourable member for Dobell and Chairman of this Committee. In the statement which he produced and which was released together with the report, he says this:

The majority of the committee believes that if nothing is done political parties will become increasingly dependent on large donations from companies and wealthy individuals.

You will note, Mr Acting Deputy President, that he does not include in that trade unions. He does not include in that the question of disclosure but the question of increasing dependence upon particular sources of funds. And he identifies companies and wealthy individuals. It is clear from that statement that that is what this report is all about-identifying particular people and particular companies for the Labor Party's and the Democrats' political purpose.

Senator Schacht says that secrecy is incompatible with democracy. I presume that he does not extend the same argument to the secrecy of the ballot, because it used to be argued that the secrecy of the ballot was one of the things which corrupted the democratic process. Senator Schacht does not argue that, presumably. He argues that secrecy corrupts the political process. He says that, if an individual, an ordinary Australian citizen, wishes to make a donation of, say, $20 to a political party, that should be public information, that the privacy of that individual should be raped by the political connivance of the Labor Party and the Democrats, and that that particular person and private donation by an individual of a small sum of money should be made a matter of public concern, presumably so that people can say, `We see that you were a donor to Party X. How about becoming a donor to Party Y? And do you understand the consequences if you do not?'.

We have the other proposition in this report about the gagging of particular groups from advertising during election periods. Again, I quote from comments of Mr Lee, the Chairman of the Committee. An article in the Australian on 8 August, stated:

Mr Lee agreed these recommendations would have the effect of `gagging' lobby groups, for example conservationists or farmers, from political advertising during election campaigns.

And, as Ross Dunn said in the Australian Financial Review on the same date:

This provision is likely to greatly discriminate against green independent candidates who are expected to contest spots for the Senate, riding the new wave of concern for the environment.

That, of course, is the particular reason that the limpet fish of the Australian Democrats want to introduce this particular gag. They have seen the results in Tasmania, they have seen the results in the Australian Capital Territory where they cannot get themselves above one or 2 per cent, where they are having their constituency stolen from them by the Australian Conservation Foundation, by Green Independents, by Senator Vallentine, by Senator Dunn and all of the others. This party with a case of terminal electoral misfortunes visited upon it has decided, now that it is an established part of the system and now that it is particularly concerned about being in a terminal political position, that in terms of keeping the bastards honest, what it now wants to do is make sure that the bastards that are stealing its constituency will not be able to have access to advertising on the electronic media during critical periods of an election campaign. That is what the agenda of the Australian Democrats is all about. That is the particular concern of the Democrats in this report.

The sheer nonsense of the recommendations about enforced advertising on particular stations or in the electronic media is exposed if one reads the evidence that was given to the Committee. Page 65 of the Committee's report deals with specialisation in radio markets. What will it mean to those specialist market sectors in the Australian radio industry to be forced to take political advertising without wanting to? One can imagine what a station like 2JJJ in Sydney will think about the fact that all of a sudden it is required under the Labor Party and Democrat proposals to start running political advertising. Presumably, the audience listening to 2JJJ will be absolutely riveted by the sort of advertisements that it is likely to get, and yet the capacity of that radio station to make its determination about what advertising it takes or does not take is typical of the way in which the Labor Party seeks to enforce on a sector of the mass media in this country its own political agenda.

You will note, Mr Acting Deputy President, that what the Labor Party and Democrats do not go on to say is that this should be required in the print media. They have the capacity to do that. It is not a matter of constitutional requirement, but a matter of saying that newspapers shall not fail to take advertisements submitted to them in a particular fashion by the political parties in the same way as the electronic media will have to take them. They could have gone that far. They have not. They have decided to concentrate this impost on one particular sector and it is simply an indication not of their concern about matters of principle but the extent to which they have determined that their political agenda is best served by the corruption of the political process and by the corruption, because that is what this amounts to, of a political system which has demonstrably served this community and this Parliament extremely well for a prolonged period of time.

There is, in fact, if one reads the evidence, nothing which would lead one to the conclusions that the Committee has reached. That is not surprising because those conclusions were predetermined well before the evidence was bothered to be called for. It is a good Alice in Wonderland type of situation, and one can see the various Queens of Hearts who are in charge of this particular exercise. It was a matter of the verdict first and then the trial. That is precisely what has occurred with this report; it was always predetermined that it was going to come out in that fashion. This report, and the comments of its Chairman after its publication, specifically indicate the extent to which they think the trade unions ought to be excluded from this particular process. They indicate the way in which the privacy of individuals should be traduced in this process and the transfer of the costs of this, in effect from the political parties to the public purse, because the consumers at the end of the day will pay for the shortfall in revenue in the broadcasting sector. The report is just typical of the agenda which corrupt political parties like the Labor Party and the Australian Democrats would seek to put into the electoral system.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.