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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 46

Senator RONALDSON (4:55 PM) —I want to endorse the very eloquent words of Senator Birmingham. In light of his contribution, I will significantly limit my contribution today. Also, I am pleased that Minister Faulkner is in the chamber. As the Senate would be well aware of, in March this year, on behalf of the coalition parties—the Liberal Party and the National Party—and with the support of the Greens and the Democrats, we put through the Senate a reference to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. It was a very substantial and, dare I say it, holistic reference to the joint standing committee to report on campaign finance reform. Without making too strong a point about it, I will remind the chamber again that the Australian Labor Party actually opposed that reference.

Minister Faulkner, who is in the chamber, will know that we have supported the green paper process. The minister will be acutely aware that the timing of the release of this green paper was to be in July, with a second paper to be released in October. I, on behalf of the coalition, have made it quite clear that we will not be making any public comments about the slippage in that timing, because our strong view is that this issue is far too important for us to be playing politics with. If this green paper needs another month, two months or three months then, in our view, so be it. Rather than being rushed, we would like to see it done properly and have an outcome that will benefit the Australian community.

In my view, part of the deal—and I obviously do not mean a literal deal—is that that article of faith can be repaid by the government in relation to the two pieces of legislation on disclosure and tax deductibility that have been brought in ahead of the release of the green paper. I refer honourable senators to the dissenting report, in which coalition senators said that any debate on those two pieces of legislation should occur after appropriate consideration of the green paper. It is not a case of there being no scrutiny of those two pieces of legislation by the Senate—to the contrary. The debate on those two pieces of legislation should be after an appropriate level of community debate and discussion following the release of the green paper.

While the minister was speaking to one of my colleagues in the chamber, he might not have heard me say this, so I will repeat it: we are and have been quite happy about the process and have made no comments in relation to the slippage of time with the release of the green paper because we believe that this needs to be done properly. I assume that the delay has been caused by the requirement to do that. We will make no comment at all, Minister. As I said, if it is another three months or four months then the coalition will not be making any adverse political comment in relation to that.

I ask the government, as an act of good faith, to ensure that there is not debate in this place on both this bill and the tax deductibility bill until the release of and appropriate level of discussion on the green paper. Some of our colleagues on both sides might disagree with these reforms, but I think the minister and I agree that status quo is not an option. There will be other colleagues in the other place and here who might disagree with that. I do not think that it is an option. If it is not an option and we do need to make changes, let’s do it on the back of agreement between the political players in this process to ensure that we get the right outcome. The right outcome can only be done on the back of an acknowledgement that we need to look at this whole area as one and not cherry pick bits and pieces out of potential campaign finance reform.

I again confirm to the minister that he has our full support to make sure that the green paper process is done properly. We are not concerned about the timing of the release of the green paper. What we are concerned about is that the government has attempted to cherry pick certain parts of campaign finance reform before the joint standing committee has had the opportunity to finish its inquiry on the motion put by me and passed by the Senate in relation to a holistic approach to campaign finance reform. Let’s do this properly because the decisions that we make on campaign finance reform will have huge ramifications for not the next two or three years but for decades. The Australian community quite rightly believes—as I suspect the minister does, and as I most certainly do—that the status quo cannot continue. I am not going to use the next 4½ minutes to talk about Wollongong and other areas because this debate quite frankly is above that in this particular climate. But if we are going to do it, let’s do it properly and let’s do it in a climate of realistic and reasonable discussions between the political parties and the Independents to ensure that what we do is right and that it is right for the Australian community. I think it would be an act of good faith on behalf of the government to look at the dissenting report and to hold any discussion of this legislation over until after the green paper has been considered, because I would be very surprised if further legislation did not follow from an appropriate and considered inquiry into the green paper—both aspects of it—and that, in my view, is the time when we look at a wider legislative process.