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Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Page: 4194

Senator ABETZ (4:56 PM) —On behalf of Senator Johnston, the Chair of the Standing Committee of Senators’ Interests, and in accordance with the Senate resolution of 17 March 1994 on the declaration of senators’ interests, I present declarations of interests and notifications of alterations of interests in the Register of Senators’ Interests lodged between 2 December 2008 and 22 June 2009 and move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The Register of Senators’ Interests was introduced, rightly or wrongly, for senators to disclose money, gifts et cetera that they have received. It seems to me, reading the document that has just been tabled, that it would make good sense if there were to be a requirement that actual details be provided. We now have in this place a senator who has been the beneficiary of, on my estimation, over three-quarters of a million dollars in a personal account of which he is the sole signatory—$739,000, but nothing disclosed for about 10 months. The so-called disclosures that we get, making up that $739,000, include such things as ‘anonymous donation, $10,000’, ‘another anonymous donation, $5,000’, and so it goes on. The account is in Senator Bob Brown’s sole name.

If any political party leader in this country, be it Mr Rudd, Mr Turnbull or Mr Truss, had a slush fund of this nature, I know what our friends in the media would do. That man or woman would be pilloried for not having accountability—

Senator Milne —Madam Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. Senator Abetz just cast a slur on my colleague by referring to his declaration of interests as something to do with a slush fund. I ask that he withdraw that.

Senator ABETZ —I am happy to withdraw the term ‘slush fund’. Let it be known that these so-called anonymous donations are being made into an account that stands in the name of RJ Brown and that he is the sole signatory for it. He has now received over three-quarters of a million dollars, which he uses as he deems appropriate. Whether that can be described in the terms that I have just used is, I think, for listeners and others to determine for themselves, and that is why I have been willing to withdraw the comment.

Accountability has been asserted and demanded time and time again in this place and elsewhere, especially by the Leader of the Australian Greens, yet Senator Bob Brown has shown a complete lack of accountability in relation to his own finances. If any other parliamentary leader in this country had processed over three-quarters of a million dollars through his own personal accounts through donations—many of the large ones just being described as anonymous—there would be an outrage, as there should be. It seems to me that, if we, in this day and age, are saying it is appropriate for parliamentary leaders or indeed any parliamentarian to personally be the beneficiary of such sums and the sole dispenser of those funds, it really does make a mockery of the so-called disclosure laws. Rather than donating to a political party, you are just giving an anonymous donation to a parliamentarian, who will then use the money as he or she deems appropriate. There are other issues of course with Senator Brown’s fundraising. Those matters are, I think, of genuine and great concern, and I have spoken about that in this place before.

It also seems to me that, if somebody makes a so-called disclosure in this place and provides a list of names, it is singularly unhelpful just to provide that list of names without providing the addresses so that those people can in fact be verified. Might I add that those that have been provided to us were only flushed out because I raised this matter in this place some time ago and, as a result, Senator Brown felt compelled to disclose a list of donors. When you have donors like ‘D Smith’ or something like that, it is singularly unhelpful to know whether that is in fact a true person or whether that person resides in Australia or indeed the United States. We do not know where these funds are coming from. And the most glaring and outrageous so-called declaration is when you simply put in ‘Anonymous, $10,000’.

It reminds me of that little activity that the current Treasurer of this country undertook when he was formerly the secretary of the Labor Party in Queensland, trotting around with a paper bag to the Australian Democrats. That is very much on the public record.

Senator Arbib —Be very careful, Eric.

Senator ABETZ —That is very much on the public record, Senator Arbib. Somebody from the New South Wales Right should not be surprised at that.

Senator Arbib —You should really be careful.

Senator ABETZ —Senator Arbib, are you denying that occurred? Of course you are not, because Mr Swan has been in the game of looking after mates for a long, long time. Having said that, let me return to the subject of the matter, and that is Senator Brown and the Australian Greens. This is a matter that I believe Senator Brown now has to come clean on, and any of his so-called anonymous donations should be handed over to consolidated revenue or some other fund and a full disclosure should be made. Sure, the rules allow you to say, ‘I got an anonymous donation of $10,000’ or ‘I got a donation from D Smith’, who just might happen to live in the United States of America. But that is not disclosure in any sense of the word or within the spirit of what is actually being proposed here.

I can understand that people get small gifts. I am the beneficiary of them from time to time. You declare them and say who it was without actually putting a value on them, because you do not necessarily know how much they are worth. But when you are dealing in cash and money you know the exact amount and you know the person who it has come from, unless of course it, very conveniently, is anonymous. If we continue to allow members of this place to say that they have received anonymous donations and, as a result, to escape the Register of Senators’ Interests requirements, or to simply put down names that cannot be verified by way of an address, it seems to me that we are not getting to the situation that this register of interests was in fact designed to get us to.

I call on Senator Brown and the Australian Greens to indicate and say to us that it is not acceptable to put in a list, ‘amount donated through bank, name not disclosed, $10,000’. It must be traceable. You must be able to ask your bank, ‘Where did this money come from?’, and a full and clean declaration of it should be made. Scattered throughout this document are huge numbers of donations. In relation to the report that has just been tabled, I happen to note that about 10 months worth of donations to this personal fund for Senator Brown’s sole use has not been disclosed to us. There is a requirement, as I understand it, to indicate your gifts within a certain period of time, and it is not 10 months.

Given the publicity that he personally sought and gained in relation to this particular fund—trying to get more money—it seems to me that it is vitally important that full disclosure be made by Senator Bob Brown and the Australian Greens, because three-quarters of a million dollars in anybody’s language is big money, huge money. For one parliamentarian to personally deal with those sorts of sums of money rather than deal with them through his or her party’s organisation or through a trust account in a legal firm or an accounting firm, where it can be audited and publicly made available, is something which falls below the threshold of accountability that the Australian Greens so regularly demand of everybody else. But, of course, that is what we know about the Australian Greens—one rule applies to them and another to everybody else, and that is the duplicity which I seek to expose this evening. (Time expired)