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Monday, 12 October 2015
Page: 7297

Donations to Political Parties

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (14:35): I ask my question to the Minister representing the Special Minister of State, Senator Cormann. Considering the High Court decision handed down last week upholding the New South Wales law banning developer donations makes reference to a subtle form of corruption where, according to the High Court, office holders will decide issues not on the merits or desires of their constituencies but according to the wishes of those who have made large financial contributions. Considering the High Court unequivocally determined that political donations can be limited in size and banned from particular industries, will the government restore public confidence in our democratic institutions and legislate to end the corrupting influence of political donations?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:36): I will take that question because Senator Cormann is on his way back from Peru at the moment as a matter of fact. I am not going to comment on a High Court decision, but what I will say to you on the subject more broadly of political donations is this: it lies ill from one who represents a political party in this chamber that was the beneficiary of the largest single political donation in Australian history, from Wotif's Mr Graeme Wood It was a donation of, I believe—what was it, Senator Colbeck?—$1.6 million. You cannot walk both sides of the street. You cannot pose as a champion for integrity and the process of transparency in political donations on the one hand and then trouser the biggest political donation in Australian political history. So I think, frankly, one must take with a very large grain of salt anything that the Australian Greens have to say about the integrity of the donation system.

I can also inform you, since you are interested, that there were no changes to the donations system in the six years of the Labor government. Occasionally we do have discussions in our system about the appropriate levels of thresholds of disclosure. We have seen some state premiers recently express different views about whether political donations should be raised at the Council of Australian Governments meeting. I will leave any potential discussions to be had by the Prime Minister, the premiers and the chief ministers in the COAG forum rather than taking advice on that topic from the Australian Greens. (Time expired)

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (14:38): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Following on from my question—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left! Senator Rhiannon, you can start again.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. To follow on from your response, Senator: is the leaking of the letter that New South Wales Premier has written to the federal government where he requests coordinated national reform of election funding laws that need to be uniform a positive sign that sections of the Liberal Party support uniform national electoral funding laws?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:39): You say leaking. I am aware that Mr James Massola wrote an article—'Donation reform on the menu for state leaders'—which refers to a letter from Mr Mike Baird and a proposal which he put to the former Prime Minister that a national system of donation disclosure laws be put in place. Mr Baird and Mr Andrews have asked that the matter, as I said in answer to your primary question, be discussed at the next COAG meeting in December. The Turnbull government has not responded at this stage to that matter, but we in the Liberal Party—we in the coalition—take these issues very seriously. We take very seriously the importance of transparency. We take very seriously the importance of strict compliance with Commonwealth Electoral Act laws and we will keep the Commonwealth Electoral Act under review. (Time expired)

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (14:40): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. As you have said, you take these issues seriously. As it is on the public record, the political donations banned in New South Wales were funnelled through the federal Liberal Party channels to sidestep New South Wales laws and 11 New South Wales and federal Liberal MPs resigned or stood aside following corruption inquiries. Will these reforms be in place before the next federal election? If you are serious about it, will they be in place before the next federal election?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:41): As I told you, two state premiers—one from my side of politics and one from the Labor side of politics—have asked for this matter to be listed for discussion at the December meeting of COAG. That no doubt will take place. As for what transpires after the matter has been discussed at COAG: we will await the discussion at COAG.