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Tuesday, 10 November 2015
Page: 8224


Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (21:49): High Court decisions are usually met with great fanfare and commentary from the major political parties. However, government and opposition MPs were very quiet when the court ruled recently that both Labor and the coalition were caught up in systemic corruption. This case stands to be a game-changer in the long campaign to clean up federal electoral funding laws. I do encourage all senators to acquaint themselves with this case. Former Newcastle lord mayor and developer, Jeff McCloy, brought a case to the High Court in a bid to overturn New South Wales law banning developers from making political donations. He argued that the ban was at odds with the implied freedom of communication under the Constitution. However, the court agreed with the state government that communication between legislators and voters was not impeded by these donation bans. It was a win for sensible restrictions which seek to enhance the democratic process by reducing temptations for politicians to act corruptly. The ruling has far-reaching consequences for the regulation of political activity because it expanded the definition of 'corruption'. This is the great significance of this case—its analysis of corruption itself. Prior to this case, corruption was largely seen as quid pro quo. As my colleague New South Wales Greens MP David Shoebridge put it:

In the 1970s, when Bob Askin was NSW Liberal Premier, corruption was a pretty simple affair.

Those who wanted a favour from the planning authorities or the police delivered a bundle of cash and the politicians delivered.

In the 1980s the story continued, with Labor's Corrective Services Minister Rex 'Buckets' Jackson eventually going to jail because he was caught releasing those prisoners who paid him for the pleasure.

This kind of corruption is where money changed hands for a specific outcome. There has always been another kind of corruption where money did not buy a specific outcome; instead, a payment or payments bought a more subtle pattern of outcomes because the recipient became dependent on the continued financial support of the donor. It is common sense that this is corruption, but, until now, it has not been recognised in the courts. The saying 'Don't bite the hand that feeds you' rings true for most people, and helps explain the state of politics in this country. The major parties have grown fat at the hands of corporate donors, and they have certainly been reluctant to bite them. The High Court has called this kind of corruption 'clientelism'. It is where, according to the High Court:

… office holders will decide issues not on the merits or desires of constituents, but according to the wishes of those that have made large financial contributions valued by the office holder …

The High Court states that consistent patterns of donations:

… compromise the expectation, fundamental to representative democracy, that public power will be exercised in the public interest.

In identifying the clientelism form of corruption, the High Court has detailed what the Greens Democracy for Sale project for long has called the corrupting influence of donations, known as parent/client corruption.

The High Court recognised that this kind of corruption has validated the New South Wales law that bans certain classes of donors. It has shown that these bans are crucial to maintaining the integrity of the political system. The High Court has opened the way for expanding those bans, both within states and at the federal level.

I would argue that we have a responsibility to respond to the High Court findings. A solid starting point for the long-overdue reforms at the federal level would be the Greens donation reform bill—the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Donations Reform) Bill—which is currently before the Senate. The Greens bill contains amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 that would prohibit political donations from specific industries. The purpose of the amendments is to strengthen the integrity and accountability framework underpinning Australia's electoral system. Specifically, amendments are proposed to ban donations from property developers, tobacco industry business entities, liquor business entities, gambling industry business entities, mineral resources or mining industry business entities and industry representative organisations whose majority members are those that I have just listed.

It is time, I would argue, that all MPs supported laws that would prohibit for-profit corporations from donating to political parties. When patronage, profits and politics come together we have a corrupted democracy. There are too many examples in Australia. MPs might hide behind the law and argue that they have done nothing illegal when they accept donations, but that does not mean that it is right or fair. MPs should represent their constituents and work for the public good.

On another matter, a valued resident of the Hunter community died last week. John G Kaye was an engaged and active member of his local community in the small township of Denman, in the Upper Hunter Valley. John was also a dedicated member of the Greens and demonstrated Greens philosophy of thinking globally and acting locally. John took on many responsibilities in his small rural community. He was an executive member of the Denman and District Development Association, a member of he Denman Chamber of Commerce and a Justice of the Peace. As a farmer, he had been the secretary and treasurer of the Denman branch of the New South Wales Farmers Association and had organised Managing Farm Safety courses, which I hear were very popular and well-attended.

For many years he was a registered rescue operator with the Denman Volunteer Rescue Association. As a teacher he was an active member of the Teachers Federation and was well-known in his community amongst students and their parents.

Sadly, he was also a cancer sufferer. As a cancer sufferer, John and his family have been involved in fundraising for Canteen, the Cancer Council and the Leukaemia Foundation.

John founded the Keep Denman Coal Mine Free Campaign in response to two coal exploration licences granted on either side of Denman township. He was also a founding member of the Denman Aberdeen Muswellbrook Scone Healthy Environment Group, which aims to improve air quality in the coal field areas of the Upper Hunter. I have worked with people who have undertaken this work in the Hunter for many years, and I congratulate all of them. And John certainly made an outstanding contribution. It certainly appears to be a daunting task, with so many open-cut mines in the Hunter. But people like John and so many of his colleagues in these organisations are taking a stand for clean air.

John represented his local district at regional meetings and events, working towards a just transition away from coal towards renewable energy and sustainable employment opportunities in the Hunter region. John joined the Greens because of his deep concern about the impacts of climate change. He ran as a New South Wales Greens candidate for the Upper Hunter electorate during the New South Wales state election in March this year. Even though his health was already declining he ran a very active and engaged campaign, spreading the Greens message for a cleaner healthier environment and a sustainable future for ongoing generations. John died peacefully on Sunday, 8 November. He suffered from a rare blood cancer. He is survived by his wife, Kathleen, and three children. He will be sorely missed as a champion of the Upper Hunter. On behalf of the Greens I extend my condolences to John's family.

On another matter, it was a weekend of hospitality and inspiration at the Harvest Festival on the Liverpool Plains. I joined about 750 people to amplify our call that the Shenhua mine proposed for this area should not go ahead. With people travelling from across the country for this unique event, we can certainly say that the campaign to save Liverpool Plains is truly national and broad-based. That is not surprising when you look at the damage that would occur if this mine went ahead—the ruin of this valuable food bowl, such fertile land. The water aquifers that feed this land would be broken, and, with the damage to Aboriginal sacred sites, it is simply unbelievable that it is even proposed. The message from so many of the farmers I spoke to, and from former MP for New England Tony Windsor, when he addressed one of the packed forums at the festival, was that it must be the local Gomeroi people who lead this campaign.

At the workshop with local Indigenous people we were shocked to hear Dolly Talbott, a Gomeroi woman, speak about the level of disrespect shown to her and other elders by the mining company. Local Aboriginal people are no longer able to visit many of the sacred sites. Dolly detailed one of the most insulting aspects of the assault on Aboriginal heritage. Shenhua plans to remove the grinding grooves offsite, then dig their massive open-cut coal pit and then supposedly put the grinding grooves back, when it rehabilitates the land in 17 years time. This is farcical. It would be a joke if somebody wanted to get up there and spruik how ridiculous companies are and what they try to con the public with, but this is actually the serious plan of a mining company that is putting forward a plan to the New South Wales government to mine coal in the Hunter.

Coal mining would destroy this family land and these sacred sites forever. No-one can reconstitute these fertile soils and aquifers. Talk of rehabilitation is another big lie of the mining industry and their government backers.

The betrayal of successive Labor and Liberal-National governments on this issue is massive. The full story is yet to be revealed. I say that because the former New South Wales mining minister, Ian Macdonald, whom ICAC found had corruptly issued lucrative mining licences in the Hunter Valley, started the deal with Shenhua Australia Holdings. For the exploration licence, Shenhua agreed to pay $300 million to the New South Wales government, with a further $200 million to be handed over once the mining lease is granted. What was promised in return has not been revealed, but what we know is that never before has so much money been handed over just for an exploration licence—that is all it was. It is hard to believe that there was not something promised that went hand in hand with that money. A responsible government would not allow this proposed mine to proceed.

What I just described with those huge amounts of money—hundreds of millions of dollars being handed over—occurred under the previous Labor government in New South Wales. There has now been a Liberal-National government in power for over four years. They have had time to clean it up and get to the bottom of it. Why don't they expose what went on? Why don’t they reveal the papers of what went down when Shenhua did that deal with former minister Ian MacDonald, who is now highly discredited for his corrupt behaviour associated with other mines? Why isn't that revealed? Why don't they clean up the shocking way mining planning is being carried out in New South Wales?

At the Liverpool Plains harvest festival, festival organiser and local farmer Andrew Pursehouse said:

I would hope that there's a lot of heartache going on within the National Party, because this is a prime example where they could actually stand up for the people they represent …

Mr Pursehouse added:

These are the people who have voted National Party for a long time, and I think they're getting a bit fed up now that there's a lack of fight.

Determination to stop Shenhua proceeding with its coalmining plans on Liverpool Plains is growing fast, and it certainly needs to because of the impending threat. Former independent member for New England, Tony Windsor, spoke of mass arrests at protests to stop this mine. At the forum at the harvest festival, he set out why rural folk and Indigenous groups opposing the Shenhua mine on the Liverpool Plains should practise mass civil disobedience. He urged these protests to be staged under the leadership of the Indigenous people. Mr Windsor's speech was most inspiring; he got a huge reception. The former local MP linked protecting Aboriginal sacred sites and the right to access traditional land with the issue of water. Local farmers I spoke to explained how the aquifers feed the rich Liverpool Plains, how they contribute to the massive productivity of this area and what the damage would mean if the mining went ahead—how it would damage the aquifers and what the consequences for the Murray-Darling Basin would be. These workshops were incredibly informative. There was also the issue of the koala populations, which are also under threat if this mine goes ahead.

Jeremy Buckingham, the Greens mining spokesperson, also spoke on the platform with Tony Windsor. He exposed the Nationals' double standards, and he very clearly set out how state and federal governments could stop the mine in a matter of hours if they chose to. Again, it was very informative in setting out the failure of the Liberal-National government to stand up to mining and, at least, expose what went on under Labor.

I congratulate the harvest festival organisers, the Liverpool Plains Alliance, which is made up of the Caroona Coal Action Group, Liverpool Plains Youth, SOS Liverpool Plains and the Gomeroi traditional owners. It was incredibly well organised and most enjoyable.

The failure of Labor, Liberal and the Nationals to deal with this most critical issue for all of Australia was again on display in this parliament today in this Senate. Today I moved a motion about this very issue, and again we saw the Labor, Liberal and National parties voting together on what amounted to a very simple call, which was for the Prime Minister to reverse the federal government's approval of the Shenhua Watermark mine and for the New South Wales government not to grant a mining lease for that mine.

There should at least have been some commentary about it. We really need to at least get back to the debate if the major parties are not willing to take a stand here. Shenhua is where the people will draw a line in the sand. So many people who I spoke to at the harvest festival, knowing that I am in the federal parliament, expressed their annoyance and some asked why it was not being taken more seriously. The thread that ran through so many of those conversations was people's determination to take a stand to stop the mine because they felt that this parliament had failed to take a stand for them and for the environment on climate change and on Aboriginal rights. There are so many different ways to look at this issue, but so many of those people look at all those issues. They are feeling very passionate. I think they have heard the call from former New England MP Tony Windsor loud and clear. Their protest at the harvest festival was certainly not the last time so many of those people will visit that area.