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Wednesday, 21 May 1980
Page: 3020

Mr MacKENZIE (Calare) -The purpose of this Bill is very simply to remove those sections of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, which are largely contained within Part XVI, that relate to the disclosure of a candidate's electoral expenditure in the course of an election. The Minister for Administrative Services (Mr John McLeay) had made it quite clear that the Government has a commitment in principle to the disclosure of electoral expenses incurred during an election.

Mr Armitage - You never voted for it in 1 975.

Mr MacKENZIE - It was 1974 actually, if the honourable member would bear to be corrected. The Government has made it clear that such public disclosure should be examined by an independent committee of inquiry. The first term of reference for the inquiry states: electoral expenditure by, on behalf of, or in the interests of a candidate;

The second term of reference is: electoral expenditure by, on behalf of, or in the interests of a political party;

The third term of reference is: other electoral expenditure;

The fourth term of reference is: information relating to the publication of electoral matter in newspapers or by broadcasting or television including the cost thereof.

A very substantial proportion of electoral expenditure is disclosed at present under the provisions of the Broadcasting and Television Act. Indeed, between 80 per cent and 85 per cent of total expenditure incurred by candidates or on behalf of candidates occurs through advertising in the print and electronic media. That provision will remain for this year. We are not amending the Broadcasting and Television Act. Indeed, that provision will remain, I would imagine, after the results of this inquiry comes to hand.

Further, the Government had made it quite clear that without limiting the generality of those provisions that I have just mentioned the committee of inquiry should report on and make recommendations on the form and content of the type of disclosure that should be required, how this should be undertaken and the persons or bodies that should be responsible for this, and that it should be done in such a way that there is complete clarity and lack of ambiguity as to what the responsibilities of both parties and candidates might be. Basically, this legislation has been brought forward because of the confusion, the ambiguity and the difficulty in implementing the legislation as it stands at the moment and so that there can be effective and meaningful disclosure. At the same time the Government has made no specific recommendation that the inquiry should not apply itself to the question of whether limits on electoral expenditure should be retained. The Opposition's amendment, which was moved by the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman), refers to 'reasonable limits on electoral expenditure '.

Mr Yates - What does it mean?

Mr MacKENZIE - What does that mean, indeed? What does 'reasonable' mean? At least the Australian Democrats have attempted to apply some figure, but what is the interpretation of 'reasonable limits'? Does it refer to expenditure or in kind assistance to candidates or on behalf of candidates by parties? What expenditure limits would the Opposition suggest that we apply? I find the amendment rather hypocritical in that the Opposition has taken the opportunity, on a Bill that basically relates to removal of limits and to disclosure of expenditure, to introduce by implication at least, a concept of public funding of the democratic process. I confirm that that certainly is part of the Australian Labor Party's policy and platform. Section 32 of the platform refers to the payment of proportionate subsidies by governments to political parties and candidates. Indeed, section 33 of the ALP platform as laid down in 1 979 states:

The disclosure of donations or other assistance to political parties and candidates.

The platform, interestingly, makes no reference at all to limits. Yet we find that in this amendment the first reference is to limits. At the same time this amendment makes no reference to disclosure. I would have thought that if the Opposition wished the methods of funding of the democratic process to be included in an examination, it certainly would have referred to disclosure in its amendment. There appear to be some major anomalies in that the amendment makes no reference to disclosure and the platform makes no reference to limits. I invite the Opposition to give the House some further information as to what it means by disclosure of sources of funding.

Mr Armitage - Go back to Fred Daly's Bill introduced at the end of 1974 and passed by this Parliament in 1975.

Mr MacKENZIE -Perhaps the honourable member for Chifley can enlighten us in a few minutes. I question whether most people in Australia would like to be in a situation in which they make a donation to a political party, albeit indirectly, through union dues which are compulsorily acquired and in which they have no opportunity to determine, to have their say, as to where those funds should go. Indeed, it would seem, to me at least, to be a situation in which donations to political parties are tax deductible. We know that unions dues and subscriptions are legitimate tax deductions; yet the Opposition and the Australian Labor Party will very readily admit, as the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) has admitted already, that a portion of those union dues and subscriptions is donated to political parties.

I believe that it is a travesty of justice, a denial of the rights of an individual and certainly a denial of the normal procedures of a democratic society if people are compelled to pay their union dues and subscriptions- and, indeed, cannot even hold down their jobs unless they do so- and those moneys are applied to the purposes and the political requirements of a political party. The Australian Council of Trade Unions policy clearly states that in time it would like to achieve a situation in which one per cent of average weekly earnings would be a contribution to union dues. We know that a significant proportion of that percentage would go directly to the Australian Labor Party. We are not talking about raffling chooks in pubs. We are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. No wonder the ALP is interested in obtaining public funding for political parties. That would be on top of the contributions it is getting from every unionist, every rank and file member of a union in this country. It is getting it by stealth, it is getting it by compulsion and it is getting it by intimidation because people in this country unfortunately cannot be guaranteed that they will hold their jobs unless they are members of a union and so contribute to the Australian Labor Party.

The issue of public funding has been raised in this amendment. I do not believe it is valid or legitimate to raise this matter but since it has been raised I believe some comments should be applied to that proposition. Public funding as a proposition has been clearly rejected by the Australian people in every opinion poll that has been taken. Indeed, serious concern has been expressed throughout the community as a result of the establishment by the New South Wales Government of the committee of inquiry into the desirability of public funding of political parties. I ask members of the Opposition: If they propose public funding of political parties, can they suggest from where this public funding should come? Should it come from cuts in the large expenditure areas of welfare, housing, health, education and payments to the States or would they propose that taxes be increased in order to provide the money required to fund political parties? Indeed, do they believe that the average working Australian will be happy to know that part of his taxes are being used to support parties that he may be totally- both philosophically and in principle- opposed to? These may be parties of the Right as well as the Left.

How would my honourable friend from Hume (Mr Lusher) react to the proposition that part of his taxes have to be used to subsidise the Australian Communist Party, the League of Rights, the Australian Marihuana Party or the Right to Life organisation? What right would a taxpayer have to declare where his taxes should be applied if public funding were made available to political parties? How would such public funding be established? Would it be established on the Australian Labor Party's policy according to the results of the last election? Would not that be grossly unfair to any new political party or group that attempted to establish itself within Australia? On what basis should it be? Should it be on the total proportion of votes or should it be on the proportion of seats won? Parliamentary democracy under the Westminster system requires that one has to win a certain number of seats to hold government.

Dr Cass - That is the gerrymander you rigged. What is wrong with basing it on the number of votes?

Mr MacKENZIE - I think the claim of gerrymander could equally apply to the Opposition. Compare the number of seats won in proportion to the totality of votes gained in certain sections of metropolitan areas. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard an article which I believe shows the disadvantages of and highlights some of the major issues concerned with the public funding of political parties.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

Public funding of elections is not needed

The recent Labor Party conference in Adelaide accepted the principle of public funding of political parties for election purposes.

The basis of Labor's argument is that all parties and individuals should be assured of sufficient funds to mount an election campaign without having to rely on voluntary donations.

The coalition parties' attitude is that in the Australian context, public funding of political campaigns is unnecessary and undesirable because the cost would have to be financed by yet another tax or, alternatively, by reduced spending elsewhere.

Labor spokesmen claim that the coalition parties enjoy heavy financial backing from a variety of sources, but they fail to mention their own vast reserves, often based on compulsory donations.

They also overlook the fundamental issue at any election, that it is the most popular party of the day that attracts the most support, either through the ballot-box or in cash. It is easy to understand that business houses are hardly likely to contribute to a business-bashing political party where profit is a dirty word.

Even if the argument for public funding were acceptable to taxpayers, the Labor Party is vague on the cost. It could be $10 million or it could be $30 million based on the Swedish formula which is favored by Labor.

Based on the lower figure of $10 million, the Communist Party of Australia would receive $18,000 and I personally would resent a law which forced some of my taxes to be used to subsidise that party.

Other parties would be reimbursed under the Labor plan as follows:


Others............. 57,000

This is Labor's $ 10 million scheme. The Swedish proposal would cost the taxpayer five times as much!

The Labor Party has been careful not to discuss its own sources of income.

Under a subscription policy proposed by the ACTU, 1 per cent of earnings extracted by trade unions from their members would produce about $290 million every year.

This is the independent estimate by the Victorian Employers' Federation and it gives some idea of the enormous sums available for Labor election campaigns.

Heavy donations are already made to the Labor Party by trade unions, additional to the levies imposed by a number of unions on their members to finance the A.L.P., even though they may not be supporters.

It must be very difficult for a worker to refuse to pay such a levy when faced with the intimidatory tactics employed by some union bosses.

The coalition parties are opposed to the introduction of yet another tax burden and we are not attracted to the alternative of taking money from defence, education, family allowances, widows pensions, age pensions or some other area of social security.

Mr MacKENZIE - The writer of that article points out that if there were to be a disbursement of public funds- say $ 10m- on the basis of the proportion of the vote gained at the previous election, the Communist Party of Australia would receive $18,000. 1 believe that Australian people would be at least concerned that part of their taxes, albeit $18,000- to my mind that is $18,000 too much- would be going to such a source. I do not wish to disclose the source of the article but it was written by a most authoritative correspondent and observer of the political scene in Australia.

I would also like to raise the reaction that has been generated by this Bill among the Australian Democrats, and in particular the reaction of the Acting Leader of the Australian Democrats who claimed that this Bill constituted the most massive electoral fraud in Australia's history and meant the demise of the democratic process in Australia. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the hypocrisy of that statement. It is interesting to me that suddenly a large amount of concern has been generated by this Bill regarding the requirement for disclosure of expenditure. Yet we find in New South Wales, where a Labor Government has been in office for some years, there has never been any requirement for disclosure of campaign expenditure either by or on behalf of a candidate. I would have thought that if the New South Wales Government was interested in conducting an inquiry into public funding of political parties it could perhaps have broadened the inquiry's terms of reference to take into account part of the platform of its federal colleagues. It could have included within the terms of reference of the inquiry the requirements for disclosure of contributions to political parties, the disclosure of expenditure and the imposition of campaign limits.

Let us look at the situation in South Australia where in 1969 the statutory provisions relating to the control of electoral expenditure at State elections was repealed by a Labor government. At the time there was not one murmur of complaint or dissent against such a move by the Democrats. A quotation that I believe is interesting has been attributed to Mr Justice Kay who, when examining the provisions relating to the repeal of the Western Australian restrictions, observed that the provisions for the limitation of electoral expenditure provide no real useful purpose. They are difficult to supervise and most candidates cannot, with due responsibility, abide by the provisions of the legislation. So I think we need to look at the Opposition's amendment and to determine whether in fact that amendment can achieve what it is not already possible to achieve in the Bill as proposed by the Government. I do not believe that the amendment should raise the issue of public funding of political parties. I do not see that as an integral part of the Bill as it has been presented. As I have mentioned before, there is nothing in the Bill that prevents the committee of inquiry from making some recommendations on the imposition of limits as well as the means by which disclosure of campaign expenditure can be effected. I do not agree that this should be the sole province of a parliamentary inquiry. I imagine that the Opposition would have preferred a non-parliamentary inquiry, an independent inquiry, perhaps conducted by people who have professional competence and expertise in this area, which would include people from the Commonwealth Electoral Office. I would again remind honourable members -

Dr Klugman - Who has more professional expertise than we have on this issue?

Mr MacKENZIE - I would disagree with my honourable friend from Prospect who asked: 'Who would have more professional competence and expertise in this matter than parliamentarians?' With some degree of modesty I believe there are people within the community, perhaps within academic establishments of this land, and perhaps within the Commonwealth Electoral Office, who could provide some independent assessment and inquiry. I personally believe the Government is on the right track in taking this matter outside the province of parliamentarians who obviously have a totally vested interest in this matter. The public interest has to be served. I reiterate that the public interest is being served to a very large degree with regard to the disclosure of campaign expenditure by or on behalf of candidates in that under the present legislation there is a requirement for expenditure in the electronic media, broadcasting and television, to be disclosed; and in the section which will remain in the Commonwealth Electoral Act there is a provision which requires disclosure of expenditure in the printed media. Those funds generally account for some 85 per cent of total expenditure.

In closing I would like to react to the claim by the honourable member for Port Adelaide that campaign expenditure is raised almost totally from large multinational and wealthy corporations. That is certainly not the case in my experience. I can confirm for the honourable member for Port Adelaide that the raffling of chooks in pubs is still very much an essential part of my process of raising funds. In my experience, more than 80 per cent of funds required for an election campaign comes from the so-called little people, even the pensioners who come along with their $ 1 and $2 to try to back up their judgment. On the other hand, I believe we will find that the Australian trade union movement provides a very ready source of funds for the Labor Party. I cannot really and sincerely believe that the Labor Party would stand by its commitment to introduce public disclosure of donations because it would be enormously embarrassing to it for the public to realise where its money comes from.

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