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Wednesday, 9 November 1983
Page: 2535

Mr RUDDOCK(7.02) —Firstly, I commend the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform which has brought forward this report on electoral reform which we are discussing in conjunction with the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill. Obviously many members have commended the Committee today upon its work, the report that it produced and the consensus that it was able to achieve in a number of areas. Unfortunately, the consensus that was achieved contrasts very unfavourably with the speech that we have just heard from the honourable member for Henty (Mrs Child) who I think adopted a very different attitude in relation to the Opposition parties. Notwithstanding the fact that there were many matters upon which agreement was obtained and where the parties were able to come to a view which represented proper and welcome reforms, there were aspects of the report and aspects of this legislation on which, quite properly, there were dissenting reports and upon which members of the Parliament from this side of the chamber disagree.

The honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman), the Chairman of the Committee, commented upon some of the submissions that were received from political parties . I sense that he used them as a form of ridicule of some of the views that the Opposition is now putting. Let me make it very clear that the Liberal Party of Australia is not bound and has never been bound to follow the dictates of its own councils, and its councils have never forced or endeavoured to force a view upon us. I make this position clear not with any sense of rancour, but simply to contrast that with the position that the Australian Labor Party has adopted over so many years and with some of the recent discussions in the Labor Party about whether it ought to be bound to follow the decisions of its own councils. I understand it has caused some difficulty for honourable members opposite. Of course they have moved away from that view slightly. I gather that some members of the Caucus are very much of the view that they should follow the decisions of their own councils, and some are of the view that they should not. So if we are going to try to score points on the basis of the extent to which people are prepared to follow the dictates of their party or otherwise I think we will go on all night, and that will be very negative and not helpful.

I would also like to make clear the fact that some members of parliamentary committees, in contributing to the way in which these reports have developed, have come to a view that might not now be reflected in the view that the party has adopted and ought not to be a basis for point scoring either. I want to congratulate all members of the Committee who endeavoured to reduce the areas of conflict because I think it is important that those areas be reduced. As I have said, I want to congratulate them on the report they have produced, to commend them for it and to say that there can still be some areas upon which there is disagreement. I will speak about a number of them.

The honourable member for Maribyrnong (Mr Griffiths) talked about Dracula in charge of the blood bank when he was referring to parliamentarians having an interest in redistributions. I must say that I thought that analogy would be far more apt if it were used in relation to parliamentarians receiving moneys from the public purse to help fund their campaigns. I suspect that while people want to know the amount that might be paid for postage stamps, the sums of money involved will ultimately be significant. They will be significant in terms of campaign funding and they will be significant in terms of the amount of money the public of Australia will need to find. I think there will be very considerable public disquiet or alarm at these provisions. I think it is expressed in public opinion polls that we have seen and will be increasingly expressed in the objection that the public at large will have to its funds being used directly to fund the campaigns of the major political parties. I think one cannot sum up this matter in any better way than by quoting the words of Senator Sir John Carrick in his dissenting report. He had this to say:

It is not possible to legislate for honesty.

That is a view I have put on previous occasions. It was a view that I supported fully when Senator Sir John Carrick put it. He continued:

To erect a facade which cannot work and to represent it to the community as a reform to strengthen the integrity of the democratic system is to do the community a grave disservice.

I think that in more ways than any other sums up what this legislation is about. Democracy is a very important matter. Countries can have different electoral processes and still be democratic. I do not believe that we can make a proper judgment as to whether Australia is democratic by asking whether it has public funding or whether it does not. To assert simply that public funding is needed does not make it correct, in my judgment. To assert simply that it will remove dishonesty does not in my judgment mean that we will have a framework of legislation that will remove dishonesty. Dishonest people will still find ways around legislation of this sort.

Allegations have been made about where funds have been obtained. I do not think this legislation will make one iota of difference to the sorts of allegations that will be made in Queensland or New South Wales if one wants to make a retort . I think one will still find, with this legislation, the sorts of problems that we had when there was no legislation. The Liberal Party does have very serious reservations about electoral funding arrangements. The matters that are very much in our minds will be spelt out in far more detail by my colleagues. I emphasise that the fund raising code of the Liberal Party which has been in place for many years and which ensures that its candidates are not involved directly in the raising of funds for election campaigns is very important. No fund raising code is involved in this legislation. In fact, the legislation envisages that if a candidate has not appointed an agent, that candidate will be responsible for disclosing information about donations and the like received in relation to his own campaign.

A candidate without an agent and without someone else taking that responsibility puts himself in a very difficult position. Whether the information is publicly disclosed or not that person is taking responsibility for seeking money. That is in conflict with the public fund raising code that the Liberal Party has had over many years. If one is going to have in place the sort of fund raising code that the Liberal Party has had in place, one has to appoint an agent. This is demanded in the legislation. Let me just ask honourable members how they think they will go, after one or two elections, at being able to find willing volunteers in the community who will want to be an agent. It may be that paid officials will be prepared to wear the fines on these matters.

Let us look at the position of an agent of a candidate; not a paid official, an agent of a candidate. If he fails to furnish a return as an agent of a candidate he will be liable for a maximum fine, personally, of $1,000.

Mr Hand —Tony Eggleton?

Mr RUDDOCK —No, not Tony Eggleton. I am talking about Philip Ruddock's campaign. The fellow's name is Ern Watson. He is a retired bank manager. He is a very genuine volunteer and if he is going to do that job for me, he will have to accept the responsibility laid down in this legislation. If he fails, he is liable to the fines that I am detailing. The Special Minister of State (Mr Beazley) set out those details in a note which we received today. It states, in effect, that if Ern Watson-Philip Ruddock's agent-retired bank manager, submits an incomplete return, as an agent of a candidate he will be liable to a fine of $1,000. If he fails to retain the records of Philip Ruddock's campaign, he will be liable to a fine of $1,000. If he knowingly furnishes a false claim or return , he will be liable to a maximum fine of $5,000, with the possibility that it will be an indictable offence. If he knowingly furnishes false information to a person required to furnish a return, he will be liable to a fine of $1,000. If he continues to fail to furnish a return, he will be liable to a fine of $100 daily. If he refuses or fails to comply with a notice to produce documents or to give evidence, he will be liable to a fine of $1,000.

I appeared before the Committee of Inquiry into the Disclosure of Electoral Expenses, Sir Clarrie Harders's Committee, which looked into these matters and I gave some evidence to that Committee about the difficulties faced by political parties in finding volunteers who will give service to political parties to assist the philosophy that they support. I believe that political parties will find it very difficult to get those volunteers to give service in their electorates. If we look at the documents which the Minister furnished to us today, on page 9 we will also find some provisions which relate to the inability to complete returns. There are also involved in this legislation investigatory powers put in the hands of the Electoral Commission.

Honourable members must understand that from my reading of proposed section 153Y, if Ern Watson is not able to obtain adequate information in relation to the branches that might have given donations to the campaign in Dundas, he will then have to provide information as to other office bearers in Liberal Party branches. So there will be a distinct possibility that the Electoral Commissioner will be able to ask the office bearers in each of the electorate branches to furnish information. Any person who wants to take on an honorary position in any honourable member's branch will face the possibility of being chased by the Electoral Commissioner and the possibility of having made himself liable for fines in each of the areas I have mentioned. I regard that as being most undesirable. It is a matter that has not been raised before. I see it as one which will make it extraordinarily difficult for candidates to excuse themselves from being involved in the collection of money for political parties. It will put a greater onus on them to be involved, because they are the ones who will be standing for election and nobody will want to volunteer to be their agent.

The other comments which I want to address briefly are those that have been made in relation to the Electoral Commission, suggesting that under this legislation it will in some way be independent. I admit that the legislation will improve the situation. But I make this point: In no way will the Commission be truly independent or free from possible criticism. Since this Government first appointed Dr Wilenski as Chairman of the Public Service Board and has put into legislation provision to make people chosen by him eligible for appointment , I believe that one cannot but doubt the nature of the appointments that might be made to this sort of body.

Specific positions have been designated for those people who will constitute members of redistribution committees in the Electoral Commission. In my judgment , the Chairman of the Public Service Board will be influential in choosing public officials. In the States of Australia designated officials will also be chosen. I know that in New South Wales the Wran Labor Government gives a great deal of attention to the appointment of the Surveyor-General, and in the future I think it will give great attention to the appointment of the Auditor-General. To suggest that these provisions will in any way obviate people from being suspicious or concerned about the way in which these redistributions will emerge is somewhat futile. It will be very important that the Parliament be left with the sanction to be able to refuse a redistribution. That is one of the amendments that the Opposition will move, for which I will be voting very strongly.