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Wednesday, 9 November 1983
Page: 2542

Mr MAHER(7.41) —The Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill is extremely important and is quite shattering for the conservative parties in Australia because for once the Australian Labor Party will go into a campaign with the possibility of having public election funding which is the right of all democratic parties in the Western countries with which we compare ourselves. I am the only member of this House, as far as I know, who has ever received public funding. I received that under the New South Wales legislation in the 1981 State election. This scheme evolved through the suggestions of the very hard working Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform-I pay tribute to it and to its Chairman-which has come up with an extremely simple and straightforward system of public funding and an equally straightforward system of disclosure. The two go hand in hand. In the New South Wales scheme, which is admittedly a pilot scheme for our nation, there is a very complex system of disclosure and pages of returns are required. In my case, the agent whom I appointed died a few weeks after the election and the whole task of completing all the returns fell on me.

I know exactly what is involved and I say to members of the Opposition and to the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock) that they need have no fears. The few matters that have to be declared should be readily available to them and there should be no problem of obtaining local agents or State party paid officials to act as agents. This legislation will work. It will take the best out of the New South Wales system and the best out of the systems that operate overseas. I noticed that none of the Opposition speakers mentioned the fact that President Reagan in America received $29.4m by way of government subsidy in the 1980 presidential election. That fact was totally overlooked. The scheme evolved to pay members of this House the equivalent of 60c per vote received is an admirable scheme. It is fair and it will be understood and totally endorsed by the electorate.

The whole question of disclosure is the one that really rankles the Opposition. I have actually gone back to a speech I made in another Parliament in 1981 concerning public funding. I referred then and I refer again tonight to an incident that happened in the 1977 elections when Sir Robert Crichton-Brown, Federal President of the Liberal Party of Australia, sent out letters seeking donations. By accident, a reply to one of those letters got into someone else's post box in Melbourne. It referred to a $3,000 donation from Mauri Bros and Thomson Ltd and it was revealed in the Australian Financial Review that that company had said that it wanted that donation to be anonymous. What was the company getting out of it and why was it frightened to let the public know what it was giving? As the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) said, how many of the shareholders in that company were consulted before that anonymous donation was made? Why are the conservative forces in this country frightened to reveal who makes payments to them? What corruption takes place? What favours are received? What considerations are given by the conservative forces in this country when they are in government? Fortunately, the situation has changed and they will not be in government for many years in the future.

There are many existing forms of public funding. We all know of the abuses by the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia when they were in government before the last election, with the use of ministerial cars, their electorate offices, their stamp allowances and their phones. Everyone of those members, through section 74 of the Income Tax Assessment Act can claim deductions as a candidate. They receive deductions for all their expenditure in elections.

Tonight we have the opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform. The Australian people were revolted in some of the Senate elections in the 1970s when dummy candidates were deliberately drummed up in the hope that Labor voters would vote informally. I was impressed tonight by the comments of the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) who pointed out that the conservation forces lose a vote for every vote that the Labor Party loses through dummy Senate candidates who make no contribution to the nation except to confuse voters.

I know that in the Lowe by-election there were 12 or 13 candidates and a very high informal vote, but that fell by half at the election early this year. The whole notion of a donkey vote in Senate elections will disappear with this admirable scheme proposed by the Committee. There will be great appreciation for the reforms from amongst our ethnic communities, from people who are used to a simple voting system, a simple scheme for recording a vote and who are not used to the practice of filling out a vast array of numbers ranging from one to 74 or something like that. Aged and infirm people will benefit from this scheme. One does not have to be aged or infirm; anyone can go to a polling booth and forget to take one's glasses, have a sore arm or something like that and have trouble filling out a very complex ballot paper.

The honourable member for Dundas also raised the question of the Liberal Party' s fund raising code. We know that it has no morals when it comes to fund raising . It will take money from anyone and its members tonight are frightened that henceforth their secret slush funds will be open to the nation and they will have to disclose who has contributed to their funds and who has made donations to their election campaigns. In every campaign with which I have been involved, going back many years-perhaps 30 years or more-the Liberal Party, the conservative forces, have always outspent Labor candidates, by 10 to one in some cases. In the 1975 campaign the Liberal candidates could not even spend the money they had. They had so much money that they did not know where it was coming from-at least, they knew where it was coming from but no one else ever knew.

Public funding has worked very successfully in New South Wales. The Liberal Party and the National Party have now accepted public funding there. They have accepted what goes with it, that is, public disclosure of election donations. Tonight in this House we have this hypocritical campaign by members of the Opposition. Yet in the one State where public funding and public disclosure applies, they have totally come over to it and agreed with the legislation. They will be in there with their hand out and their declarations ready to be lodged-

Mr Cross —Both hands out.

Mr MAHER —With both hands out, except that in this Parliament the contribution is twice what it is in the States so I suppose in the States they have just one hand out.

In conclusion, I think this is a very important piece of legislation when I think of members who have served here in the past or, perhaps of, unsuccessful candidates who have gone from this place impoverished or who never even got here yet who spent their entire savings trying to do so. We can all on both sides think of many men and women who gave their all, who spent their savings and their wives' savings, who contributed their long service leave and perhaps their little nest eggs to get here. Those people suffered in the cause of public life, for democracy in this place. At long last, thank God, they have been vindicated and I urge the House to support this important pioneering legislation.

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker!

Mr Cadman —Mr Speaker!

Mr SPEAKER —I call the Minister for Aviation and Special Minister of State.