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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
02/11/2011
Funding of political parties and election campaigns

McLEAN, Mr Samuel Thomas, Deputy Director, GetUp!

Committee met at 08:00

CHAIR ( Mr Melham ): I declare open this hearing of the inquiry into the funding of political parties and election campaigns. Today the committee will hear from the activist group GetUp! It is valuable for the committee to hear from groups like GetUp!, which are active participants in Australia's political arena and the electoral process.

The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard, and will be covered by parliamentary privilege. I remind members of the media who may be present at this hearing of the need to report fairly and accurately the proceedings of the committee. These hearings are legal proceedings of the parliament and therefore have the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses.

I understand that we have one of our committee members, Senator Scott Ryan, attending via teleconference.

Senator RYAN: Yes.

CHAIR: Congratulations, we hear you are a new dad!

Senator RYAN: Thank you very much.

CHAIR: The child does not get a vote in the committee—as long as you know that!

I now welcome a representative from GetUp!, Mr Sam McLean. I thank you for appearing before the committee today. You have indicated that you need to leave by quarter to nine, so I intend to close the hearing at that stage. The committee has received a submission from GetUp! Mr McLean, would you care to make some opening remarks?

Mr McLean : Congratulations, Senator Ryan. And thank you to the committee for making time to hear what GetUp! members have to say. I hope that I can be helpful to the committee in communicating our thoughts.

I will not go into detail in any opening remarks—you have our submission in front of you—but I will give a little bit of context as to why GetUp! members are concerned with this inquiry and the actions of this committee.

A great many GetUp! members are concerned about the direction that elections are heading in. The last two elections have seen very substantial efforts by third parties: by the union movement in the 2007 election spending a substantial amount of money as part of the election effort; and multinational corporations in the last election spending a substantial amount of money, largely on advertising as well. It is clear that third parties are increasing in their capacity relative to political parties to raise and spend money during the electoral cycle, and that elections are costing more and more for all participants.

GetUp! is one such third party. We do not spend nearly as much as some others, but we were set up with the aim of giving citizens more ways to aggregate their power and to participate in the political debate. We think that in that context, raising and spending money can be a very good thing—a very empowering thing for citizens. However, we are very cognisant of the need for reform of electoral law in Australia; particularly funding and spending in elections, and the need for that to include third parties.

In our submission and in other public comments we have argued strongly for regulation of third parties, including GetUp!—some would say against our own self-interest. We are very proud of the record of GetUp! members on this issue, and we are very proud of the way that we, as a movement, participate in the political process. For the year to date GetUp! members have made over 144,000 donations to the GetUp! movement, totalling $3.9 million. The average donation amongst those is $27 and there have been 69,000 donors, including 45,000 donors this year who have never given to GetUp! before. That is the context which we come to this debate with. We are very proud of the way that GetUp! members use raising and spending money to participate in the electoral process. However, we hope that this parliament and this committee will give strong and robust recommendations for a way forward that will include regulation of political parties and third parties alike.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: I would just like to begin by clearing up what happened about your originally scheduled testimony to this committee, which was scheduled for 12 October. You originally sent an email to the secretariat on 7 October saying, 'Unfortunately, Simon and Sam have to travel to India next week and won't be able to attend the hearing. Apologies for that.'

Then you said on 11 October, 'I am so sorry I didn't get back to you. I am holidays and have really struggled to find reception. I mentioned on the phone that I was waiting to confirm some details with travel for Simon and I. Unfortunately, both of us will have to leave for work travel at that time so we will no longer be able to attend. We are a small organisation and nobody else among us sees enough detail to appear before the committee. I am very sorry for the late notice cancellation. Naturally, we would be more happy to answer any questions in writing the committee can have for us.'

The problem with that is that you—or Mr Sheikh—were actually in Canberra on that day, lobbying for the government's carbon tax. So why did you tell a mistruth to this committee and say you were in India?

Mr McLean : I left for India the following day, as did Simon.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Pardon?

Mr McLean : Both of us left for India the following day, as I recall.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: That was not what you said to us—that you would be in India and could not come that day. In fact, you were lobbying for the Labor Party.

CHAIR: I think it said it would be travel, it did not say they would be in India on that day.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: It says, 'we will be in India'.

CHAIR: You read the letter out and it talked about travel.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: If you want to support them, that is fine.

CHAIR: I am not supporting them; I do not want them verballed. You rightly read the letter out; your summary at the end does not reflect what was in the letter. That is all I am saying.

Mr McLean : I apologise for our inability to make the earlier hearings, and appreciate the committee rescheduling and hearing from us today. I will be happy to answer in writing any of the questions that you have about that—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: No.

Mr McLean : but I am here today to help the committee with any questions they have about reform and about our submission. I am happy to answer any of those questions about logistics in writing.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Thank you. The reason I was so concerned about these two emails—and any normal person reading those two emails together would take this inference, 'I mentioned on the telephone I was waiting to confirm details of travel for Simon and I,' which in the previous one was to India, with, 'both of us will have to leave for work travel at that time,' and would assume that the two were connected.

The reason it is relevant is because you always claim to be independent. People on my side of politics find you totally nonindependent. We find you are always out there to support the government.

CHAIR: I do not think that is relevant to independence. He is here today, can you stick to the terms of reference and ask relevant questions?

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Excuse me? Terms of reference—

CHAIR: This has nothing to do with—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Transparency and accountability of the funding regime!

CHAIR: I have allowed the question on the basis that—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Daryl, if you want to support GetUp! I understand that. It was formed by Bill Shorten after all.

CHAIR: If you want to be a drama queen, fine. You have 45 minutes to ask questions, and you will get the bulk of the questions. Move on to the questions on the terms of reference. It is outside the terms of reference—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Mr McLean your organisation was formed by, Mr Shorten, as one of the founders?

Mr McLean : I think that all of those details about the founding members of GetUp! and so forth are covered in writing. I am happy to answer them on notice.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: So the answer is yes.

Mr McLean : Yes, I am happy to answer on notice—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: No: Mr Shorten was the founder of GetUp!? Yes?

Mr McLean : No, I do not agree with your characterisation of that.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Well, what was he?

Mr McLean : Sorry?

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: He was an original founder—his signature was on the document, wasn't it?

Mr McLean : I am happy to answer that question on notice in writing because I do not feel like I can provide you the detail that you are after off the top of my head.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Is that why Mr Sheikh could not come today?

Mr McLean : No.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Where is he today?

Mr McLean : I do not think that is relevant.

CHAIR: It is not relevant: you do not have to answer it. Next question.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: On the contrary—

Mr McLean : I apologise to the committee that my colleague, Mr Sheikh, could not be with us today. However, I have come to answer as many questions as I can and to be as helpful as I can to the committee. If there are any questions that I cannot answer I am happy to take them on notice and have Mr Sheikh or any other relevant person get back to the committee as soon as is practical.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Mr McLean, I think I want to put it on record that we might have to call Mr Sheikh another time because he is the puppet master, as it were.

CHAIR: I think that is a gratuitous comment, Mrs Bishop, and it does not reflect the views of other members of the committee.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: No, but it reflects mine.

CHAIR: Continue, because if you keep going I intend to go to another member of the committee who will ask questions relevant to the terms of reference.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Mr McLean, you say that you have four hundred and forty something thousand members. Is that what you claim?

Mr McLean : I think our website currently say we have some 600,000 members.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: What is your claim? How many members do you claim?

Mr McLean : From memory, our website currently claims in the order of 600,000. It is on our home page.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: I want to go right to that. In your constitution you have a very strict regime of what a member is. They have to apply and be accepted by the board, and they can be in two categories: voting and non-voting. How many voting members do you have that have been accepted by the board?

Mr McLean : I would have to take that on notice to give you an accurate answer, but suffice to say that it would be less than a dozen.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: How many non-voting members accepted by the board would you have?

Mr McLean : Again, I would have to take that on notice.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: So when you say you have 600,000 members you are really saying there are 600,000—how would you define them?

Mr McLean : I appreciate the point that you raise. There's a difference between a registered member of a company who has voting rights and so forth and somebody who is a member of a political and social movement. When we say that there are 600,000 or so members of GetUp! we're talking about people who have taken action through GetUp!, whether it be donating, taking action online or coming to events. They're members of a community. I think that's a fairly—

Senator XENOPHON: Voting and other members

Mr McLean : Yes. There's a debate about nomenclature, but our nomenclature is that we call these people members. I think it is fairly clear what that constitutes—they're members of an online and e-world community.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: This issue became quite important, didn't it? Your model is a bit like the One Nation model of what is a member.

Mr McLean : I'm not familiar with One Nation's model, I'm sorry.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: There were court cases about what constituted a member. Wouldn't it be more reasonable, as you are such a politically activist group—you call yourself a third party—that you should be caught by the registration provisions of political parties and that you can't go around saying you've got 600,000 members when you've really got 12 voting members?

Mr McLean : I'm sorry, I don't quite understand the point you're getting at.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: You say you've got 600,000 members, which is up from 430,000, which is the claim I saw last. Do you count everyone who clicks on your website?

Mr McLean : Yes, we count people who take action through GetUp! and then continue to do so and don't opt out.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: So anyone who clicks on your website is counted?

Mr McLean : They can be, yes.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: So if I clicked on it tomorrow you would count me?

Mr McLean : Yes, if you elected—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: That's outrageous.

Mr McLean : If you elected to receive more updates from GetUp! and continued to take action through our site.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Then you are totally misleading people by saying that's a member. I could do that and you would count me as a member.

Mr McLean : As I said, it's an issue of nomenclature and the definition of different types of members, which I think is quite clear.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: How much are your membership fees, which in your constitution are set by the board?

Mr McLean : I would have to take that on notice, I'm sorry.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: You're the Deputy Director and you don't know the membership fees?

Mr McLean : No, not on—I'll take it on notice to make sure I give you an accurate answer.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Is it $100, $500, $5, $1,000?

CHAIR: He said he will take it on notice. Next question.

Mr McLean : I will have to get back to you about it. I could poke around the back of my mind and try and find something for you, but I will take it on notice and give you an accurate answer.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: How extraordinary that you are the member of an organisation and you don't know your fee structure.

CHAIR: Next question. I'm not going to have a running commentary from you, Mrs Bishop. If it continues I will go to other members.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: I know you're here to protect the witness. It's all right, you protect him.

CHAIR: I've already said you will get the bulk of time because you wanted—so I'm not going to have it said that I'm trying to cut you off, but I'm not going to have a witness gratuitously insulted.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Mr McLean, when was the last time you had an annual general meeting?

Mr McLean : I will take that on notice as well and give you an accurate answer. Suffice to say that I think that information is available from our publicly listed documents.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: You have a membership register, which you say is available for members to inspect. Can I inspect your membership register?

Mr McLean : As with any company limited by guarantee—I don't want to give you legal advice—you can come to our office and demand to see a copy of the register of members, I believe.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Good. I might just do that. I want to go to the composition of the board. How many people are currently on the board?

Mr McLean : Again, that's available with documents we've listed as a public company listed by guarantee. I don't have them to hand. I'm happy to take that on notice and get back to you on all these questions.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Have you been accepted as a voting member of GetUp!?

Mr McLean : I'm not.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: So you haven't had to pay any fees?

Mr McLean : I think that follows, yes.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Are you aware of the categories of the people who can be directors?

Mr McLean : Not offhand. I am again happy to take this on notice, but I have a clue that you might have a copy of it in front of you.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: My goodness, if I were employing a deputy director I would want him to have more knowledge. Perhaps I can help you. These are the categories—this is what you have to be to be a director:

An individual with significant credibility and experience in online political organising and/or fundraising

An individual with significant credibility and experience in online political organising and/or fundraising

So two political people who could fundraise. The next is:

An individual with significant credibility and experience in the union movement/industrial field

So a unionist. Then:

An individual with significant credibility and experience in the Australian environmental movement or other social movements

So we have the green type people.

An individual with credibility and experience either in the union movement/industrial field or Australian social movements

So another union person.

An individual with significant credibility and experience in dealing with the Australian media and/or in Australian business

So we have got a media person.

An individual with significant credibility and experience dealing with the Australian media and/or in Australian business

So we have two of those. I wonder if you would be kind enough to take on notice who those people are and in which categories they fit so that we can have that information.

Mr McLean : I am happy to take that on notice.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: And I go to the next section in your constitution on appointment by members. It says:

The members can appoint a person who has not turned 72 to be a director by resolution.

The members can appoint a person who has turned 72 or more to be a director by special resolution.

That was outlawed by the federal parliament. Are you aware of that?

Mr McLean : I will take that on notice as well.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Right. In your submission you claim to be independent. I think we have demonstrated fairly well that you are not, particularly when we look at the constitution—

CHAIR: Mrs Bishop, you are here to ask questions, not to make gratuitous comments. If you want to give evidence, you can go to the other side of the table and we will cross-examine you. Please ask your question.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: How pathetic you are, Daryl.

CHAIR: No, not pathetic. I am doing my job as chair, which is as follows—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: To look after—

CHAIR: and let the record show that Senate privileges procedure is that the chairman of a committee shall take care to ensure that all questions put to witnesses are relevant to the committee's inquiry and that the information sought by those questions is necessary for the purposes of that inquiry. That is why I object to a number of your questions—they are gratuitous statements, not questions.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: The terms of reference for this inquiry are 'to improve the system for the funding of political parties and election campaigns'. The role of third parties in the electoral process is a specific term of reference. This is a group that claims to be independent and we are going through evidence that shows that that independence is not so.

CHAIR: Well, stick to the evidence—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: The constitution says your objects are:

... to advance progressive public policy in Australia;

to build a diverse community of Australians committed to strengthening progressive politics; and

to provide new and innovative ways for Australians to participate in the political life of the nation.

How do you define 'progressive'?

Mr McLean : I appreciate the comment, I think it is rather philosophical. I came to be helpful to the committee. I am not sure that this is relevant to the inquiry. If it helps—

CHAIR: It would help if you could attempt to answer the question.

Mr McLean : I will attempt to answer the question. There are very many GetUp! members and I daresay that they would define the wording in different ways, but GetUp! has a clear set of values which we stick by and which our campaigns aim to progress. They are economic fairness, social justice and environmental sustainability. Our mission is to give Australian citizens a way to take action together and in so doing progress those three values. Insomuch as you could call them progressive values that is—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: No, you call them progressive.

Mr McLean : We call them progressive values. That is the most pertinent—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: That description by anybody's guess would be a left wing agenda.

Mr McLean : I would not agree with that characterisation, no.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Well, tell me where the right wing agenda is.

Mr McLean : I do not think that is for me to comment on.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: All right. We will now go to the question of your participation in the last election. You commissioned and ran a whole series of commercials using Professor McGorry on issues pertaining to mental health. I would like to know how much you spent on these commercials. You will have to take the cost of those commercials on notice. You ran commercials that were saying sufficient money was not being spent on mental health, including by the coalition.

Mr McLean : I do not agree with that characterisation of the ads.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: You continued to run those commercials after the coalition had made a commitment of $1.9 billion to mental health. Why did you not pull the commercials?

Mr McLean : I do not agree with your characterisation of the commercials. If you go back to the ads and see what Professor McGorry was saying—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: I did, believe me.

Mr McLean : I do not agree with that characterisation. However, I would note that in public statements, press releases and in communications with our members and with the press, GetUp! was extraordinarily congratulatory of the coalition's announcement on mental health and still are.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Chair, we will need to have a copy of that commercial and the date on which the announcement was made and the continuance of those commercials running because they did continue to run.

Mr McLean : I am happy to take the question on notice and provide a transcript of the ad if that would be helpful, and also a breakdown of when the ad ran.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: And the spend?

Mr McLean : I will take all of that on notice and get back to you as best I can. I would note that the vast majority of our media buy on that campaign occurred before said announcement.

Mr GRIFFIN: Could you also provide copies of your statements which were released congratulating the coalition with respect to their policy?

Mr McLean : Absolutely.

Mr CHESTER: Mr McLean, in your submission you refer to caps during the defined campaign period. I think you called them 'the controlled expenditure period'. I have some problems with that. Is it not true that third parties are campaigning all the time, so you are seeking to influence policy outcomes throughout the electoral cycle, not just in that defined campaign period? On your current campaign actions are: Pokies Reform, Coal Seam Gas, Refugees and Asylum Seekers, Climate Action Now, Marriage Equality and No Harvey No!. I am interested to know how GetUp! decide which campaigns it is going to pursue. Do you believe that GetUp! have any obligations to assess the impacts of those campaigns, in particular the No Harvey No! campaign? Do you believe that GetUp! have any responsibility to put some balance into your argument and to disclose what the impacts may well be in regional communities, for example, if you go down the path of calling for all harvesting of native forests to stop? Do you consider that and do you believe that you need to disclose to the people you are soliciting donations from that timber is sometimes illegally harvested rainforest timber from foreign countries?

When you are soliciting these funds during this whole campaign period, which is several years, do you believe that people you are communicating with should have a full understanding of the impacts and the potential negative impacts in regional communities in particular—which is my perspective? How does that fit in with your clear set of values about economic fairness, social justice and environmental sustainability?

Mr McLean : Thank you for the questions. There are a couple in there and I will try and address them one by one. The first question was about the submission's recommendations regarding third-party expenditure caps outside of the electoral communications period. There are many reasons GetUp!, in our submission and in others who have written on the issue, have recommended that spending caps only apply to third parties during the electoral period—and there are many ways that the electoral period can be defined which we have spoken about in the submission as well. Firstly, many have argued that there may be freedom of political communication and other problems with limiting political speech and expenditure outside of election cycles because, after the Langer case, limits have to be proven to be reasonable. So many have posited that it is impractical to legislate to limit those outside of the electoral cycle. Secondly, the major issue at stake when regulating political expenditure is elections—the conduct of elections and the information that the voters receive. Therefore, regulating political fundraising and spending in the election period for third parties is the main game.

Mr CHESTER: On that point, you would recognise that you can influence election outcomes well before that set campaign period? That is the whole modus operandi of GetUp!. You are trying to influence policy outcomes right through the electoral cycle well before the last six months.

Mr McLean : I think the crucial distinction there is one that you have just made which is between electoral outcomes and policy outcomes. We are all about policy outcomes, and electoral cycles are sometimes useful levers in this getting policy outcomes in terms of putting issues on the agenda and so forth. The aim clearly for GetUp! outside of and during election cycles is to progress certain policy outcomes not to influence the election of candidates one way or another.

The second question was about which campaigns GetUp! choose and how they are chosen. Our website provides some further information about this which has more detail than I can provide here. Essentially, GetUp! have a staff of campaigners, whose job it is to select campaigns that will offer members a good chance to have an impact and represent the concerns that they have. Broadly considered, we describe the cycle as one where issues must have moment and a movement and some values. The moment is the chance to make an impact. There is a plethora of campaigns that GetUp! members, I am sure, would be keen to run but some of them do not have a moment where politicians or others are going to take action, so there is no use in pursuing them. We look for opportunities for members to have a timely impact.

The second one is a movement. We do regular surveys of the entire membership of GetUp! and of small statistically significant samples to ask their opinions on suggestions for campaigns and their suggestions for new campaigns. Members can logon to the website suggest.getup.org.au and suggest campaigns for the movement to run and vote and so forth, to get a sense of where the collective priorities lie. At the end of that process, given a sense of what members are after, through surveys and suggestions and so forth, it is up to staff to try to make a decision about which has the most impact.

Regarding the responsibility of GetUp! to assess the impact of campaigns and disclose information, particularly about the No Harvey No! campaign, for example. You are completely right to say that we have an obligation to be as even-handed as we possibly can in providing that information. Whether we get that right on every single campaign is a subjective matter. On that particular campaign regarding forests, I understand the various viewpoints about where forestry timber comes from. That is an ongoing campaign and I would be very happy to hear your comments about it and advice.

Senator POLLEY: When you are explaining how you set your policy directions and your campaigns, could you explain how many members or supporters have to logon to your site and how easy is it to manipulate a campaign? For instance, you have very run a very strong campaign to change the Marriage Act, how many supporters would have had to logon to your site to make that an issue? Couldn't you quite easily be open to manipulation?

Mr McLean : Thanks very much for the question. As I mentioned there are two main media we use for engaging with how members feel about certain campaigns. One is the suggestion site where people can log on and suggest a new campaign and vote for the suggestions of others. There are various ways that that site is protected from gaming. It cannot be immune to it. However, it is possible to make people log in and limit how much they can vote et cetera. The important thing is having a cross-check on that which is where the regular surveys we do of random samples of GetUp! members are very helpful because it is very difficult to game a survey of a randomly selected sample. Those two are helpful for us to get a sense of where the broader GetUp! community lie.

Mr TEHAN: I am curious about your harvesting of emails. Do you pay to harvest emails or have you collected them using non-financial sources? Also when you run campaigns do you share your email database? For instance on the live export debate was there a sharing of your email database with Animals Australia or the RSPCA? Do you go into discussions or negotiations with other organisations with regard to your email list?

Mr McLean : No, to my knowledge we do not and have never paid for acquisition of email addresses or data. The people who take action through GetUp's! website and put their name to a petition or another action can choose whether they receive further communications from us and they can opt out at any time. We never try to acquire them in any other way. Regarding sharing and handling of that data thereafter our privacy policy on our website can give more detail than I can in person now. We would never share information with another campaign partner or so forth. That has been an issue of debate. For example during the live export campaign, which involved working with other organisations in loose collaboration, we happily provided links on our website to the websites of other organisations but we never shared data that we gathered.

Senator RYAN: In your submission you want to ban donations below $50. In brief you simply say you think there is a transaction cost for that. Why do you seek to ban people collecting donations below $50?

Mr McLean : Thank you for the question. This is dealt with in 2.4 of our submission. It is an interesting debate and an interesting issue. The reason for banning anonymous donations—and to clarify we are not advising that all donations should be banned we are simply saying that anonymous donations of over $50 should be banned.

Senator RYAN: Would that require a ban on the selling of raffle tickets at a branch meeting?

Mr McLean : No.

Senator RYAN: You do not record the names of those that might buy them.

Mr McLean : Unless those raffle tickets were over $50 in which case you could still sell the raffle tickets but you would need to record the names of the people who were buying them inasmuch as buying a raffle ticket constituted a donation.

Senator RYAN: I am pressed for time. I am happy to know you want us to record the names of everyone that buys a raffle ticket for $2.

Mr McLean : No, not for $2. I need to clarify this. Our submission advises banning anonymous donations, not banning donations under $50. I think that collecting donations of $50 in raffle tickets—

Senator RYAN: I think you have a complete lack of understanding about genuine voluntary political activity. At a branch meeting that might be held with 10 people in Essendon or anywhere around Australia you don't record the names of those who buy $5 raffle tickets when they have a meeting. Over the course of a year it might add up to $60—

Mr McLean : I'm suggesting that that would be fine. If you were selling a $5 raffle ticket you would have no worries at all.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: But your submission says below $50.

Mr McLean : Anonymous donations below $50.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Correct, but you're wanting them recorded.

Mr McLean : No—

Senator RYAN: We'll move on. You might want to clarify that. I'm waiting for my plane and I'm pressed for time. You want to limit membership fees to $1,000 and you want to limit donations, but you want to allow affiliation fees of up to $500,000—is that correct?

Mr McLean : That's correct.

Senator RYAN: You assert in your submission that money is a problem in politics and you outline in the opening part that third parties can have an influence on election campaigns. Why is a donation of $100,000 a problem but an affiliation fee of $500,000 that also buys votes at a national conference of a political party not a problem?

Mr McLean : That's a good question. I am just going to refer to notes.

CHAIR: I think it is in section 3.5 of your submission that you talk about $500,000.

Senator RYAN: The point I make is that you and people of your ilk seem to think that a donation of $5,000 somehow buys all this influence, yet it is okay for a body to pay half a million dollars and not only theoretically buy influence but, in the rules of the organisation, effectively buy votes at a national conference.

Mr McLean : I'm sorry, we're struggling to hear you on this end. Could you repeat the last section of your question?

Senator RYAN: The point I am making is that an affiliation fee is not only a donation, it actually buys a stake in the organisation—it pays for votes. If a union does not pay its affiliation fee it does not have a vote at a state or national conference. You allege that a $5,000 is somehow a problem because it might buy influence. How is a $500,000 affiliation fee, which is contributed to only one of the two major parties in Australia and which actually buys votes at a conference not a problem?

Mr McLean : This is a very fraught issue. I think the real issue here is not the existence of affiliation fees but the quantum of affiliation fees. The existence of affiliation fees has been part of the Labor Party—

Senator RYAN: So have private donations in Australia. You make the distinction between donations and affiliation fees. I want to know what the distinction is.

Mr McLean : It's a very complicated issue. I think the distinctions are that affiliation fees are coming from unions. Affiliation fees are something that pre-dates Federation in Australia and it is impracticable to try to—

Senator RYAN: No, they don't. They do not pre-date Federation—have a history lesson.

Mr McLean : The structure of the party pre-dates any of these laws. In so much as—

Senator RYAN: The structure of the modern Labor Party does not pre-date Federation, actually. Its current form is rather modern.

CHAIR: I might just switch to Mrs Bishop for a couple of questions and then Senator Rhiannon, because we have time issues.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: I think Scott has opened up some very interesting areas. You think $500,000 is a very large sum of money, you think that large donors affect the decisions that organisations make and yet you accepted $1 million from the CFMEU. What did it buy for its million dollars?

Mr McLean : TV ads.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: The TV ads were of their liking?

Mr McLean : I assume so. I would not have made the donation if I were them and didn't like the ad.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: So they bought influence with you.

Mr McLean : I wouldn't characterise it that way, no.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: The Greens seem to think that they can take $1.7 million and it doesn't affect them because they're pure, and you can take $1 million from the CFMEU and it doesn't affect you because you're pure. But if a registered political party like the Labor Party, the Liberal Party or the National Party does then they're impure. The hypocrisy is mind bending. How many other union donations did you get?

Mr McLean : I can take your last question on notice and get back to you, although I think it has been publicised and it is published on our website. All donations over $10,000 are published on our website within 30 days. But to respond to the argument you are making, I do not think that is an accurate characterisation of my opinion.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Well, try another one.

CHAIR: You have the last question and then we are going to Senator Rhiannon.

Mr McLean : I do not think that GetUp! is more pure than political parties and therefore we should be able to accept donations that the Liberal Party should not. What we do argue for is strong limits on both donations and spending, with third parties included, and we would be very happy to abide by those if they existed. I do not necessarily think that political donations buy undue influence. However, I think that they create the perception of undue influence for all involved and therefore we would seek to regulate them, including for third parties. I am very proud of the way that GetUp! handles donations, including the ones that you have mentioned—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: I am sure you are.

Mr McLean : I have mentioned the statistics about how many donations are received. The vast majority of our funding is from the 60,000 or more donors who give to us in very small amounts, with an average donation of under $50, and all our donations are disclosed immediately. We will not know the donors to federal political parties in the same period before the 2010 federal election until February of next year.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Well, $27 from 60,000—

CHAIR: This is the final question, Mrs Bishop. We have time constraints.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: This statement is a lead-up to the question. Sixty thousand donors paying $27 each does not run much. You would know that; everybody knows that—

Mr McLean : That is $3.9 million.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: and therefore you have a hell of a lot of other moneys coming in from other sources, like the CFMEU—

Mr McLean : No, the vast majority of our money, 82 per cent and more, comes from donations of small amounts.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: But 60,000 at $27 does not buy much. I take it if you—

CHAIR: Ask Barack Obama about the presidency! Next question.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: If you look at Barack Obama his biggest day was Goldman Sachs—

CHAIR: Next question and then we are moving on.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Take this proposition: if a third party looks and acts like a political party, we should have a law that requires you to register as a political party and behave and be bound by the same rules. Would GetUp! agree to that?

Mr McLean : Yes, insomuch as that a political party runs candidates and I think that an organisation that looks and acts like a political party would run candidates and be elected to a parliament. I am inferring from your question that you are saying that GetUp! acts and runs like a political party and therefore that we should be.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: It does, yes.

Mr McLean : I would disagree with that characterisation.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Just so I am sure, if there was a law that said if a party met certain criteria which basically amounted to looking and behaving like a political party, even if it did not run candidates but just backed others—silently or covertly or whatever—and it was required by law to register and then to be bound by all the rules that political parties are, you would object and campaign against that, would you?

Mr McLean : That is not what I said at all.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Would you object or agree?

Mr McLean : I disagree with what you are implying, which is that GetUp! falls into the category that you are describing.

CHAIR: Okay, Senator Rhiannon and Mr Griffin have some questions.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for coming to give evidence. Some submissions we have received advocate public funding for administration purposes, and I note that you have also supported this position. You talk about a five-year transitional period to help parties adjust in terms of this funding change. Could you explain how that would work? Also, how do you see it would work for start-up parties? Virtually every election throws up new parties. How would they qualify? What benchmarks would they have to reach to also gain some form of public funding?

Mr McLean : Thank you for your question, Senator. The issue of public funding is one that I think many GetUp! members feel quite passionate about. It is clear that the public funding has been increased three times in the last 20 years and there has still been an increase in the amount of donations coming through the door and expenditure going out the door. We are of the opinion that public funding does not help prevent the arms race of political expenditure and therefore should be phased out and a new model should be explored. That is the idea of a five-year phase out period. As to how new parties or start-up parties are treated by that, we have suggested in the submission that a campaign finance authority be established or run under the AEC and I think it would be important that that authority has a remit to explore this issue and make some calls about how new parties are treated. Some of the things we have suggested in the submission include using public opinion polling and other indications of support to adjust the public funding ratio for new parties. I think that sort of situation would be needed to avoid what we had under the laws in the early 1990s where 90 per cent of funding was going to established political parties.

Senator RHIANNON: In the New South Wales state election there were a number of examples of the Nationals overspending the limits that had been placed in legislation that they had actually voted for. I noticed in 5.1 you talk about the need to prevent overspending. What measures would you advocate should be put in place to achieve that?

Mr McLean : Again I think that comes back to the funding authority and giving that authority enough muscle to levy fines on groups and to do so before an election occurs. I do not know whether I can give you a more sophisticated answer than that really.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

Mr GRIFFIN: I think you should go back to look at 2.4 of your submission. It goes to the issue that Senator Ryan raised with you and the argument about above and below a $50 donation threshold. I think your submission is incorrect. If you go to the first sentence it says:

In the interests of promoting openness and transparency, it should be unlawful for anonymous donations to be made or received below a very low threshold, at $50.

I think you mean above. You might want to check that.

Mr McLean : I was thinking that was possible before. I apologise for the confusion there.

CHAIR: If it should read 'above' can you write to the committee amending that paragraph? Then that is a different ballgame. It picks up what Senator Ryan was saying.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Except that in a later part of the submission it goes on to say 'permitted anonymous gifts which includes anonymous gift donations of less than $50 made at a general public activity.'

CHAIR: That is why I want him to consider it.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: It is inconsistent.

CHAIR: That is why I want him to give a considered position now that it has been raised and come back to us. You have to come back to us in answering other question. I thank you for your attendance today.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: We are not quite at five to nine.

CHAIR: I said quarter to nine at the beginning because Mr McLean had to leave. I told you that. I raised that at—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: He's probably got to go to India.

CHAIR: It is gratuitous. We are closing. I told you—

Mr McLean : Unfortunately, not.

CHAIR: at 8 o'clock and I note that in the first 40 minutes the opposition got everything but one question. It is not as though you have not had a fair share. Mr McLean, you will be sent a copy of the transcript, can you please check the record. I thank you for your attendance. Can I have a resolution that the committee authorise publication including publication on the parliamentary database of the proof of transcript of the evidence given before it at a public hearing today. We might also send you some supplementary questions that we want to ask you. There being no objection it is so resolved.

Committee adjourned at 08:48