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Committee: Action on Smoking and Health Australia at Election Funding Inquiry

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 9 Aug 2011

Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters

Inquiry into the funding of political parties and election campaigns, Tuesday 9

Ms Anne Jones, OAM, Chief Executive Officer, Action on Smoking and Health Australia Pty Ltd

Full transcript available here.

Senator RHIANNON: In your submission you set out how the Australian government is party to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which really sets out very clearly obligations on government to protect health policies from interference by the tobacco industry. I would assume that if the Liberal Nationals won the next government they would also still be a party to that framework. Is that how it would work?

Ms Jones : Yes. Australia ratified that treaty in 2005, so they are a party along with 170 countries. There are obligations, and that particular area about preventing tobacco industry interference in health policies is an obligation.

Senator RHIANNON: So, if that is an obligation, would you say that that obligation would also flow through how you work as a party as well as in government in terms of taking tobacco donations? Would that put the Liberals and the Nationals in a contradictory situation?

Ms Jones : I think so. We only have a voluntary agreement at the moment with some parties saying they will not accept political donations from tobacco companies, but that could be skewed by third parties that are accepting money and then giving money to political parties, so it would be hard to know how far that money is really going from the industry through to parties via third parties. But with that obligation under the FCTC political donations are particularly mentioned.

Senator RHIANNON: They are actually set out in that convention.

Ms Jones : In the article 5.3 guidelines, of which I have a copy here—

Senator RHIANNON: Could you table that? That would be relevant for this.

Ms Jones: Yes. They do specifically mention political donations and how political parties should be considering making those illegal from tobacco companies. So that is the treaty, which I would like to table, and at the end is the 5.3 guidelines.

CHAIR: I have a motion that that be received. Carried. I will get that copied. Continue.

Senator RHIANNON: To get back to the issue with the third parties: you have set out some clear examples there. One of the enormous challenges when you read about electoral funding reform has certainly been how one manages third parties. I understand that ASH supports some form of limits on third-party activities. Do you have any model that you think works reasonably well? do you think it should just be broadly similar to how political parties work? I am interested in how you are coming at this.

Ms Jones : I do not believe you can have exemptions. I do not believe you can say, 'We should ban corporations from making donations but not ban unions.' I think it is all about having as fair and equitable a system as we possibly can. I know Canada has been mentioned as an example of a country that has brought in these sorts of caps not only on donations but also on expenditure. It is difficult to know exactly what is happening at the moment with a change of government there, but I notice that the Prime Minister did reaffirm his opposition to corporations and unions making donations—really it should be voters who make the donations. I think that is a very good example of a country that has moved ahead, and a couple of others have as well. In Australia, in comparison, we have had many inquiries and discussion papers but do not seem to be able to get past the complexity of what needs to be done.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you clarify your position on the tobacco donations? You have given the example of Canada. As we know, they have a ban on all corporate donations. Would ASH's position be that the favoured position would be to ban all donations from corporations and other organisations and, if that failed, then to have the ban on donations from the tobacco industry?

Ms Jones : Yes. I know there is a private member's bill in the federal parliament. I assume that, given it has been prepared by parliamentary counsel, it would have legal standing. It looks like it addresses our major concern of donations from tobacco companies and related third parties. So, yes, we support that. We would like to see the reforms go further, obviously, to greater transparency and frequency of disclosure. We do believe, because of our concerns about third parties and front groups, that money may be channelled through these other bodies unless there are more comprehensive reforms put in place.

Senator RHIANNON: You mentioned before how in some states political parties have imposed their own bans. Could you give a summary of what the status is around the country with regard to donations from the tobacco industry according to parties and states?

Ms Jones : Yes. As far as we understand, the ALP and the Greens have for some time voluntarily agreed to refuse to accept donations from tobacco companies. In terms of government legislation, only last year the New South Wales government introduced some partial reforms which included a ban on some donations. I understand there are still some issues there about witnesses in that legislation, but nevertheless they drew a line in the sand over tobacco industry donations. The Premier of Western Australia has announced he intends to ban political donations from tobacco companies. I do not know of any others.

Where I feel there is much more agitation for action is within the community itself. According to the surveys, the reputation index and so on, there is a lot of distrust not only of the tobacco industry but of political donations in general. You only have to look back: there have been so many editorials in, for example, the Sydney Morning Herald over this issue, but they are in others as well. I think it is an indication of the level of community concern about political donations and how influential they are.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

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