Debate on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Donations Reform) Bill 2014
I am pleased to resume my contribution to the debate on the Greens' Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Donations Reform) Bill 2014.
If passed, this bill would stop certain industries, often linked with having a corrupting influence on the political process, from donating to political parties. The Greens' donations reform bill bans political donations from developers and the tobacco, alcohol, gambling and mining industries.
We have targeted these industries as they do have a worrying track record in exercising often inappropriate influence on decision makers. The Greens' New South Wales 'Democracy for Sale' project, started 15 years ago, has put the spotlight on influence peddling associated with corporate bankrolling of parties and candidates. And we are talking big money here. It is very big money and it is certainly why many people become deeply cynical about the political process. Most people do not think that donors give money for no reason; they think there are strings attached. In the past five years the resource sector has donated more than $37 million, the gaming and hotels industry has donated more than $5 million and the property industry has donated more than $10 million to political parties. I am not saying this is illegal, but there is a perception that something is wrong.
ClubsNSW, the peak lobby group for poker machine dominated clubs in New South Wales, donated $20,000 in 2013 to the fundraising body supporting Kevin Andrews. Mr Andrews was leading the Abbott government's poker machine policy at the time. After the Abbott government repealed tough poker machine regulations, ClubsNSW donated another $10,000 to the Liberal Party. Disturbingly, the Menzies 200 Club, a Liberal fundraising vehicle, failed to declare the donation until eight months after the disclosure deadline. I acknowledge that this is not illegal. Making these payments at present is totally legal.
There are other examples that have left people wondering why the money was handed over. Often, if you look at the timing of the money, it becomes quite informative. In 2003, Manildra supported the federal coalition government at the time that key ethanol policy decisions were being made. In 2007, Manildra shifted its support to Labor when New South Wales introduced an ethanol mandate and when it applied for part 3A approval to expand its Shoalhaven starches operations. Just to explain, part 3A became one of the most notorious aspects of the New South Wales Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. It was brought in in a combined vote of Labor, Liberal and National parties and it was part of the watering down of very fine planning laws that were first brought in by the former Labor Wran government in 1979. At the time they were seen as world-class. They are based on the very important approach that public consultation should be the foundation of good planning laws. But what we saw, particularly to the end of the 1990s and into the 2000s, is that each year the Labor government, with the support of the Liberals and Nationals, would amend the legislation and further water it down. Part 3A became known by so many people. We all know it. How many people ever know the name of a section of an act? Part 3A became synonymous with the corrupting influence of donations. The other thing to take from the information I have just shared with you—Manildra giving to the coalition in 2003 and then giving to Labor in 2007—is that you see a trend in donation-giving: it shifts depending on who is on the rise in the electoral stakes; the corporate world shifts their donations to whoever is most likely to win.
In the Democracy for Sale project, when we collated the donations, we found that in 2003—that is when Manildra lobbied the Howard government for an ethanol excise, which was a successful lobbying exercise—they gave nearly $400,000 to the coalition parties. I mentioned how they shifted over to Labor in 2007, a time when they were looking for a favourable decision on some of their plans to expand production in the Shoalhaven area, which is south of Sydney. At that time, in 2007-08, it was a similar amount—nearly $400,000 again to Labor. This is the sort of money exchange that makes people deeply worried about how our electoral funding laws work.
What becomes very relevant when we debate this issue of political donations is a very important High Court case that was held recently. It was a High Court case that arose out of what has been discussed in this chamber a number of times: the impact of ICAC, our corruption watchdog in New South Wales. Eleven or 12 New South Wales Liberal MPs either resigned or had to stop being MPs because of the scandals that they were caught up in. Cases associated with it ended up before the High Court. Former Newcastle Lord Mayor and developer, Jeff McCloy brought the case to the High Court in a bid to overturn a New South Wales law banning developer donations. I remember being at polling booths and having interesting conversations with some Liberals who were really outraged about the laws, saying, 'Our people have done nothing wrong. They're bad laws. It's not their fault that they've broken the laws,' admitting that they had broken the laws by funnelling developer donations through different arms of the party—again breaking the law in New South Wales. So we had the developer cum Lord Mayor taking this case to the High Court. We argued that the ban was at odds with implied freedom of communication under the Constitution. However, the court agreed with the New South Wales government that communication between legislators and voters was not impeded by the donations bans. This is where I want to give emphasis to it. Often, when we talk about bringing in bans on corporations in different industries, people will use this argument very readily: 'It'll be a constitutional risk. People have a right to communicate by giving money.' This High Court case has really put that whole argument to bed. I would argue that governments have an absolute responsibility to move on this issue, and with the High Court case it should be much more apparent that now is the time to do that.
I would argue that what the High Court did was a win for sensible restrictions which seek to enhance the democratic process by reducing the temptations for politicians to act corruptly. The ruling has far-reaching consequences for the regulation of political activity, because it expanded the definition of corruption. This is the great significance of the case: its analysis of corruption itself. Largely, corruption before this High Court case was seen in terms of: you give some money and then you get some benefit from it. I have been involved with the Greens' Democracy for Sale project since it started and, time and time again, we would produce figures that we got from the AEC and the New South Wales Electoral Commission that set out how much money had been given. The next question would be: what did the political parties do? What did the donors receive? I would answer time and time again, 'I don't know if any deals go on behind closed doors and, if they do, what they are.' Here we have seen an expansion in the definition of corruption by the High Court.
To go back to the comment that I just made about when people would ask me I would say 'I don't have examples where money has been handed over and somebody immediately gains a benefit'. What I saw in the 15 years that I have worked on this was the corrupting influence, and you have heard us use that term many times. What we saw was a weakening of laws that would suit the industry that was making the donations. That is why the Greens have worked for a long time for a ban on developer donations and for a ban on the other industries that are often associated with corrupting practices. I would argue that the High Court case has now set this out so clearly. I want to share with you some comments from my New South Wales Greens MP colleague, David Shoebridge, who said:
In the 1970s, when Bob Askin was NSW Liberal Premier, corruption was a pretty simple affair.
Those who wanted a favour from the planning authorities or the police delivered a bundle of cash and the politicians delivered.
I note there are not any squeals from the government side because how corrupt that Liberal government was is on the record. What then has happened is that the High Court describes traditional corruption as 'quid pro quo' corruption. It is where money is handed over for a specific outcome, as I said, to approve a specific development, ignore an illegal betting syndicate or release a well-connected night. That is how it has worked.
This kind of corruption is where money changed hands for a specific outcome. But there is this other form of corruption, the corrupting influence over time particularly with regard to how our parliaments work, and this is where I would very strongly urge, as I have done before, that senators read the High Court case. The High Court case has called the form of corruption, the buying of influence across industries, as 'clientelism'. It is where, according to the High Court:
… office holders will decide issues not on the merits or desires of constituents, but according to the wishes of those that have made financial contributions valued by the office holder.
The High Court also states that consistent patterns of donations:
… compromise the expectation, fundamentals who representative democracy, that public power will be exercised in the public interest.
That is why the bill before us is so important. It is taking one step. We think many more steps need to be made, but it is taking a step that surely we could all agree with. It is not banning all political donations, it is not banning all corporate political donations. It is purely banning donations from industry that have become associated with having a corrupting influence on how we work as decision makers, and that is what we need to focus on. This bill seeks to tackle this form of corruption.
The bill proposed is actually similar to the Mining and Petroleum Industry Political Donations Legislation Amendment (Corruption Risk Reduction) Bill 2015 that has been moved in the NSW parliament by my colleague in the NSW lower house, Greens MP, Jamie Parker. That was in 2015, and in 2014 a Greens MP in the New South Wales upper house, John Key, moved a similar bill.
Now we have had interesting developments. In New South Wales banning developer donations was something that we took up in the early 2000s. I think it was in 2002 that we introduced the first Greens bill to ban developer donations. At the time there was a pretty wild debate in the New South Wales parliament because we had the figures about how many developers were donating to the Liberal, Labor and National parties. They came to a point where, as I remember, Labor were receiving more donations from developers than they were from unions. It was a period of massive development in New South Wales. There was a lot of overdevelopment, which was very destructive of local communities, so communities were agitating and the Greens were taking it up inside the parliament.
When we got to the end of the 2000s, interestingly, Labor were still an office. They started moving because they were recognising there was so much community pressure to take up the issue, and former Premier Morris Iemma was about to bring in the ban on developer donations, as I remember, and it did not occur. I have been critical of Labor, but when they do the right thing we are right there ready to work with them. When Nathan Rees was Premier he brought in a ban on developer donations. Subsequently the coalition also came on board with some of those. Most interestingly, some of those other industries that we have included in our bill were also covered by New South Wales legislation. Again, it is an area where there has been legislation passed. We see that it can work.
With this bill before us I urge senators to look at it closely. It has merit and it could really make a difference to the attitude people have to the political process and to how we work as senators in this place. Reform is urgently needed. It is reform that should be in place before the next election.
To reiterate, the Greens position is that should we should have a ban on donations from for-profit organisations. I recognise that other senators are not at this point. The experience in New South Wales was that the Labor, Liberal and National parties eventually came to the party and recognised that there was a deep problem within the wider community of growing agitation and cynicism about how politics was working. That is why they moved. Within 10 years the Greens went from having huge amounts of abuse heaped on the party because we would name who the donors were. The leaders of the other parties, with the backing their parties, and incredible backing from the community are moving on the very issue that we are considering today. These are issues that I really urge senators give very strong consideration to.
If we take donations from unethical, corrupt, disreputable industries, it will reflect poorly on us. As I said, we are talking about millions and millions of dollars each year that comes in from these industries. There is no excuse, I would argue, for politicians, political parties and candidates to accept or solicit donations from the corporate interests named in this bill. It is time that we clean up how electoral funding works.
Let's remember that these political donations are the icing on the cake in how election campaigns work. I find that people start out quite interested in election campaigns but, as the weeks roll on towards election day, they start to become quite cynical and jaded by the process, with all the attack ads on television and the coloured glossies shoved in their letterboxes. People get over that. If we ended these types of corporate political donations we would still have money to run our election campaigns, but we could get back to doing it on a more level playing field. We would be out there advocating for our election platform, having real debates about what happens to people, listening to the community and responding. We would be out there being committed to and selling our position in our election campaign, not just relying on those attack ads on TV, the coloured glossies and the fancy advertising that the millions of dollars from the private sector pays for.
That is why this can be easily cleaned up. If we are committed to enhancing the democratic process, which surely is something that every parliament should regularly turn its mind to, this should be an area we give top attention. The Greens bill on political donations reform that targets those certain industries—developers and the mining, tobacco, gambling and alcohol industries—is a start. It is not the full job, but it would show there is a commitment to cleaning up the corrupting influence of political donations.
I would like to contribute to this debate. I do not agree with this bill. Let me explain why. We do need to have a clean system. Unfortunately, there is a theory out there about politics, which is 'no money, no mission'. You, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle, and everyone else in this chamber would know you need money to advertise at election time to get out your message, your policies, what you plan to do et cetera. There are no discounts come election time. There are no discounts for television advertising. You pay the full rate. There is none of this, 'If you pay for three ads, we will give you five.' It is likewise for radio and likewise in the print media.
Have a look at what this bill targets. The government could not support a bill—with respect, Senator Rhiannon—that targets property developers. When it comes to developing property, I thought that was under the total control of local and state governments. If you want to develop, first of all your local government has to agree with a subdivision. You put a plan forward and go through the expensive process of having the subdivision approved. Then you put your buildings up. Your plan has to be approved by local government because there are strict state government regulations. If your local government disagrees with what you are planning, you can go to the Land and Environment Court and challenge the local government's decision and that court will make a decision. So I fail to see what property developers—and I will stand corrected—have to do with this parliament here in Canberra. Under, I think, section 51 of the Constitution the land is controlled by the states. It is a simple as that. They have control. They do not have to pay compensation when they take your land and bring in regulations like the Native Vegetation Conservation Act.
On the tobacco industry, I have had many meetings in my office with people from the tobacco industry. They have come to the National Party conference. They pay their corporate fee to come to our conference. The biggest issue they raise is the illegal trafficking of tobacco coming in from overseas—from Indonesia or wherever. This is tobacco and cigarettes packaged up to be presented as the real McCoy here in Australia. They are out there selling a legal product.
Then there are the liquor business entities. The last time I had a beer—and it was not that long ago!—I thought it was a legal product. When we were shearing in the old days and it was 40-degree heat, we had more than one. Sometimes we had more than five at the end of a day's shearing! Having a beer is part of the old Aussie tradition. After a hard day's work, you have a beer with your mates when you are a single bloke. It is not uncommon for my wife and I to have a glass of wine of a night when we are having a meal. The liquor industry is legal, of course.
Gambling business entities should be banned, according to this bill. I have to confess my grandfather was a bookmaker. So was my father. I actually worked for my father the bookmaker. There is a photo in my office of me holding the bag at Jamestown races back in 1976. I remember my father saying to me once during the 1967 drought, which was a tough time for the wool industry, that if it had not been for the bookmaking I would not have got the education I did at Rostrevor College in Adelaide. So I actually owe a bit to the gambling industry for a good education. I thank them very much.
Then there is the mineral resources or mining business entities. Apparently they should be banned from making donations. Look at what the mining industry has done for our nation. We have had a boom for years. Sadly, that boom is now over. It has brought tremendous wealth to our country. The cars we drive are not made out of tree leaves or bark off the nearest gum tree. They are actually made out of metal coming from the mining industry. For the aeroplanes we fly around in, it is the same thing. That industry has to be banned, according to this bill.
The bill says:
- industry representative organisations whose majority members are those listed above.
There is one body missed out here in this bill. It is called the trade union movement. I wonder why the trade union movement has been excluded from this? Who in this parliament gets money from the trade union movement?
I remember a bloke speaking yesterday in this place. His name is Senator O'Sullivan. He is a very quiet sort of a fellow most of the time.
'Unassuming'—that is a good description of him. Thank you, Senator Ludwig, for the interjection. Unassuming Senator O'Sullivan. He actually sits here and hogs the bench pretty well too, I might add. He highlighted how just short of $100 million has been donated to the Labor Party in the last 21 years.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Perhaps I am being a bit cynical here—and the interjections might help me—but why isn't the trade union movement listed in this as well? There are probably 100 million reasons, Senator O'Sullivan, why they are not listed, because those same trade unions—such as the CFMEU—donate generously to the Labor Party. They donate to the Greens as well. Let's cut off the funding to the conservative side of politics and feed the money into the left side of politics so they can run all the advertising campaign and be flush with funds. That is actually misleading, isn't it, Senator O'Sullivan. It was $98,587,326.11—I remember the 11 cents. I might have figures wrong from memory.
We talk about influence in this place. Let's ask the question: are the Labor Party influenced by the trade union movement? It is a pretty simple question. I would say the answer is, 'Very much so,' because, when I look at the 25 Labor senators, I think Senator Dastyari, who was from the head office of New South Wales Labor, might not have worked for a union, but I do not think I can find any others. Are there any others? Hands up any others over that side who have not worked for a trade union. I would bet you to London to a brick that at least 20 of the 25 Labor senators come from union backgrounds. I think that would be a pretty safe bet with pretty big odds on that.
The organisations that we are talking about are the property developers, the tobacco industry, the liquor industry, the gambling industry, mineral resources and mining industry businesses. This is amazing: the mineral resources or mining industry have been stamped out from donating to the coalition, but the workers in the CFMEU in the mineral industry and the property developing industry and the building industry can donate to the Labor Party and perhaps to the Greens as well. This sounds a little unfair to me. These organisations employee hundreds of thousands of Australians who contribute billions of dollars in tax each year. That amount may have been reduced, sadly, from the crash in the iron ore price and, of course, the coal price. It is very pleasing to see that as a result of those prices there has been a great surge in agriculture prices. Our second to biggest export is now agriculture. It has taken over from coal in value—and it is an ongoing, sustainable industry.
Like anybody, these groups and the individuals working for these groups are not immune from public scrutiny or criticism, but they should not be shut out from the public debate. Interestingly, the bill goes to extreme lengths, suggesting that if an individual commits an offence—this is very important, Mr Acting Deputy President; you listen to this—they could be subject to a penalty of two years imprisonment in proposed section 314AL. I will give you an example, and this is scary stuff. An employee from the local Dan Murphy's grog shop pays $100 to go to a political fundraising event for his cousin, who is a candidate, and all of a sudden he is off to jail for two years because he works for Dan Murphy's. Give us a break. His cousin is running for the Liberal Party or the National Party as a candidate somewhere. He is just working in Dan Murphy's or the local Liquorland or whatever. He goes along to a $100 dinner—he is only getting a sausage and a couple of drinks; it is a pretty good, profitable night, because the profit is there to help fund the campaign—and he gets two years jail. I cannot go along with the that. A fly-in fly-out miner who works for BHP could also potentially be jailed as a prohibited donor. If a worker for BHP or Rio or whoever you want to name goes to a fundraising function—a barbecue or a night at the pub in a country town—they could get two years jail if this bill goes through. Freedom of speech is important, but no-one should be jailed for wanting to contribute to this political process. That is why I could never support this bill.
Let me just quote a few things. I mentioned the CFMEU. During question time we had questions to Minister Cash about the abuse and domestic violence of women. thought of the CFMEU and some of the questions that have been put to Minister Cash in this place and some of the disgraceful answers and the facts of what they have done. CFMEU members were being milked by their own union, according to the royal commission into trade union governance and corruption. There was an absence of proper disclosure around several welfare funds set up for its members. A media report has said:
"There is a real problem with this," said Justice John Dyson Heydon in his interim report to Parliament.
And vast sums remain unaccounted for.
It goes on to say:
The royal commission raised questions about the union's workers' redundancy fund, a welfare fund and a training fund. "The CFMEU receives many millions of dollars as a result of arrangements with these entities," …
Here is the problem. Say I was running this country and everything I said for just one day happened. If I cut off the sources of funding for the Australian Labor Party and you could not raise any money and we went to an election, yet on the side I am on we had money, the balance would simply not be there. You would be going in to fight a battle and on this side we would have plenty of weapons and bullets and rifles and on that side they would be unarmed. That is what this bill would do, because it would take the funding off this side of the parliament and leave that $100 million—or just short of it, Senator O'Sullivan, for the last 21 years—flowing into the coffers of those opposite to fund their campaign. That would be simply unfair.
Let me quote someone else while in this debate: Martin Ferguson, the former Labor minister and President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the ACTU. I think he was a very level-headed person. When he was in the other place he was deeply respected by those all around the chamber. He was a man of good ideas and balanced opinions. He has attacked the level of union influence in the Labor Party, saying that too many opposition MPs 'wait for the phone call from the trade union heavy to tell them what to do'. That is probably a pretty good point, because you are at the beck and call of the trade unions. Mr Ferguson said that opposition leader Bill Shorten did not have the power to curb union influence in the Labor caucus without the backing of the shadow ministry. 'But at the moment I don't think that's possible,' Mr Ferguson told , 'because too many of that shadow ministry and the caucus are almost as if they're prisoners of the union movement'.
Most Labor senators in this place worked in the union movement. They got their ticket into this place; they got their funding from it. Mr Ferguson went on to say, 'It's almost as if they sit down now and divide the cake—you get that seat, we get that seat, Left and Right together, and they dole out the prizes to their faithful.' Mr Ferguson's attack came as the ACTU and other unions moved to shut down the trade union royal commission after it was revealed that Commissioner Dyson Heydon had accepted an invitation to speak at a Liberal Party fundraiser. They wanted to shut it down, yet the royal commission revealed so many facts and so much evidence which many in this place would not like to hear.
I think it is so unfair that this bill cuts off the funding to one side of politics and keeps it pouring in to the other side. As I said when I started, there is an old saying in politics: no money, no mission. To run a campaign is hugely expensive. If you do not believe me, have a look at America at the moment. I wonder what they are spending on the campaign over there—billions. Thankfully, we do not spend that much in Australia. This bill seeks to scrub out donations from property developers, the tobacco industry and liquor businesses—that would be all the clubs. Senator Rhiannon referred to the clubs.
I have been to many clubs in country New South Wales and in other states as well. They do a magnificent job in our community. I live in Inverell, where I am very proud of the local Returned Services Memorial Club, which is a tremendous facility with a lovely motel on site which was built in recent years. That club donates so much in support to the community. It is not just a club. Yes, they do have poker machines. Believe it or not, they do sell alcohol, and they have meals. It is a place to hold functions, even political functions—we often hire the venue if they are going to have a big crowd. We do that many times a year.
I come back to the mineral resources and mining industries. This bill says, 'Don't let them donate.' I will repeat what I said earlier. You would have a situation where BHP would not be able to come to a National Party function—it would just be scrubbed out. If you were to run an expensive function, BHP could not attend. When workers, who could be members of the CFMEU, pay their union fees and perhaps donate some money, that ends up on the other side of the chamber to finance their campaign. But a business in the mining industry could not choose to donate to our side of politics.
I think this bill will just go nowhere, with respect. In relation to the alcohol industry, say someone works at a club and goes to a National Party function. One of the employees of the Inverell RSM Club might come to a function I were to hold in a few weeks time. Under this law, they could be jailed for two years because they showed up to a dinner with Senator Williams, 'Wacka' Williams. whatever they want to call me—
Yes, Senator Fifield, I have also been referred to as 'John' at times. To think that people would face two years jail—the jails would be overflowing. We would be building new jails everywhere to put these workers in jail because they did not know the rules; they simply showed up to support us and, as a result, they got up to two years jail. Give us a break! To me, jails are for people who have committed serious crimes, like those pushing drugs. The drug ice is a scourge not only in the big cities and the big towns but in small country towns, small communities—even in the shearing shed. People who push ice threaten the lives of Australians. It must be a terribly addictive drug. It is a scourge on our society, and we need to get it under control. I would rather see those people in jail for what they are doing—not someone who came along to a National Party function not realising that they would be covered by this law because they worked at the club or the pub or at the local betting shop or for one of the big mining companies, or even the small mining companies.
We have the sapphire industry in Inverell. It is not as big an industry as it used to be. That is why the town is called the sapphire city. Someone who is making an honest living digging up sapphires alongside Frazer Creek and exporting them to Thailand is part of the mining industry. If they came along to a function I held at the local Royal Hotel, they would get two years jail? I cannot agree with that. That is simply wrong. That is not being a criminal. That is not tipping our nation upside down with crime, hurting others. They might have come along because I have known them for a long time. I might have helped them out with a problem they may have had with a landowner they may have had a disagreement with. I might have written them a letter of referral and praise and given them a reference for what they have done. To think that we would lock them up for two years—I simply cannot agree with that.
This is so out of balance. Where is the trade union movement? In the last 21 years, $100 million has flowed to the other side of the parliament, but not to this side. It is like a mob of sheep—cut the water off on this side and let them die of thirst while we feed all the water to the other side and they thrive. That is simply unfair.
Perhaps we need to look at New South Wales. I will be frank: there has been a big clean-up there, and certainly some have done the wrong thing. Perhaps we need to look at their system. But it is a burden on the taxpayer when more public funding is required for parties to run their organisations et cetera. Perhaps that is something we may need to look at in the New South Wales system, where you virtually cannot make a donation of more than $1,000 whether you are a company or whatever. It is something to keep in mind for the future.
I rise to contribute to this debate on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Donations Reform) Bill 2014. I have had an opportunity to have a look at the various High Court issues that might surround this debate, particularly McCloy & Ors v State of New South Wales & Anor. Before I come to that I want to ensure that what the Greens were doing is clear to everyone, because ultimately I find that the answer the Greens have to everything is to ban it. This is from a party that generally promotes freedom of expression and generally promotes the opportunity to participate in a range of activities that are already banned. Nonetheless, their general focus in this area is that they want to strengthen the integrity and accountability framework underpinning Australia's electoral system by effectively banning a whole group from that.
The group is quite broad. Specifically, amendments are proposed to ban donations from property developers and tobacco industry business entities—as an aside, Labor does not accept donations from the tobacco industry, and we complain that the coalition should follow the same line. It also encompasses liquor business entities, gambling industry business entities, general resources or—not and/or, so I think there might be a bit of a loose provision there—mining industry business entities, and industry representative organisations whose majority members are those listed above. The difficulty is not that I do not think the sentiment might be correct that we should do something to ensure that we have a strengthened integrity and accountability framework underpinning Australia's electoral system. I think we can all agree with that motherhood statement. We could all then look at how we can put a proper process in place to achieve that.
I do not think this achieves that in any way, shape or form. What it will achieve is significant litigation around how broad these terms are, how narrow these terms are, who is in and who is out, what is an industry representative organisation whose majority members, however you might decide what a majority is, then are of the above type within that definition—such as property developers, tobacco industry entities, liquor business entities, gambling or mineral resources entities.
What we now have is an effective ban on practically everybody you could possibly think of who might be donating to various political parties, probably including the Greens. I suspect that was their import, because they also I suspect get donations from a range of sources to meet their political causes. It says that these amendments will improve the electoral system. I think it will bog it down in insignificant High Court actions.
The reliance on this by the Greens is quite stunning. It relies on a very peculiar case in New South Wales that is well documented. It is one that I suspect most people who follow this area will be familiar with; it is McCloy & Ors v State of New South Wales & Anor. In that provision, it is one that I think turns on the peculiar facts of the industry and what was happening in New South Wales, and the role that property developers played. It did not take very much for the High Court—although it was not a majority—to conclude that there was a need to, what I would say, contain free speech in the way of supporting the amendment to ban property developer donations.
Ostensibly, the way we have pursued this from the Labor perspective is transparency around political donations themselves. I will come back to this in a little bit more detail, because it is worth examining that part. But I want to come more to the base issues that Senator Rhiannon and the Greens are arguing. If they were adamant and serious about reforming political donations, then they had a really good opportunity to do that. They could have forced the government to include it as part of the bill that was introduced yesterday to kneecap our electoral system—if they were serious. If they wanted to pick up this part then they would have done a deal with the coalition for Senate reform and included this within it.
Senator Di Natale
Like the one we did with you.
What we have is the Greens, from the sidelines, who have a shambolic way of managing the issue. So the Greens in this instance strike a dirty deal with the Liberals to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act in relation to Senate voting, but not to include political donations. There was an obvious opportunity to grasp that nettle and do the reform that you wanted to do. Whether I agree with it or not, mine is simply a process issue. The only one of the Greens who is all over the shop like a dropped pie is Senator Di Natale. That is obvious from the way they have tried desperately to regain the momentum the Greens once had. Bob Brown would never have signed up to Senate reform in this place in the way that the Greens have.
Senator Di Natale
It is his bill.
Bob Brown never would have done it. He never would have done a deal with the coalition in this way. Bob Brown was true to his principles. Coming back to the issue, because I got distracted by the interjections from the Greens—no wonder they are interjecting—it is bizarre that they have not included more comprehensive reforms if they are so serious about this issue. We know that the Greens under Senator Di Natale's leadership are not particularly good at negotiation. You only have to look at the free pass the Greens gave the government on multinational tax avoidance, where more than 600 companies escaped scrutiny by companies not being required to disclose information. That is the way they could have assisted that debate. What did they get out of the dirty deal with the government? They say nothing but if that is the case it is surprising at the least.
Labor has a longstanding policy position on this, including our current platform commitments, which state among other provisions that Labor encourages public debate about reform of our electoral laws, including enrolment and electoral participation. We also looked at how we could introduce a new scheme to regulate political financing, including donations, other revenue expenditure and recordkeeping, and legislation to require public disclosure of political donations over $1,000. If you want transparency in your political system, then ensure that you have public disclosure rather than blanket bans on such a broad and unidentified group such as what this bill tries to achieve. I would have thought one of the divining principles of the Greens was transparency, and there is also accountability and I would have thought freedom of speech. This bill would trample across freedom of political communication, not with the little elephant feet that the Greens might have but with a D9—it would bulldoze the provision.
We hear from the Greens that the High Court decision justifies them doing all of this in some way. I would like to have heard a properly reasoned argument for how you translate the High Court case of McCloy & Ors v State of New South Wales, in respect of property developers, into this broad and undefined group that we now have in this bill. I would like to have heard that argument but I did not get the opportunity to hear it at all. It seems that somehow we can start off with a little bit here and broaden it out as wide as we want without any fetter. But there is a fetter, which I will come to in a moment. The Labor Party brought forward a bill for comprehensive donations reform in 2009 which was opposed by the coalition. I am surprised the Greens want to talk about electoral reform in a week when they have voted with the government over a dozen times to prevent proper consideration and debate on the most significant electoral reforms in 30 years, including voting against referrals for committees of inquiry.
I am now, like Mr Abbott, flabbergasted—I will not talk about subs—because the deal that the Greens have now done with the coalition is breathtaking in its hypocrisy. This is a party that has prided itself on ensuring that there is proper process in this place. As Manager of Government Business in the Senate, many a time I asked former Senator Bob Brown to expedite passage and do things that I needed done, but he wanted to ensure always that there was a proper principled approach to anything he did. Former Senator Brown used to always refer to us major parties as the grand old parties, in a very derogatory and sometimes demeaning way. I accept that that is criticism we sometimes get, but the Greens kept themselves pure from that argument. They said they would only address matters on principle. What we now have I think are the new Greens—the old Greens are dead and gone. The new Greens are prepared to creep to the centre and the centre left and be the new democrats—so perhaps it is in the position of green democrats that they now sit. It is a party that is willing to sacrifice its principles and sacrifice procedure in this place, sacrifice true process, to achieve a political end that benefits them. That is what they are now doing. It is clear and very simple.
This new bill that they are bringing in is no better. It seeks to wipe out a broad area which is not even taking into account what they stand for. They stand for freedom of political communication, I suspect, but the new Greens do not any more. The new Greens say the way forward is to ban things, to ensure that you do not get freedom of political communication. They want to ensure that you have Senate reform which excludes 3.3 million people from participating in our electoral system. The new Greens stand for regulation, bans and anything else that ensures we put a fetter on our political system. That is what the new Greens stand for. It is quite stunning.
Already the Greens have lined up with the coalition—they are starting to look very comfortable sitting over there with them—to ensure there is no scrutiny, there is no proper process, and they bleat that because of a JSCEM report they have the right to fast track the most major change in our electoral system in 30 years.
They are a non sequitur when it comes to that. It does not and cannot follow that a report gives you that ability at the end of the day without proper process. If that were the case, there are many reports that are gathering dust in the Senate library which we could take, pick up, throw across and drop on the table and say, 'We all need to vote for that now.' We do not see that, but we have seen it on this occasion. They seek to justify it, but I have not seen a fair justification, quite frankly. But they do think that you can shortcut the proper scrutiny of legislation. The only party that was doing that up to now was the coalition. They did it with Work Choices and they did it with the Telstra one-day hearing. They have done it all the time.
The new Greens have now joined that ability to cut the scrutiny off at the knees. I say 'the new Greens' because I think it is a bit rich that they come into the chamber now proposing political donations reform when they could have made this part of their dirty deal with the government on Senate voting reform. Apparently, they did not even secure a written agreement from the government, as Senator Cormann's response to the Senate's order for the production of documents relating to the agreement between the Greens and the government indicated. I am flabbergasted that they insist on documents with Labor, but with the coalition—their buddy, their chums—they do not need one. They will rely on the coalition's goodwill to ensure they will get an outcome. I would have thought that is particularly naive of the new Greens. But, never mind, it is their agreement.
If the Greens were serious about political donations reform, they would include the elements contained in this bill, as amended, in the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill, and they would ensure that it had proper process, it went through a proper committee system and you had significant submitters that could have sufficient time to provide advice and interest to the legislation. You would also ensure that you went to various parts of Australia to make sure the Australian people understood what was going to occur and how our system was going to change and had an opportunity to ask questions and ventilate the issue more fully. But they did not. The new Greens cut that off, just like this bill that is before us today It was given a very broadbrush approach. Ban it, because that is the simplest and easiest way forward.
Labor has already circulated amendments that address key matters relating to political donations reform, including reducing the donations disclosure threshold from $13,000 to $1,000, banning foreign political donations, banning anonymous donations above $50 to registered political parties and limiting donation splitting that evades disclosure requirements. Because they only have an unwritten agreement with the coalition, I would encourage the Greens to amend it to include some of these serious issues and give sufficient time for them to be explored to make that we get appropriate amendments to the legislation.
I wanted to come back to Senator Rhiannon's broad approach that the legislation banning property developers in New South Wales somehow allows this bill some semblance of fairness. The difficulty there is that there was very good reason and clear evidence to ban property developers in New South Wales.
The High Court found on that evidence that they could do that because it is a proportionate response. There is a two-step test in Lang, which they relied on. I do not have the time to go through it but, if Senator Rhiannon is encouraging me to read the legislation, I would also encourage her to read Lang and understand how you cannot put a burden on the freedom of political communication. This bill will do just that. Whether or not you agree with the principles contained within it, what you would want to ensure is that you have a bill that actually would survive a High Court challenge. The way this bill is currently drafted, as broad and as wide as it is, would not at all. The way that Senator Rhiannon is mischievously arguing—that, because you can ban political donations in New South Wales, it follows that you can then ban just about everybody you can think of—is wrong
Senator DI NATALE
In regard to the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Donations Reform) Bill 2014, let me begin by saying that I think Australia's democracy is pretty crook at the moment. It is getting harder to tackle big public issues like climate change, the growing inequality between the haves and have-nots, unfair tax breaks that contribute to that inequality, the reform of the health system and all of those things each day thanks to those huge corporate donations that come from the incredibly wealthy part of our community who pay lobbyists to influence government policy. That is a cancer at the heart of our democracy right now. I believe that those vested interests represent a very serious threat to good governments and the development of public policy that is in the national interest. At the heart of the problem is one simple fact, one simple proposition: corporations do not give their money away without expecting something in return. It is common sense. They companies; they are bound by law to make sure that they pursue profits. They do it for one simple reason. It is the clear expectation that they will get something back in return. They will get access to politicians and they will be able to influence those politicians to make laws and policies to ensure that those laws and policies provide them with a return on that investment. It is a pretty straightforward proposition. These are wealthy companies who do not give their money away unless they get something for it.
I had a baptism of fire when I was first elected here in 2010. I was elected at the time of the hung parliament and I witnessed this writ large when the minority government, the then Labor government, was forced to commit to poker machine reform, thanks to the election of an independent, Andrew Wilkie. Now, you would think that would be a no-brainer: public policy, 70 per cent support, ripping money out of the pockets of vulnerable people across community and widespread appetite to reform what was a really regressive tax. Because governments do not have the courage to tax people explicitly, they do it to the back door in the way of things like revenue collected from poker machine profits.
What we saw in response to that was remarkable. I remember being here watching the pokies lobby walk up and down the corridors, knocking on doors and making sure they got in the ear of every single politician in the building, particularly Labor politicians. The consequence of that—those threats in marginal seats to campaign there and also to withdraw their financial support—was that Labor went to water. In fact, they got themselves so tied up in knots that they managed to convince Peter Slipper to defect to become the speaker, shoring up an extra number and dudding the agreement they had made to reform poker machines to try to introduce a little bit more fairness into the way that we collect revenue across this country. We saw the corrosive influence of those vested interests and the huge donations that they bring.
We saw the same thing with the mining tax. Again, it was an industry that donates huge money to the Labor, Liberal and National parties. There was $3.7 million tipped into their pockets over the past three years, and that is without including donations that are made at the state level. It is huge money, buying influence and favourable policy settings for what is effectively a dying industry. What do they get for it? They get a hell of a lot. They get cheap fuel, they get accelerated depreciation on the assets, they gets all sorts of tax breaks and sometimes they just get pain, outright cash handouts. If you add it up, it is worth about $14 billion over four years. Imagine what that could do in terms of spending across health and education.
There are many other examples. We had last year reveal the case of a mafia figure who may have played a role there in helping to secure a visa for himself with the then immigration minister. We had a man there, with a criminal history in Italy, who was about to be deported. He made a huge donation, got a hearing and ultimately was allowed to stay. We had Geoffrey Watson SC say in response:
This is a case study of what's wrong with the system. It's seriously wrong.
The point is that for no better reason than the making of donations to a political party, specific representations were able to be put amongst the most powerful politicians in the land - access which you and I couldn't get except if we made substantial donations ourselves.
It is another example of what is wrong with the system. We have got public confidence at an all-time low. We have seen the revelations in New South Wales uncovered as a result of ICAC, for example.
Our democracy is sick. It is based on the principle of 'one vote, one value' but it is now big money that talks. That is why we need this bill; that is why we need it. The bill amends the Commonwealth Electoral Act to make sure that donations from certain industries are prohibited: from property developers and from the tobacco industry. How remarkable is it that we are having a debate about the tobacco industry and donations right now. The National Party is continuing to get donations from an industry that kills people. It also includes the liquor businesses, gambling industry and, as I said, the mining industry and related business entities.
I want to congratulate my colleague, Senator Lee Rhiannon, because she has introduced legislation and she has had a longstanding commitment to these and many other important democratic reforms. She spearheaded the Democracy for Sale website. We had access to information about donations as far back as 1981; but it is with the establishment of that site that the public could get access to information on the quantity of money that is coming from particular donors in particular categories such as property developers, the finance sector, clubs and hotels and so on. It has been invaluable tool to inject some transparency so that the journalists, community groups and concerned individuals can highlight the impact that those political donations are having.
We Greens have been leaders in this space. It is interesting to look at where the other parties stand. I was fascinated to read a quote from Malcolm Turnbull, then freshly elected to the national parliament, from 2009. He at the time was quoted as saying:
… no political donations should be allowed unless they are: from citizens and/or persons on the electoral roll … subject to a cap; and donors should certify that the donation is either their own or their spouse's money and has not been given to them by a third party.
What a great idea. What a terrific idea. You are the Prime Minister of the country, how about doing something about it?
Let me refer to the recent contribution from the Labor Party. What we saw was a commitment to political donations, which was signed in a written agreement with the Labor Party in 2010. Let me quote to you the passage from the agreement around donations. The passage is that they:
Seek immediate reform of funding of political parties and election campaigns by legislating to lower the donation disclosure threshold from an indexed $11,500 to $1,000; to prevent donation splitting between different branches of political parties; to ban foreign donations; to ban anonymous donations over $50 …
That was an agreement reached between the Labor Party and ourselves. Terrific! But what came of it? We asked the Labor Party to act. We had the numbers in both Houses of Parliament and we had a written agreement. What happened to that piece of legislation? It sat on the notice paper here in the Senate and the Labor Party refused to bring it on for discussion, let alone a vote. And they now have the hide to lecture us about their position in support of those sensible recommendations. When they had the opportunity to reform the system, they walked away from it.
We have introduced another bill that encompasses the terms of that agreement, and we look forward to the Labor Party supporting that legislation when it comes before this parliament. We also believe in tightening the rules by including a commissioner of lobbying: an independent body similar to the one in Canada, which is a country far ahead of us in terms of transparency when it comes to political donations. That body would have an audit and investigative power, and it would be able to impose a five-year ban on ex-ministers working as lobbyists.
We have a revolving door in this parliament between politicians, industry and lobbyists. The revolving door is fuelled by money, power and contacts. What we need to do here is ensure that the revolving door between politicians, mining, property, gambling and industry money is slammed shut. We have to make sure that we support this bill in order to do that.
If, as Senator Ludwig said, this is the new Greens, there is not much new. And if this is the new dynamic leadership of the Greens, well, I do not think there is going to be much dynamism from the Greens.
The Greens have brought this bill forward—the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Donations Reform) Bill 2014—because they were so embarrassed by the dirty deal that Senator Di Natale brokered with the coalition on electoral reform. They failed to deal with the issue of electoral reform. If anyone had an opportunity to deal with the issue of donations, they had an opportunity to actually get something out of it when this dirty deal was brokered. What did the Greens do? They rolled over, they had their tummies tickled by the coalition and they did not even mention electoral reform in the negotiations that were changing the voting system in this country. What a pathetic, weak performance by the Greens.
I notice that Senator Rhiannon led this off for the Greens. Senator Rhiannon, to her credit, has been consistently arguing this position, as has the Labor Party, for many years. Senator Rhiannon wrote an opinion piece on this issue. Unfortunately, Senator Rhiannon was not prepared to put her name to the opinion piece. She wrote it under a nom de plume. When it was discovered that she had written this opinion piece, she was monstered by the Greens leadership and had to give a public apology.
So I will not be lectured by the Greens on these issues. The Greens have a lot to answer for in respect of their lack of backbone, their lack of commitment and their lack of political understanding that when the government wants something, when the government needs something, when you negotiate with them you have an opportunity to extract some concessions. But did the Greens extract any concessions? No, they did not extract any concessions. They simply looked to see whether they could have some political advantage, and that political advantage was to make sure that when they become what Senator Di Natale wants, a mainstream party, people who have different views from the third mainstream party would never be able to form an effective electoral base. That is because the laws the Greens will have implemented mean that small groups, progressive groups in this country, will never be able to do what former Senator Bob Brown, the former leader of the Greens, did—that is, form an effective political party and get into the Senate to be able to form a base for a future political party. The Greens have slammed the door shut on that, along with the coalition.
Let's be clear: I do not agree with Senator Ludwig's description of the new Greens. I do not know that Senator Ludwig is saying that they are new. In my view, they are the pale Greens. They really are pale. Some of the Greens' supporters who I have known for years are certainly saying to me that they are extremely disappointed with the Greens, because to become a mainstream party, as Senator Di Natale wants, means that some of their progressive policies will obviously fall by the wayside. They will do more dirty deals with the coalition. One of the dirty deals I am concerned about is on penalty rates. If anyone is concerned about what the policies of the Greens are, have a look at Senator Whish-Wilson's public statements on penalty rates, where he has argued that there needs to be an assessment of penalty rates.
This is the Greens—the Greens arguing that they could actually increase their base if they can get small business to support them. The quid pro quo for small business supporting the Greens was certainly pushed out there by Senator Di Natale—that is, the destruction of penalty rates for workers in small businesses around this country. That was never my understanding of the Greens. That was never my understanding of their policies that supposedly look after workers. So this is a big issue in terms of the Greens. They are, in my view, the pale Greens. That red centre is being carved out. The red centre is gone. We know it is causing division within the Greens—that is, the Greens parliamentary party. We know it is causing division amongst their supporters. We know in some recent polls when Greens' supporters have been asked about this they have said overwhelmingly, 'We don't want to do these types of deals.'
The Greens are turning into the pale Greens. The Greens are turning into an imitation of the Australian Democrats. You watch where they go on key issues in the future. They will simply be a pale imitation of what the Greens said they stood for, and they will become more like the Australian Democrats.
I notice it in this bill, the embarrassment bill—that is what this is. This is the embarrassment bill. They were so embarrassed when it was exposed that they had caved in on electoral reform without dealing with this donation issue that they had to bring this forward. So the embarrassment bill is before the Senate today. As Senator Ludwig said—
Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I believe the bill that the senator is referring to was actually introduced in 2014, so perhaps he might want to reflect on the fact that that was more than two years ago.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT
That is not a point of order.
Again this shows the embarrassment that the Greens have about their total failure to deal with any political astuteness in their negotiations and their dirty deal with the coalition. I heard Senator Rhiannon earlier and Senator Di Natale talking about better government. Better government is if you can actually provide services to the Australian public, and you can provide a better society, a good society and better services to the Australian public if you tax multinational companies and large corporations effectively. But what was the last dirty deal that was done by the Greens? Again, they go in and so-called negotiate, but they walk into the government's chambers, they sit down, and they get cowed into submission. They were cowed into submission on—
Senator Simms interjecting—
The reinforcements have arrived. The volume will turn up. The Greens have called for reinforcements because Senator Cameron is on his feet carving them up for their lack of backbone, their lack of commitment, their lack of political astuteness. That is what is happening at the moment, so the reinforcements have been called in, and the volume will increase.
So what was the last dirty deal that the Greens did? Six hundred companies with a turnover of under $100 million have no need to report effectively in relation to their tax. What a dirty, rotten deal that was. And what did the Greens get in return for it? Absolutely zilch.
I am worried that the Greens have moved so far away from the watermelon Greens that have been described—green on the outside; red on the inside—that they will do a deal that will mean it will be more difficult for Australian workers to protect their penalty rates and protect their conditions. Senator Whish-Wilson has belled the cat on the Greens' position on penalty rates. He thinks there should be more flexibility. He does not think that workers who work on weekends should have penalty rates. He is out there publicly giving speeches in relation to that.
If there is one thing that workers need, it is their penalty rates. They need their penalty rates to pay their bills and look after their families. I think it is outrageous that Senator Whish-Wilson—especially a senator from Tasmania, where workers are surviving on their minimum rates, on their award rates, plus their penalty rates—a Greens senator, would be out there advocating for the destruction of penalty rates for Australian workers. How crazy it is.
On multinational taxation and on electoral reform the Greens were in a position to negotiate an effective quid pro quo for what they were looking at, and they failed abysmally. I just do not think that their leader, Senator Di Natale, or their leadership team who go and negotiate these things have the capacity to do this stuff effectively.
They say they do not want property developers; they do not want tobacco companies, and we agree; they do not want liquor companies; they do not want gambling companies; they do not want mineral resource companies; and they do not want industry representative organisations to be able to make donations. But there is no ban on multimillionaire internet entrepreneurs—no ban there.
They forgot that one!
They forgot to put that in. The biggest single donation ever to a political party in this country came from a Mr Graeme Wood, a multimillionaire internet entrepreneur worth $372 million. He gave the Greens $1.6 million. And do we hear any more bleating from the Greens about private business handing over donations? No, because they, the Greens, hold the record for the biggest single donation ever from a businessperson in this country. They also have run even better because they have got even more than the Liberals did in 2004, when Lord Michael Ashcroft—Lord Michael Ashcroft! You have to give it to the Liberal Party; when they get a donation, they get it from a lord!
They do it in style.
They do it with style. Lord Michael Ashcroft gave a million dollars in 2004 to the Liberal Party. A foreign resident chipped in a million dollars to the Liberal Party.
These are issues that just beggar belief. This pale green political party, the pale Greens of the Senate, are out there in absolute, abject embarrassment, putting up this bill because they did not have the bottle, they did not have the guts, they did not have the capacity, to deliver on this when they were negotiating in their own interests to lock other progressive political parties out of the Senate. They did not have the guts or the capacity to force changes to political donations.
I want to come back again to why it is so important to change this political donation issue. I have said on a number of occasions that in New South Wales you have got a multimillionaire property developer in Newcastle rolling up in a Bentley, opening the door so a Liberal Party MP can jump in, and handing over a brown paper bag with $10,000 in $100 notes in it to the Liberal Party MP in Newcastle. That is what is happening with the Liberals. There are trust funds established all over the country by the Liberals. There are what are called associated entities from the Liberals all over the country. These associated entities are funnelling money anonymously into the Liberal Party. We have heard much about the money that has been donated from the trade union movement to the Labor Party.
We say that is fine. If there is money donated from the union movement to the Labor Party, we say that is fine because it is public, it is clear where the money is coming from and the public can make a call on that.
Here we go. Senator O'Sullivan says that it is criminal activity. Senator O'Sullivan, the Australian trade union movement have been the bulwark for workers' living standards in this country. The National Party should actually be thanking the trade union movement in this country for getting decent wages and decent conditions for rural and regional workers all over Australia. Without the trade union movement there would not be penalty rates in rural and regional Australia. Without the trade union movement and the Labor Party there would not be annual leave loading and there would not be superannuation for workers—and the Liberals have opposed every move to try to give workers a decent retirement. There would not be small businesses that could survive in rural and regional Australia if penalty rates disappear. We know the arguments the Liberal Party put up on penalty rates. We know that they are out there saying that there should be more flexibility and that penalty rates should go. You can interject all you like, but I challenge the Liberal-National Party to go into rural and regional Australia and tell them the truth of your position—that you want to get rid of penalty rates, that you want workers' living standards to decline and that you want more profits for the people who are putting their hands in their pocket and donating to the Liberal Party and the National Party.
That reminds me that Senator O'Sullivan was a trustee or a director of a company called Altum Pty Ltd. It received massive donations from other nominee companies. There is money getting fed in all over the place. This is a property trust linked to the Liberal and National parties that received $430,000 in rent from Walton Construction when that company went bust, leaving small businesses all over Queensland with no money. It left small companies bankrupt everywhere. In 2009-10 the rent for this company was $105,994 from Walton. In 2010-11 it jumped to $353,000. In 2011-12 it went to $516,966. In 2012-13, when this company was starting to go broke, they still got $431,000. This is the sort of nonsense that is going on with the National Party.
You hear Senator O'Sullivan on his feet railing against the union movement and railing against union donations to the Labor Party, but he has got a lot to answer in relation to Altum Pty Ltd, a Liberal Party front that was taking money off a company that was going bust, a company that was not paying its creditors, a company that was not paying its workers and a company that left millions of dollars of devastation around this country. Senator O'Sullivan was then with Altum Pty Ltd. Transparency is needed. The National Party and the Liberal Party need to be transparent about where their money is because Labor are.
I rise to speak on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Donations Reform) Bill 2014, a Greens bill of which we are very proud and which, sadly, is desperately needed in this place. My counterpart Senator Lee Rhiannon, who introduced this bill, and our leader, Richard Di Natale, have already spoken on this bill this afternoon. This bill would ban donations from particular corporate sectors that, sadly, have a really sordid history in having unfair influence on decisions made in parliaments just like this one. The bill would preclude donations from mining companies, which I want to focus on tonight. It would also preclude donations from property developers, the tobacco industry—an industry that kills its own clients—and the alcohol and gambling industries.
I want to talk a little bit in particular about the influence of mining companies on decision making. I draw the conclusion that that is in large part because of the enormous donations that big mining and gas companies make to, sadly, both big parties—and I include the Nationals in with the Liberals in that respect. In fact, according to the Australian Electoral Commission, over the last three years there has been a total of $3.7 million given to the Liberals, the Nationals and the Labor Party from fossil fuel companies. There was $1.1 million given to the Labor Party, there was $2.3 million given to the Liberals and there was $200,000 given to the National Party. That is only the federal political parties; it does not include money that was also given to each of those parties at the state level or—who knows?—even at the local level. It is certainly a very rich contribution over such a short period of time.
It has often plagued and bemused me—as an environmental lawyer who has stood with communities trying to protect land, water and the climate from the ravages of coalmining, coal seam gas, unconventional gas and other fossil fuel sectors—as to why we have never seen a refusal of a coalmine, coal seam gas or unconventional gas application at the federal level. I know that our environmental laws are, sadly, far too weak. They do not protect the environment. They do not give communities enough of a say in protecting their local patch or the world's climate. But there had to be something else going on for such consistently poor decisions to be taken by decision makers. So that is why it is so alarming when you see the reality of the amount of these donations that are made.
That is why, of course, we have taken the step of saying we have to clean up our democracy. We need to take away the influence—the corrupting influence—of this big money from industries who then seek permission, approvals and favours from whichever side of politics is forming government at the time. They do not discriminate; they give money to the lot of them. So, in addition to looking at the sectors that are making those contributions, we have this week—in fact, today, I believe—introduced a secondary bill which again has long been our policy and which talks about increasing the disclosure of those donations, because that is a related point. You often do not find out until many, many months later that—wow!—just before an election so-and-so company gave a big wad of dough to so-and-so party and—gee whiz!—after the election they got an approval.
I will take that interjection, because I will cite some examples soon. It goes to the point about disclosure. Often people do not find out about this dirty money until many months after, yet we have other jurisdictions where there is continuous disclosure being brought in and where the threshold for disclosure, when political parties have to tell the public how much they have received, is so much lower. So I am really proud that my colleague Senator Lee Rhiannon has today introduced a second bill in this donation space which says that the donations disclosure threshold should be lowered back down to $1,000. It was at that level for quite a while. Correct me if am wrong: I think it was the Howard government that lifted it up to above $10,000; it was eleven thousand and mumble, and that has increased over the years. We want to lower that back down to $1,000. Donors need to be honest with members of the public and, importantly, political parties need to be honest with members of the public about where they are getting their money from. That bill would also require continuous disclosure so we avoid that problem of huge pre-election donations and then a lack of disclosure until many months after it is relevant for voters at the ballot box, and it would also look at banning overseas donations and putting a cap on anonymous donations.
Importantly, it would prevent donation splitting, because this is a further problem that we see. We know the figures for the donations to federal political parties. I listed those before: $1½ million to the Labor Party, $2.3 million to the Liberal Party and $200,000 to the Nationals from fossil fuel companies alone. We know that they are just to those federal parties. It does not include money that has been given to the state parties, and it does not include money that has been given to branches of those parties, which can be called donation splitting—lots of little donations just to get in under the disclosure threshold so that the donor does not have to identify that they have given money and the party receiving the money does not have to fess up to the public.
So these two bills, taken together, would really help clean up our democracy and it would help arm members of the public with the information that they need to know who is holding the decision makers hostage. It might explain why we have never seen a coalmine or a coal seam gas well rejected at the federal level under a government of either side.
One wonders what the fossil fuel sector in particular gets out of this arrangement, because I noticed that on the radio a couple of weeks ago the head of the Queensland Resources Council was, ironically, crying poor and saying that he and his industry needed even further public subsidy. They can still afford to make enormous donations, so I do not know how they can simultaneously be wealthy and broke, but that is a matter for them to try to explain. So what are these fossil fuel companies getting out of these donations, other than the approvals that are issued hand over fist? They get a very good return on investment. For every dollar that is donated by a fossil fuel company to one of the big parties—be it Labor or be it the Liberals in coalition with the National Party—the fossil fuel sector get the equivalent of $2,000 back in perks. Whether that is accelerated depreciation, which certainly no other industry gets, or cheap diesel, which certainly no ordinary road user gets, or a tax break for further exploration and production, they get these various tax and depreciation perks that equate to about $2,000 worth of value for every dollar that they have donated to the big parties. So they get their approval and then they get all sorts of fossil fuel subsidies, as we call them. Then you have the irony of various governments saying that they do not want to subsidise the renewable energy sector and—boy!—they do not support subsidies in other sectors, but of course the fossil fuel sector seems to be in a category of its own.
We Greens not only want to clean up the donation system, ban donations from fossil fuel companies, from the tobacco, gambling and alcohol industries and from property developers, address the disclosure rules and lower that threshold so that the public get to know, and they get to know sooner, where the money is coming from and how much it is; we actually want to remove those fossil fuel subsidies. We do not think it is fair that mining companies get cheap diesel when no ordinary road user gets that perk. Obviously the farmers do, and we support them keeping that entitlement, but take it away from the big mining sector. We do not support the mining sector getting those tax breaks for further exploration and production, particularly not while our environmental laws, our environmental impact statements and our social impact statements are so poor and so weak and do not properly protect our land, our water, our communities, our climate and people's health from the ravages of this industry. In particular, it is more insulting for those subsidies to be flowing from the taxpayer purse to entrench and further that industry.
It is very interesting to examine these donations and the flow of people between parliaments and staffers' offices and the fossil fuel mining sector. There is an awful lot of crossover. I would go so far as to say that there is a revolving door between the fossil fuel sector and politicians. It is a revolving door that very much suits ex-politicians or ex-staffers, who presumably get paid a very healthy wage and, of course, fantastic access to the decision makers, while ordinary community members have to fight to even get a meeting with an adviser these days. They get their multimillion dollar donations to help contest elections, and then they get the promises of these very well-paid, cushy jobs once they have exited the parliament. It makes for incredibly depressing reading because this is, sadly, a disease that is happening on both sides of politics.
I want to mention just a few examples. I am not seeking to disparage the character of these people; I am merely going to put the facts on the table about people who used to work in politics and have gone to work for the fossil fuel sector and, in some cases, come back again. There is a genuine revolving door, where people go back and forth several times. We all know that the former Nationals leader and former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson went off to become the chair of Eastern Star Gas. That is the much maligned company—deservedly so—behind the Narrabri gas project. It was bought out by Santos in New South Wales and has been plagued with environmental contamination incidents about which there is much community concern.
Another former National Party leader and former Deputy Prime Minister, Mark Vaile, left politics and became a director and then the chairperson of Whitehaven Coal. Again, Whitehaven Coal have a terrible track record in terms of environmental impacts, and they have been devastating a local forest which is also a koala habitat and a part of the country that is much loved by its inhabitants, who are trying everything they can to resist Whitehaven Coal. Whitehaven have trashed not only the forest but some really important Indigenous sacred sites. Much to my extreme disappointment, the Minister for the Environment at the time—Greg Hunt, who is also the current minister—had an opportunity to step in and protect that heritage on an emergency basis. He did not do so, because one of the boxes was not ticked on the form that the community had sent in, begging him to do an emergency listing of this important Indigenous heritage site. It was, 'Oh, there was a tick missing from a box,' and so that form sat unattended somewhere in the minister's office, to his eternal shame.
Former Labor resources minister Martin Ferguson stepped into what I believe was a position specially created for him: chair of the APPEA advisory board. Of course, that is the coal and gas company lobby group that fancy themselves as quite slick lobbyists. That was about six months after he stopped being a minister. I thought that the Lobbying Code of Conduct said that ex-ministers had to have an 18-month cooling-off period. In fact, in this case, there was just a six-month break between former Minister Ferguson being a minister of this parliament and working for one of the chief industry protagonists, APPEA.
I have seven minutes left, and, sadly, I have more than enough names to fill that seven minutes, so I will persist. Craig Emerson, who was the federal Labor trade minister, went on to become a lobbyist for AGL Energy and for Santos. Former foreign minister Alexander Downer was at one point a registered lobbyist with a group called Bespoke Approach, which had amongst its clients Woodside Petroleum, Xstrata, PetroChina and Yancoal. While he was foreign minister, Mr Downer was infamously implicated in the East Timor saga, which really has not ended well for anyone involved—but I digress.
Greg Combet, who was the federal Labor climate change minister, went on to be a consultant to AGL Energy and Santos. That is particularly distressing, given we know the enormous climate implications of unconventional gas. We know that it leaks like a sieve from wells and pipes. We know that, if it is for export—and much of this stuff is—the energy footprint for compressing that gas so that it can be liquefied for export is enormous, and the gas itself is methane. American studies have shown that effectively the life cycle footprint of unconventional gas is about two per cent better for the climate than coal, which is to say it is a bloody bad idea for the climate. So it was very distressing to see former climate change minister Greg Combet go to work for the one of the chief coal seam gas companies.
Sadly, there is also a long list of staffers, some of whom came directly from the mining sector to work for politicians, stayed around for a while and then went back to the mining sector and vice versa. I believe the current chief of staff to the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Bill Shorten, is Cameron Milner, who is also the former Queensland Labor secretary. He is a fellow whom I have not met. I believe that he was Adani's lobbyist. We know Adani is one of the companies proposing to open a megacoalmine in Queensland's Galilee Basin, which Bill McKibben has described as a carbon bomb. We know that if all the coal from that basin was mined and burned and if that region was considered a country it would be the seventh highest emitter in the whole world. So it is an enormous climate disaster waiting to happen, if anyone is foolish enough to fund that mine. Thankfully, the world can see that the transition to clean energy is on. I think up to 15 banks have now ruled out financing that particular project, which gives me great hope for the future of the reef and, indeed, our own species.
Ben Myers worked for the Queensland Gas Company, another coal seam gas operator, and went on to be the chief of staff to then Queensland LNP Premier Campbell Newman. Mitch Grayson also worked as a staffer for the then Premier Campbell Newman in 2012. By early 2013, he too had joined Santos, but later on he went back to Premier Newman's office.
Stephen Galilee, who was chief of staff to Ian Macfarlane when he was the Liberal federal resources minister—before the current Prime Minister replaced him—and also chief of staff to Mike Baird when he was New South Wales Treasurer and when he was shadow Treasurer, went on to be CEO of the New South Wales Minerals Council. Geoff Walsh, who was a former adviser to Labor prime ministers Paul Keating and Bob Hawke, and also a former national secretary of the Labor Party, was given a senior advisory role to BHP in 2010.
Claire Wilkinson spent a year as a senior media adviser to Minister Martin Ferguson and then got a job as a senior external affairs adviser to Royal Dutch Shell. Brad Williams, who spent four years as Mark Vaile's chief of staff, was and is the manager for government affairs at Inpex, yet another oil and gas company that has approval for a multibillion dollar LNG project, near Darwin. Shaughn Morgan worked as an adviser to Geoff Shaw, New South Wales Labor Attorney-General, before becoming the manager of government and external relations at AGL.
I have another page and a half here, but I sense that people get the point that I am trying to make. There is a revolving door between the fossil fuel sector, who make rich donations to both sides of politics, and this very chamber and the other chamber. For their incredibly generous donations of—what was it?—$3.7 million in the last three years, the fossil fuel sector gets any approval that it asks for; it certainly has not had a refusal yet. It gets cheap fuel; it gets accelerated depreciation; it gets tax breaks for exploration and production; and it gets extreme access to this place and its decision makers. It even gets to topple a prime minister when it threatens to run an ad campaign, which it spent $24 million on, to get rid of the resource super profits tax and water it down to the very diminished minerals resource rent tax, which did not raise much at all—and then, of course, this government took the opportunity to axe it.
This industry is very powerful, and that is just one of the reasons why we need to clean up politics and get rid of these donations, which have in my view a corrupting influence on politics. The public also hold a dim view of them, because people think that it smells bad. Even if you cannot prove corruption or influence—although sometimes the facts mean there can be no other conclusion—people can see that it is not right that decision makers should be given money by a company that at some point will seek, or perhaps already has sought, approval for a project. It is not fair and it corrupts good decision making—decision making which unfortunately already locks out the community, so it further entrenches that imbalance of power.
I am really proud that we have brought this bill into the parliament. It has been on foot for about 2½ years now, and I am really pleased that we have the chance to debate it this evening. As people might know, we often do not get the opportunity to debate private member's bills in this place. There are just a couple of hours allocated each week, and of course the crossbench shares that time. It is really important that members of the public know that we can do better; we can clean up our democracy. That is with Australians want. We can get rid of the corrupting influence of these dirty industries, whether it is mining or alcohol, tobacco, gambling or property development. We can actually put power back in the hands of the people and restore this country to the representative democracy that we know it is meant to be.
I rise to put some remarks on the record, some of them tempered, on the facts and history of Labor's long-term commitment to this suite of reforms that we consider important. The context in which this happening requires the first comment. The reality is that this is occurring at the end of the week when we have seen incredible hypocrisy from the Greens party. The Greens party, who have come of age in their own minds, have done a very dirty deal with the government. Yet here they are taking their usual sanctimonious stand, purporting to be the saviours of all things democratic, when the reality is far grubbier and grimier than their supporters would ever believe.
Labor have a very longstanding commitment to making sure there is transparency about political donations. A vibrant democracy wants people to engage not just at the ballot box but in between, by being part of policymaking, by joining political parties or through the practical reality of making a donation to a cause that they support to advance the cause of democracy. We believe in that. But, for far too long, there has been a platform on which many, many who have money have sought to profoundly influence the course of decision making in this nation.
At the New South Wales level of politics, from an up-close and personal perspective—being on the Central Coast—I can tell you about the grubby, grimy and dirty deals that were established out of the office of Chris Hartcher. Through that whole region, there were 11 politicians that had to stand down from the Liberal Party who got caught because they ignored the legislation that had passed in that state because they thought they knew better and they should be able to take donations, very significant donations. from whomever they saw fit. So the Greens, through this coalition with the Liberal Party, are joining forces with that sort of outfit, where huge donations come through almost completely uncritiqued. For far too long, we have seen them continually resist any attempts at reform.
If I go back to look at the most significant attempts at change that have been made, they are all from the Labor Party, and they reflect the resolutions that continue to stand as a result of our most recent conference, in Melbourne last year. I would like to quote from a second reading speech that was incorporated in in this place on 15 May 2008 by Senator Ludwig, on behalf of Senator Faulkner. It goes to the heart of one of the critical issues that need consideration. It said:
The first group of measures reduces the disclosure threshold for donors, registered political parties, candidates and others involved in incurring political expenditure from 'more than $10,000' … to a flat rate of $1,000.
That was on 15 May 2008. The bill, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill, got sent off to a committee and it came back on 11 March 2009. That time, Senator Faulkner said:
As I indicated earlier in my contribution, the government does believe that this bill is a critically important first step in the electoral reform process and I have much pleasure in commending the bill to the Senate.
A few days later, on 18 March, he put on the record:
The history of this is as follows. Last year the opposition sent these measures to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters for a period longer than 12 months. Then, late last year—
referring to 2008—
after the committee had reported early, we heard the opposition argue that these measures should be delayed even further. Last week in this chamber we saw the opposition combine with Senator Fielding and, on equal voting in the chamber, defeat this legislation on the second reading. In the House of Representatives on Monday of this week again the opposition voted against these measures now contained in the 2009 bill.
At every single opportunity that they had to come to the table and vote for transparency, this government, when they were in opposition, foreshadowed the sort of government that they wanted to be: one that is happy to do deals, one that is happy to do any sort of deal. They have been happy to do one with the Greens this week, and they are certainly happy to do deals with donors and to take many, many dollars from them and hide them as much as they possibly can. They are not doing too good a job over there on that side.
Let's talk about the Greens party. This week Senator Rhiannon has led the great Liberal-National-Greens charge to try to ram the most significant changes to our electoral system in three decades through this place. Senator Rhiannon, the champion of democracy, has form on this. We do not have to look too far to see that she puts her money where her mouth is, so let's follow the money and see where it goes.
Senator Rhiannon and her colleagues say that they oppose corporate donations. But as Senator Cameron indicated in his contribution, the Greens have accepted the biggest ever political donation in Australia's history—no less than $1.7 million. How to win friends and influence people—with $1.7 million. If you have big money, you have a big voice. If you are friends with the Greens, they are quite happy to take $1.7 million. Then we have Senator Waters standing up and saying that mining companies and property developers should not be donating anything. But travel companies? That is fine. Travel companies can do what they like. We do hear that tourism is a growing industry in Australia, but the Greens are not noticing that. Have they required that they and their followers should not support Wotif? Is part of the deal they did, when they got their $1.7 million, that they would never ever use Wotif again? I do not think so. That is not the case.
In addition to that, it is on the record that Senator Rhiannon was so angry about her Greens colleagues defying her position on corporate donations that she ghost wrote an article on the Crikey website attacking her own party. Sadly for Senator Rhiannon, who was outraged,—and I can understand her being outraged—she was subsequently outed as the true author of a piece of hate mail and forced to apologise to her colleagues. It is there for all to see: 'Greens sorry for attacking its own party'. This action is revealing of Senator Rhiannon's motivation.
This is not the end of Senator Rhiannon's discord with her own colleagues. There is a good reason for that, and it is not just because of the structure of the proposals that she has put in here in cahoots with the Liberal Party this week. On 6 January this year Senator Di Natale announced that the Greens would no longer oppose genetically modified crops. In his move to be partners with the Liberal-National Party, Senator Di Natale is jettisoning Greens' policies left, right and centre. He is leaving the policy behind and is leading the vanguard to the destruction of democracy, as we know it, in Australia.
Senator Rhiannon, angry again, took some action to defy the Greens' position on GM crops. In a petty act of retaliation, a few days later her notification of alteration of interests declared that she had made a donation to an organisation called Gene Ethics that—wait for it—campaigns against genetically modified organisms. Whatever your view about GM, I am pretty sure that most of the Greens party might agree with Senator Rhiannon on this. But it shows that they are a divided unit. They are divided within themselves. We have seen it here throughout the whole week. Their policymaking does not accord with the image that they have attempted to create in the Australian community.
Greens voters who thought that this was the great hope for them for the future have been profoundly disappointed by what they have seen this week. The Greens party is also in turmoil inside its political organisation. Senator Rhiannon, through that donation, is funding a campaign against her own party and against her own leader. That just shows her incredible contempt for her colleagues.
The star of the week, Senator Rhiannon, is the one who was primarily responsible for this filthy deal with the Liberal Party over Senate voting reforms. She has insisted, in her party room, that the government's legislation be allowed to commence immediately. God help us all from the Greens and from the coalition that they are now establishing with the Liberal-National Party!
It has been put to me—and the people of Australia should make a decision about this—that the only reason Senator Rhiannon is doing this is for her own self-interest. There are psephologists around who have made many predictions about what will happen if this government continues with this electoral reform process, this sham, that they are undertaking. We know that one of the outcomes indicated is that Senator Rhiannon may not be re-elected at an ordinary half-Senate election, and that it is in her interest that there be a double dissolution, where she would have a much smaller quota to reach to be able to get back here. Senator Rhiannon knows that one of her colleagues in South Australia—either Senator Simms or Senator Hanson-Young—is unlikely to be returned because Nick Xenophon is going to take that seat. Senator Siewert is likely to be sacrificed as well. But the biggest thing that is sacrificed in this deal between the Greens and the Liberal Party is hope for Australian politics and transparency.