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Speech: Political Donation Reform

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 2 Mar 2016

Lee denounces the major parties for their refusal to remove the corrupting influence of big money donations on our democracy.


Senator RHIANNON: This urgency debate is about political donation reform. Listening to the previous two speakers, one would think there was a united front of similar concern that political donations do have a corrupting influence in a democracy. Therefore, it is very useful to look at the track record of these parties. With the Liberals and Nationals we can do that very quickly, because they do not have a track record. They have not addressed bringing in reforms about political donations. When you look at Labor's track record- I notice Senator Cameron is leaving the chamber, which is disappointing, because I think it would be useful for him to remember-

Senator Jacinta Collins: Don't be so cheap!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Collins!

Senator RHIANNON: the history of his own party, because this is where-

Senator Jacinta Collins: Done any ghost writing?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Rhiannon, resume your seat. Senator Collins, I bring your attention to standing order 197. I have asked you to come to order. I ask you to respect that request, please.

Senator RHIANNON: This is the time to look at the track record of Labor. There is an urgent need to reform political donations in this country. The Labor-Greens agreement in 2010 covered this issue. I will go through it, because it is very informative. Overall, it called for immediate reform of political donations; lowering the donations disclosure to $1,000, at the time it was up to $12,400; banning anonymous donations above $50; and creating a truth-in-advertising offence under the Commonwealth Electoral Act.

I give those details because they are very informative about what Labor then did with those items I have listed, coming into the 2013 election. First off, let us remember that that was the Labor Greens agreement. They were very specific points. There was a period after the 2010 election, when the new senators came in in 2011, when Labor and the Greens had the numbers. We could have passed those most important reforms right then. We could have moved those most important reforms, but Labor would not move on them. What did they do? Coming into the 2013 election, who did Labor work with on political donation reform- so-called reform, you can barely use that word? They worked with the coalition, and all of a sudden we had a very major change in what appeared to be a decent policy. The threshold on donation disclosure was no longer set at $1,000. Labor, working with the Liberals and the Nationals, wanted to raise it to $5,000. That was a huge change. Yes, it was lower than $12,400, but it allowed for a higher number of donations that would not be available to be scrutinised and would not be disclosed.

To their credit, former Labor MP Daryl Melham and former Labor Senator John Faulkner spoke strongly against this. Let us remember former Senator Faulkner's words; they were actually very moving; I remember them at the time. He said he was 'no longer angry and disappointed, but ashamed'. He said he was ashamed at his party's position. He was not successful. What was proposed with this new deal, the Labor-Liberal-National deal, was to raise the threshold from $1,000, which had been a longstanding agreement between Labor and the Greens. Labor worked with the Liberals and the Nationals to raise the threshold in a way that would allow those donations to continue to be hidden.

Again, if you look into Labor's statement on wanting reform, it goes back even further. I imagined Senator Faulkner, with all the heavy lifting he did in this area, would have believed that he could have got reform much earlier. Let us remember that the former Labor government was elected in 2007. It was 2008 when Senator Faulkner actually said he believed the reforms would be in the first term of the Rudd government. That was not achieved. We still need these reforms. We have bills before this parliament. I say to Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, and to Labor senators who are here to today that we are ready to work with you on political donation reform. We need to stop the corrupting influence of political donations. Do not try to be smarties who use this to try and score some points, because you are behind the whole trend in politics to move away from the backroom deals.


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