It’s a pleasure to introduce the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Disclosure of Political Donations) Bill 2021.
As an Independent, transparency and integrity are at the heart of what drives me and the people who put me here. Political access and influence should never be for sale, and any laws that facilitate such access and influence have no place in our democracy and should be urgently reformed. This is one such reform.
I’m proud to disclose the names and amounts of every single donation I receive above $1,000 every financial quarter. That includes smaller cumulative donations from the same person that, together, total over $1,000. I’m also committed to disclosing the names of anyone who cumulatively donates more than the Australian Electoral Commission threshold of $14,500 within five business days. This bill would require the major parties to do the same.
Under current laws, the major parties only have to disclose donations received above $14,500 to the Australian Electoral Commission each financial year. That means that millions and millions of dollars in donations from lobbyists, energy companies, gambling enterprises and other powerful businesses go into their coffers without being disclosed for months and months on end. Around election time, it’s common for these donations not to be disclosed until long after Australians go to the ballot box.
The major parties also use their complex organisational structures to hide exactly where the donations come from, which candidates they go to, and for what purpose. At the last election, it was common for some candidates bankrolled by the major parties to have zero dollars listed in their declaration to the Australian Electoral Commission, and that’s just completely unacceptable.
Australians deserve to know who is holding the purse strings of the major parties before voting for them. Politicians are meant to represent the people, not their donors. The parliaments of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland have all set a disclosure threshold on political donations at $1,000. New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia also require near-real-time disclosure of donations. Right now there is no equivalent law at the federal level, and this bill would fix that. I often hear the major parties argue that it’s too resource intensive to disclose their donations in real time, but really, if I can do so as an Independent, then the major parties certainly can as well, which is why I’ve introduced this bill: to show Australians reforms like this are entirely possible if the will is there from the people to see us do better.
This bill also includes penalties for political parties who do not follow political donation disclosure rules. While this is an important compliance measure, I do believe that the best way for us to achieve true and enduring change in our democracy is if we shift from a culture of compliance and finding loopholes to one that’s focused on integrity, which is why this bill is the perfect complement to the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill I just introduced, which would invest in programs that improve the culture of political integrity and transparency in Canberra. It, too, had provisions dealing with election bribery, election fraud and breaches of lobbying codes of conduct.
This bill also complements the work done by the member for Warringah on truth in political advertising and the member for Mayo on the regulation of political text messages, and I’ll be proud to second these bills later on this morning too. I also commend the work that the member for Clark has done on the crossbench to introduce a cap on political donations in this country as well as reform on foreign donations.
The last tranche of donations data released by the AEC earlier this year found that Australia’s weak political donation laws allowed the major parties to hide the origins of more than a billion dollars in income and donations over the past two decades. That is simply unacceptable by any measure.
Once again, the crossbench appears to be the place where genuine and ambitious reforms to political donations and transparency are coming from in this parliament. This is a first step the major parties could take to show the Australian people that they’re serious when they give lip-service to transparency and accountability at the next election. I commend this bill to the House.