November 22, 2021
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Last night, when I was reviewing this bill carefully one more time ahead of the Parliamentary sitting, I supported this bill.
It included a simple provision to reduce the amount of ‘electoral expenditure’ an individual or organisation can spend before they are required to register as a political campaigner from $500,000 to $100,000.
These provisions would also apply where the amount of the ‘electoral expenditure’ spent during a financial year is at least $14,500 and one-third of their revenue for the previous financial year.
If this threshold is met, more stringent disclosure rules apply.
The individual or organisation must register and be searchable on the AEC’s Transparency Register, submit an annual disclosure of gifts and electoral expenditure to the AEC, and comply with foreign donations rules.
These are, in my opinion, sensible reforms I can support.
As an independent, transparency and integrity are at the heart of what I do. I believe Australians deserve to know who is spending money to influence the outcome of an election.
I also believe in good governance and proper process when it comes to democratic reform.
That is why I was furious to discover only a few short hours ago that the Minister responsible for this bill tabled a substantial number of additional provisions to the bill without any notice at all.
It’s effectively tripled in size.
Within a matter of hours, the Government has added 35 new provisions to this bill.
No prior warning.
No briefings offered.
Just a document handed to the Table Office and quietly uploaded to the Parliamentary website.
This is not the way this Parliament should operates.
It is an accepted rule in this place that a bill cannot be introduced and passed on the same day.
What the Minister has done here is try and circumvent this rule by introducing complex new provisions, that are effectively a new bill, as a series of amendments.
You can see, on the timestamp of these “amendments”, that the Government finished drafted them on the morning of the 27 October. That’s almost 4 weeks ago. And yet the Minister has given us about 4 hours to consider them.
What’s even more egregious, is that I even met with the Minister two and half weeks ago, on the 5th of November.
He would have been well aware of these detailed amendments – and he said nothing about them.
This bill is also listed for this evening in the Senate.
It’s clear the Government wants to ram this through the entire Parliament in one day, without any consultation.
That’s not on.
When I met with the Minister, I was frank and honest with him, as I expected him to be with me.
I said that I would welcome any new law reform proposals that would increase overall transparency in our political donations system to level the playing field.
In the last sitting, for example, I introduced a Bill to require donations above $14,500 to be disclosed within 5 days, and donations above $1,000 to be disclosed quarterly – including cumulative donations.
Because that’s what I do now.
Will the Government level the playing field and do the same?
As a community independent, I don’t take millions from corporate donors and vested interests like the majors do. I’m proud of that and wish the major parties would do the same.
The major parties will also tell you it’s too resource intensive to disclose their donations in real-time.
But if I can do it, they can too.
This is the standard of transparency and accountability we should expect from our political electoral system, and I urge the Government to truly level the playing field and do the same for themselves.
There could be serious compliance burdens for the associated entities the Minister is envisaging he will capture under the extended definition in Schedule 2.
Especially if they operate of small budgets of only a few thousand dollars.
I want to be clear here: I absolutely supported the premise of this bill. I’m in favour of one set of rules for all the Minister knows that. But I simply cannot support a law that the Government hasn’t given the crossbench any time to review or contemplate in detail.
And its on that basis that I move the following amendment:
That whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:
- Notes the Government broke with convention and introduced significant addition to this bill, tripling it in size within a matter of hours, and preventing the crossbench from having an opportunity to review, contemplate or be briefed on the amended bill.
- Notes that if the Government wanted to truly level the playing field when it comes to political donations, it could lower the AEC disclosure threshold from the current rate of $14,5000 to $1,000, and,
- Calls on the Government to postpone the second reading vote on this bill until another sitting day, as is the convention with new bills.