04 September 2023
I second the motion. I’m pleased to support the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Real Time Disclosure of Political Donations) Bill 2023 moved by the member for Mayo. I back her in completely on this. Political, parliamentary and public service integrity is fundamental to the strength of our Australian democracy. The transparency of election campaign financing is key to its vitality and integrity. The loss of political integrity across Australia concerns Australians—just read the letters to the editor—and the data shows it too, with diminishing trust over a period of time. That’s fundamentally bad for our democracy. If we don’t have trust in our governments and key political organisations, how can we bring Australians along for the bold reforms that are needed into future?
The current federal donation disclosure threshold is $15,200. Donations over that threshold are not disclosed until well after an election. Voters should have the opportunity to understand, before they vote, who is funding campaigns. Greater transparency of political donations will contribute to reducing the influence of private interests on politics and improving public trust. If the disclosure threshold were reduced to $1,000 and reported in real time, it would be much more difficult to conceal the identities of political donors. The federal donation disclosure system allows millions of dollars in political donations to go undisclosed, due to the large number of donations just under the current high threshold. Transparency measures also must be in place to close current loopholes for avoiding disclosure. There are a range of measures that are undertaken to avoid disclosure, things like large amounts of undisclosed money put forward into large party coffers as a result of the practice of hosting high priced ticketed events; charging, for example, $15,000 for a dinner with the Prime Minister; and claiming that that charge is fair market value. That’s a pretty good dinner, I would say, and it certainly comes under what I would consider a political donation.
Across Australia, we see the political campaign finance laws diverge between jurisdictions. The parliaments of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland have set a disclosure threshold on political donations at $1,000. New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia require near real time disclosure of donations, yet the Commonwealth requires disclosure just once a year and then many months after the reporting period has ended. In addition to that, the NSW Electoral Commission actively pursues breaches, yet the Australian Electoral Commission rarely employs its coercive powers, as the Senate finance and public administration committee heard way back in 2017.
The crossbench has been calling for reform for years—multiple bills introduced. I thank the member for Mayo for continuing this strong push. Only a few weeks ago, the member for Curtin introduced a strong bill, laying out considerable, sensible reforms for our federal electoral laws that would go a long way to restoring public trust and levelling the playing field. Right now, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is considering reforms. I urge the government to do what is right: lower the disclosure limit to $1,000; make the disclosure real time; and get the dark money out of politics. It’s not that hard. I’ve been doing it for a long time. Again, as the member for Mayo would say, if an Independent member of parliament can do this, then surely everyone can do this. I thank the member for her bill, and I’m proud to second it today.