Donations to Political Parties

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Senator DI NATALE
I move:
That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Special Minister of State (Senator Ryan) to a question without notice asked by Senator Di Natale today relating to foreign donations.
We recently saw the Manager of Opposition Business stand down as a result of taking a donation from a foreign entity. But let us not kid ourselves for a moment that that action is the end of the matter. The issue has been raised and has been very well ventilated in recent weeks, but the resignation of Senator Dastyari is not an end to this. In fact, his resignation achieves nothing if we do not take on the substantive matter of electoral donation reform.
I know the caravan moves on very quickly in this place and it may seem that this issue has been dealt with, but it has not. Until the influence of large foreign corporate entities—in fact, external influences right across the board—is dealt then people will quite rightly continue to raise questions about the decisions that are being made in this place and whether they are being made in the interests of the community or whether they are being made in the interests of those large cashed-up donors.
The Special Minister of State along with the Attorney-General tried to draw the distinction between donations from foreign entities and the payment of an individual senator's electorate expenses. I think that is tricky.

Senator Brandis
No, personal debts.

Senator DI NATALE
Or personal debts—I take that interjection from the Attorney-General. I think that distinction is very tricky. Most people understand that those two issues are related, that in fact the contributions to both individual senators and political parties raise questions about how decisions are being made and whether they are being made free from influences in this place.
What an opportunity for the Prime Minister to show a bit of leadership. What a great opportunity for a Prime Minister, who has floundered for the past year, who has been beholden to one part of his own party, to stand up and say the status quo is unacceptable.
In fact, before Malcolm Turnbull became the Prime Minister of this country, he made it very clear that his view was that there should be limitations when it comes to donations and that we should have a capped expenditure simply from individuals on the electoral roll and not moving beyond that. He obviously expressed that view. Clearly, he understands that there are questions being raised within the community about the scale of this problem. And so now is an opportunity for him to seize the initiative and show a bit of leadership.
We know that these entities who make these donations do not do it because they want see Australian democracy flourish. They do it because they expect a return on their investment. We also know that indeed all political parties in this place have engaged in donations, but let us be again clear on this. The Greens do not receive corporate donations. We ensure that our process for donations goes through a separate entity that decides whether the donation is being made by an entity that is consistent with our own values and policy approach.
But the answer to this is straightforward. We would like to see the system tightened up. We would like to see a ban on foreign donations. We would like to see it go further than just foreign donations—a ban on all corporate donations and a strict cap on donations from not-for-profit organisations and from individual donors. When you impose strict caps, that is effectively an end to all big money politics. It is a very straightforward reform proposal. Alongside that, we need to see donations on election campaign expenditure as well as the activities of third parties. If we can achieve those three things together, then what we have achieved is substantial donations reform that is absolutely in the interests of the Australian community.
But any donation reform needs to also include the establishment of a national anti-corruption watchdog. The notion that the only jurisdiction that should not have an anti-corruption watchdog should be the federal parliament beggars belief. The idea that corruption is limited only to state jurisdictions but there is no potential corruption within the federal parliament again simply beggars belief. So let us use this opportunity now to get wholesale reform, reform around donations being made by corporations, not-for-profits and individuals. Let us ensure that we also get the establishment of a national anti-corruption watchdog and strict caps by third-party campaigners.
Question agreed to.