Greens Political Donations Motion: Electoral Matters Committee


Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — I move:

That this house, pursuant to section 33 of the Parliamentary Committees Act 2003, requires the Electoral Matters Committee to inquire into, consider and report no later than 1 August 2016 on —

(1)   whether the Electoral Act 2002 and/or the Local Government Act 1989 should be amended to create a system of political donations disclosure and/or restrictions on political donations; and

(2)   the outcomes of similar legislative reforms introduced in other relevant jurisdictions, particularly in the last six years.

I move this motion because it is now six and a half years since April 2009 when a similar report was tabled from the Electoral Matters Committee concerning its inquiry into political donations and disclosure. That was a reference from the Legislative Council, in fact based on a motion moved by my colleague Mr Barber. He moved in the Legislative Council on 16 April 2008:

That this house requires the Electoral Matters Committee to inquire, consider and report no later than 30 April 2009 on —

(1)   whether the Electoral Act 2002 should be amended to create a system of political donations disclosure and/or restrictions on political donations; and

(2)   the outcome resulting from similar legislative reforms introduced in Canada, the United Kingdom and other relevant jurisdictions.

Deputy President, you will notice there is a similarity between the wording of the two motions, and hence the wording of the terms of reference that went to the Electoral Matters Committee in 2008. Of course if this motion were supported today, it would go back to that committee six and a half years after Mr Barber's original motion. In fact it will be seven and a half years after the original motion was carried; the report was tabled a year later than that.

A lot of changes have happened with regard to electoral finance reform around Australia and the world, and the issue of electoral political donations has become heightened in the community in that time as a result of inquiries, particularly the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) inquiry in New South Wales and other inquiries and scandals involving political donations and influence on politicians at the federal and particularly state and local government areas.

On 16 April 2008, when speaking on a motion he had moved concerning political donations, Mr Barber stated:

If members believe that the current system as it operates under Victorian law is perfect, then I guess they will not support this motion. However, I know that across this Parliament on all sides of politics there are individuals with particular concerns about this issue … and there are many people who, regardless of their political positions on a range of issues, believe that donations to political parties and the associated involvement of money in elections is an important consideration in creating a level playing field for democracy to operate.

Nothing much has changed in that regard except that perhaps community interest and concern about the role of political donations in election campaigns and outside of them has heightened. I have raised the issue of political donations several times in Parliament — for example, through a motion on 25 November 2009, in the wake of the April 2009 report of the Electoral Matters Committee, I moved a motion to introduce reforms, to ban corporate donations, and to limit individual donations based, I might say, on the information that was contained in the report of the Electoral Matters Committee of April 2009. The report is a wealth of information on the situation in 2009 with regard to the systems in other states and territories around Australia and similar overseas jurisdictions, including Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Electoral Matters Committee embarked on an international tour to examine electoral finance systems in those overseas jurisdictions. I do not propose that the committee embark upon another international tour. It should be able to update itself on developments in other jurisdictions from afar via the internet or Skype, for example, which probably was not available in 2008–09 but certainly is now.

On 14 April 2010 I moved a motion in this house that parties refrain from accepting donations from property developers in the lead-up to the election that year. I moved that motion because at the time there was a lot of consternation in the community about the role that donations from property developers was playing in terms of decisions made about development at both local and state levels. In March 2014 I moved a motion about the apparent direct link between a donation to the Liberal Party and the Minister for Planning overriding the Stonnington planning scheme, and changes to the development in favour of that particular property developer made by the former Minister for Planning. In May last year I moved a similar motion to the 2010 motion — that parties refrain from accepting donations from developers and from entities that are regulated by government, and to look at limiting donations and campaign expenditure as has been done in comparable jurisdictions.

I mentioned the changes in the laws of various jurisdictions and the problems with associated entities which were allegedly 'rinsing' campaign donations. That is a new term that came to light through the ICAC inquiries, that through entities such as Progressive Business, the Fortune 500 club, ICAC identified sham associations that had been established with the sole purpose of what ICAC called 'rinsing' donations to political parties and candidates. People will recall that only last year several ministers in New South Wales were forced to resign from parliament, so we are talking about serious matters. The community has seen a procession of these matters arising almost every month on these issues, and that is why I say the community concern has heightened in the six years since the report from the Electoral Matters Committee.

During the motion in May last year I spoke about potential, perceived and real conflicts of interest regarding political donations, I spoke about calls for the need to dampen down the perceived need for money in election campaigns because any examination of the summary of — —

Mr Davis — On a point of order, Deputy President, and with the greatest of respect to Ms Pennicuik, going back to that previous division — —

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT — Order! Previous division?

Mr Davis — The previous vote on the motion just a moment ago, I direct your attention to chapter 16 of the standing orders, and I am raising this as soon as I became aware of it and was able to follow this sequence through. Chapter 16.01 headed 'Resolving a question' states:

When a question is proposed to the Council by the President, the President will state whether in his or her opinion, the “Ayes” or “Noes” (as the case may be) have it. If a Member challenges the Chair's opinion the question must be resolved by a division.

It is my recollection that, perhaps through happenstance, the way you phrased the end of that motion was not entirely consistent with standing order 16.01, and it may have led to a moment's confusion for either the ayes or the noes as to whether a division could be called or should be called. I do not necessarily need you to rule on this now, Deputy President, it might be something that the President and the Clerk need to confer on, but I do want to draw it to the chamber's attention and seek clarification of that as a point of order.

Mr Elasmar — On the point of order, Deputy President, I am not challenging what Mr Davis is saying, but when you put the call, ayes were first and then you put the noes, which was correct. My understanding was that you understood the ayes were more than the noes and that is why you went with the ayes, and we did not challenge it. I am not disputing the rule; that is just for information.

Mr Davis — Further on the point of order, sometimes in these sequences it is just a little hard to hear clearly, and it might be that there was some confusion, but the standing order is actually quite clear — ayes and noes — and the President indicates whether the ayes or the noes have it. That does not appear to me to have occurred exactly in that sequence this time, and it might be that the record needs — —

Mr Jennings — Are you questioning whether the ayes had it? Is that what you are questioning?

Mr Davis — That is what I am questioning.

Mr Jennings — The ayes had it. That was what was called.

Mr Davis — That was what was called — not in that exact phrase, though. This was a deviation from the normal phraseology, a different phraseology, and I make the point quite clearly that this appears to be somewhat different from the normal practice. If we appear to be introducing a slightly unusual practice or a different practice, we should do so in the full knowledge of what we are doing.

As I said, it might be that the President and the Clerk wish to look at the transcript to be definitive about it.

Mr Jennings — You want a division on every question.

Mr Davis — No, I did not say that.

Mr Jennings — That is what you want — a division on every question.

Mr Davis — That is not what I am saying.

Mr Jennings — That is the implication.

Mr Davis — It is not at all. This is a new set of words that has been used — —

Mr Jennings — Of course it is.

Mr Davis — And this may just be an error.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT — Order! I am very clear in my own mind about the way that vote was conducted, but I am cognisant of the political environment we are in in terms of a by-election so I am going to refer the matter to the President.

Mr Davis — I am appreciative, Deputy President.

Ms PENNICUIK — I might restart the point I was on before the interruption. I was talking about the motion I moved in May last year. In debate on that motion I spoke about calls by commentators, academics et cetera who make it their business to analyse and study this area to dampen down the perceived need for escalating amounts of money in election campaigns. If one looks at the Australian Electoral Commission website and the amount of money donated to all political parties, one will see since the 2009 inquiry — and it was also reported in that inquiry — the rise in the amount of money that is being expended on election campaigns from year to year. That is a theme that is of concern around the world, particularly in the United States where commentators are making the observation that it is virtually impossible for an ordinary person to run for the office of governor, for example, and in particular the office of president, because of the cost of doing so.

I also spoke about issues with local government where way too many councillors have to absent themselves from planning decisions due to conflicts of interest arising from donations they have accepted, particularly from property developers. That is why I have included in my motion a reference to the Local Government Act 1989 as something the committee could look at in terms of whether it needs amending.

In speaking on my motion last year I referred to the Australian Study of Parliament Group seminar that was held in 2010 at which the guest speaker was Associate Professor Joo-Cheong Tham, who has made a great study of political donations around the world, particularly around Australia. He said the system of donations produced undue influence at best and corruption at worst. He did not necessarily mean corruption in terms of individuals but certainly in terms of corrupting the political process and making it unfair in terms of the access and influence of business pitted against the interests of the ordinary citizen and the public interest.

I mentioned the report tabled in 2009. One of the opening statements in the chair's foreword to the report is that:

Victoria, along with the commonwealth, is amongst the least regulated jurisdictions in the Western world in terms of political finance law.

Nothing has changed in that regard since the tabling of this report. In fact there are very few recommendations in the report. I note that the former chair of the committee is here, and I think he is going to make a contribution to the debate on this motion.

There are three recommendations, the first of which is that:

The Victorian and commonwealth governments consider how best to harmonise political finance laws to ensure a uniform and consistent approach.

While that is a worthy recommendation, there has been no progress on it at the commonwealth or Victorian level. As I mentioned earlier, most of the other states and territories have moved quite substantially in this area, and I will provide detail on that a little later in my contribution.

The other two recommendations related to the caps on political donations in the light of changes to the structure of electronic gaming machines to make sure that the provisions regarding disclosure that apply to parties that are registered federally also apply to Independent candidates for political parties in Victoria.

They were the only recommendations in the report. I was critical of the flavour of that particular part of the report when I moved the motion at the end of 2009. Basically it said, 'Let's not do anything until something is done at the national level'. Nothing has happened, and I think it is timely six and a half years later to go back and have a look at what has developed around the jurisdictions in Australia, what has not happened in Victoria and why we are lagging even further behind. As we default to the commonwealth system, very little in the way of regulation on political donations applies in Victoria. That was disappointing in terms of the report's recommendations. However, the issue of the influence of political donations has gained more public interest over the last six years.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a very good report in terms of the wealth of information it provides on the system that operated at the time. In some ways it has changed and in some ways it has not.

If you go to, for example, page 2 of the report, it says:

The key issues raised by inquiry participants in relation to political donations disclosure and/or restrictions were —

what is the definition of a political donation; what are the sources and types of those donations; issues around bans or caps on political donations; consistency of disclosure provisions; political donation disclosure thresholds; and the timeliness of reporting obligations. Those issues are detailed throughout the report.

Also, as I mentioned, the committee undertook an international study tour and tabled a Report on International Investigations into Political Donations and Disclosure and Voter Participation and Informal Voting before tabling its final report. That is also a very worthwhile report in acquainting us with what goes on around the rest of the world. In fact in the 2009 report there are tables that outline what the situation was in the UK, Canada, New Zealand and the US.

Some other interesting things that I have noted in the report are at page 9, which is the background to the inquiry. It says:

The committee was informed of numerous examples of former and current politicians and political administrators who, in the past, expressed discontent and concern regarding the current political financing situation in Australia …

It is quite interesting to read now the names of some of those people. They include Mr Eric Roozendaal, Mr Mark Arbib, the Honourable Morris Iemma, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, Dr Carmen Lawrence and Mr Andrew Murray, a former Australian Democrats Senator.

At page 11 paragraph 2.13 of the report says:

The relationship between political donations, government contracts, fundraising and political parties has also been contentious in state and federal politics. There have been allegations in the media that through political donations, individual MPs may become lobbyists for an individual, patron developer, union or industry group. It has also been alleged that political parties favour businesses who host or attend functions by associated entities (business arm of political parties).

Which I mentioned before as being a particular issue that we need to look at.

A bit of a theme in the committee's report that pops up a couple of times throughout the report is the observation that Victoria has not suffered the major scandals that perhaps New South Wales or Queensland has and therefore no reform is needed. One of the comments at page 17, in paragraph 2.35, is that:

While Victoria arguably has not suffered a major political finance scandal, the scandals which have taken place in other jurisdictions combined with the increased scrutiny by the media, members of Parliament and parliamentary committees have seen the issue of political donations enter and remain in the public domain.

As I said, that has only increased.

At page 18 paragraph 2.42 states:

Several inquiry participants indicated that Victoria should adopt an approach independent of the commonwealth if a uniform approach did not offer greater transparency. For example, Mr David Kerslake urged the committee to 'go with a separate scheme if the commonwealth's [disclosure] level was very high'.

The commonwealth's disclosure level is very high. It stands at over $13 000 per donor now — about $13 100. Any donation under that amount does not have to be disclosed, and that is the situation in Victoria because Victoria defaults to the commonwealth system and does not have its own separate system of disclosure.

It is worth going through the distinctions between the federal system and those in the states and territories in Australia. As I mentioned, donations up to $13 000 do not have to be disclosed now. That will be the amount up until June next year because the disclosure amount rises with CPI. In the federal system there is no cap on maximum donations and there is no restriction on donors. That is the situation in Victoria except that donations from casino and gaming licence-holders are capped at $50 000.

One would have to query why casino and gaming licence-holders should be donating to political parties at all, particularly to those parties who may be in government because, as I raised in my motion last year with regard to entities that are regulated by government or whose activities can be influenced by government decisions, the government party should not be accepting donations from those entities at all because there is an obvious conflict of interest. Even if there is no obvious conflict of interest, there is at least a potential or perceived conflict of interest.

In the debate last year I mentioned that both of the major parties, the Labor and Liberal parties, had accepted donations from, for example, utilities — energy companies — and I noticed just in the last few weeks that AGL has announced that it will not be making any further donations to political parties for, I think, the very reason I raised in debate, because it is a conflict of interest to do so. In fact some of this is being led by companies which are taking the decision now not to donate to political parties where they might get themselves involved in that perceived conflict of interest.

That is the situation in the commonwealth and Victoria, which, as I said before, have been described as having the most unregulated systems in the Western world. We note that in New South Wales donations above $1000 or multiple donations from a single person or group that total over $1000 must be disclosed. Tickets or prizes of $1000 for fundraising must also be disclosed. Donations are capped at $5000 or $2000 for individual candidates. Some entities, such as property developers, are banned. The tobacco, gaming and liquor industries are banned, and there is a ban on donations from unenrolled individuals or entities without an Australian business number. In Western Australia gifts and other income above $2100 must be disclosed and there is a cap of $2100 for anonymous donations.

In the Northern Territory gifts over $1500 must be disclosed, and donations of $200 or more to a candidate or $1500 or more to a party must be disclosed. In the ACT donations over $1000 must be disclosed. The $10 000 cap was recently removed, but there is a cap of $1000 on anonymous donations and a cap of $25 000 per party per year for anonymous donations. In Queensland donations over $1000 must be disclosed, scaled down from $12 000. That was introduced by the Campbell Newman government and is retrospective to 2013. Donations are capped at $2000 to individuals and $5000 to parties. Donations of foreign property are prohibited, and a new six-month reporting of donations instead of annually has been introduced in Queensland. Tasmania and South Australia both follow the federal laws, but changes are being looked at in those jurisdictions as well.

If one was to summarise, one could say that in the major jurisdictions of New South Wales, West Australia, ACT, Northern Territory and Queensland, all donations over $1000 have to be disclosed. In Victoria it is a donation of over $13 000 per person, and that situation needs fixing.

Paragraph 3.5 on page 21 of the report tabled in 2009 states:

There is no accurate record of all political donations received by political parties and candidates in Victoria —

because —

Victoria 'piggybacks' on the commonwealth disclosure scheme, which requires only federally registered political parties in Victoria to disclose all political donations received … independent candidates and political parties registered only in Victoria are not required to comply with any disclosure laws.

Pages 30 to 50 of the report look at restricting political donations and go to a lot of subjects. I am going to read out the subject headings because they give an idea of the sorts of things that need to be considered and which the report did consider and report on — that is, donations from individual citizens, holders of gaming licences, property developers, government contractors, anonymous donors, foreign donors, tobacco industry, third parties and associated entities, corporations and trade unions, party membership and affiliations, cash donations, attendance charges, intra-party transfers, voluntary labour and government contractors. Two of the participants in the inquiry, Dr Ken Coghill and Dr Joo-Cheong Tham, at paragraph 3.58 on page 35 noted that:

There is no evidence that … corrupt processes occur under the current Victorian government, … the huge sums involved in government contracts for goods and services provide massive incentives for prospective suppliers to attempt to influence decisions on awarding those contracts.

As I said, there is certainly the potential for a perceived conflict of interest.

Some of the other issues covered in the report, and those not necessarily covered in the report but which have emerged since, include, for example, foreign donors. The Australian Electoral Commission's register shows that the Liberal Party received a $250 000 donation from a person living in the United Kingdom. I note that it is illegal in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada for parties to receive donations from foreign residents or foreign corporations. That is interesting and the ramifications of allowing that should be looked at more closely.

Total spending in financial years over the last elections has been increasing, rising from a combined total of $33 million in 1999 to nearly $59 million in 2004–05, and it has escalated even more since then. While it is true that there have been no major scandals, it is not true that there have not been any concerns in Victoria with regard to the influence of political donations. There have been concerns in Victoria and there have been problems around the country. But it should not rest on whether there has been a scandal; the issue is about greater transparency and accountability with regard to political donations. As I pointed out, Victoria lags behind all the other states and territories in this regard.

One commentator on the 2009 report said that the issue is not only about capping the amount of donations but about the disclosure of those donations. All the jurisdictions need to move towards more timely disclosure of donations. It takes 18 months after an election for the people of Victoria to find out what donations of more than $13 000 were made to political parties, but they will never know about any donations made under that threshold unless they are disclosed by the particular parties or candidates. Victorians want and deserve greater transparency and accountability regarding political donations. It is time that Victoria reformed its legislation and came more into line with other jurisdictions around the country, particularly as there has not been any movement at the commonwealth level. That has not stopped the other states and territories from becoming more open and transparent with regard to political donations.

My motion asks the parliamentary committee to consider changes in other jurisdictions over the past six years and how the Victorian law can be improved. New South Wales is having ongoing inquiries into its donation system, including one involving a panel of experts last year.

This morning the government gave a reference to the Electoral Matters Committee — by coincidence, perhaps — in regard to electronic voting. While that is a worthwhile issue, I would regard it as being not as urgent as long overdue reforms in the area of political donations. The timing of my motion would mean that the inquiry was being carried out in a year far removed from an election year — that is, it would be reporting two years before a state election year. That is another reason why it is timely and urgent that the motion is passed and referred to the Electoral Matters Committee on behalf the people of Victoria.


Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — I thank Mr Somyurek, Mr Rich-Phillips, Mrs Peulich and Mr Jennings for speaking on the motion. I will make some brief responses to matters raised by the speakers.

Mr Somyurek started out by saying there is an increasing demand for wider transparency and accountability, as well as a greater media focus on the issue of campaign donations. He gave us a bit of a history lesson, going over some of the stuff that I had already spoken about in my motion, which is fine, but he reported on the genesis of the Canadian reforms that were driven by a major scandal. He also said that New Zealand and the UK followed with inquiries and changes, mainly based on the Canadian system. In terms of the capping of donations and donation disclosures, this system has been followed to some extent in jurisdictions in Australia.

Certainly, the 2009 report described the Canadian system as the gold standard. The Greens regard the Canadian system as a benchmark to be aspired to; certainly no Australian jurisdiction has got there so far. Mr Somyurek mentioned that the report recommended that Victoria wait for change at the national level, because there were changes afoot at the national level with the Joint Standing Committee On Electoral Matters inquiry, the work of the federal Special Minister of State and the legislation, which eventually did not get up. I understand all of that, but the reason I am saying we need to look at the matter again in Victoria is that in fact nothing has happened at the national level, despite attempts by the former government to effect change.

Mr Somyurek said other states were at the time supporting harmony, and that may also be true, but in fact in the six and a half years since then other states have in fact moved because nothing has happened at the national level. Mr Somyurek went on to say that due to constitutional issues, the committee decided to wait for the federal process and that the Labor Party has moved in other states and has tried to do so at the federal level. In fact that is exactly my point: that the states have moved and have been able to move.

I think Mr Somyurek overexaggerated the complex nature of the constitutional issues involved. In fact the High Court struck down part of the legislation in New South Wales and clarified some of the constitutional issues, but it left in place a disclosure regime whereby all donations above $1000 must be disclosed and it left in place caps of $5000 for parties and $2000 for individual candidates, the ability for New South Wales to ban donations from property developers, from tobacco, gambling, gaming and the liquor industries, and to ban donations from unenrolled individuals and any entity without an Australian business number. In other words, the High Court struck down part of the legislation but left in place many of the other parts, so the High Court decision has not meant that states cannot move on their own, and in fact, as I outlined, they have.

In response to the issues I raised arising from the 2009 report Mr Somyurek said that Victoria has not had a major scandal as has occurred in other jurisdictions, that it is probably only a matter of time before there is a scandal in Victoria and that we have been lucky. I would not want us to wait until there is a scandal. We should be moving on this issue because other states have, and in terms of harmonisation, we need to be harmonising with the other states which have moved, particularly with respect to disclosure. Victoria is way behind in this area and is now the only state that defaults entirely to the commonwealth system, which is completely unacceptable and inappropriate and needs to be amended. Whether that will happen through a Council of Australian governments (COAG) process, I am not sure but the opportunity exists for us to be in harmony with the rest of the states, and that is what we should be doing.

Mr Somyurek suggested that I should hold fire and that the government will do something at the end of its term, but the end of the term will be an election year, which I would suggest is probably not the best time for the Electoral Matters Committee to be wrapped up in this inquiry, which is why I am moving the motion now, for the inquiry to be completed midway through next year. Mr Rich-Phillips gave a modest response in opposing the motion. For example, he said that I am not seeking action but a further inquiry. Of course Mr Rich-Phillips would be aware that I did seek action with regard to not taking donations from property developers, caps on donations, increased disclosure and so on in 2009, 2010 and 2014. In this particular motion I would like the committee to examine what has happened in the six and a half years since it tabled the report of its previous inquiry in April 2009. A lot has happened since then.

He also mentioned that the 2009 inquiry received little evidence with regard to the need for change at the local government level and that local government did not generate any interest. I would suggest that that is probably because local government was not included in the 2008 terms of reference, and that is why I have included it in this reference. He went on to say that my reference would not advance the issue and he implied that we have all we need to know from the 2009 report and that a new inquiry would not advance this issue, but so much has happened in the intervening six and a half years that much could be achieved by a re-examination by the committee.

Mr Rich-Phillips also mentioned a new reference on electronic voting. As I said, that may be worthwhile. In fact there is no reason the committee could not be doing both inquiries. Many of the standing committees in this house are working on more than one inquiry at a time and there is no reason the Electoral Matters Committee could not also be doing that. If that is the reason, it is not much of a reason. Overall I am very disappointed with the reasons Mr Rich-Phillips scratched up for not supporting the motion. I think Victoria does need to pull its socks up with regard to this issue.

Mrs Peulich spent most of her time not talking about the motion except to say that it is not broad enough when in fact it is a very broad motion that allows the committee to look into any type of reform that may be required under either the Electoral Act 2002 or the Local Government Act 1989. She then spent most of her time talking about the royal commission into unions.

Mr Jennings finished up by praising Mr Somyurek by fulsomely outlining the government's position, which is basically that the government will do something if nothing is done at the federal level. Mr Jennings said that the ALP recognises that the 2009 report identifies some reforms that are needed, but six and a half years down the track those reforms have not been implemented, not even the reforms that were recommended in the report.

Mr Jennings said that the government intends to pursue the matters through COAG. I do not have any opposition to pursuing the matters through COAG, but I would also say that COAG could be informed by Victoria moving on this issue as the other states have done, and that might be an impetus for further reform at the national level. He finished by saying that if the issue is not addressed at the national level, the ALP will have a look at it again.

My concern with the ALP and the Liberal Party not supporting this motion is that it leaves Victoria in the situation of having less-than-satisfactory legislation with regard to campaign donations, and that is widely understood. One of the opening sentences of the 2009 report was that Victoria and the commonwealth are the least regulated jurisdictions in the Western world, and that situation remains.

I was interested to read an article by Marian Sawer, emeritus professor at the school of politics and international relations, Australian National University. It relates to the allegations of mafia involvement in political donations. Amongst the matters raised in the article she says:

Despite some to-ing and fro-ing as governments have changed or High Court challenges have been mounted, it is at the state and territory level that most progress has been made in the past five years.

She talks about the South Australian cross-party agreement and other changes and then goes on to say:

It is unfortunate that it is only scandals and the perception of corruption or criminal involvement that prompt moves to reform Australia's political finance regime. While it is important to remove perceptions of undue influence, it is equally important to uphold democratic principles such as that of political equality and a level playing field for electoral competition.

Those whose supporters have deep pockets should not be given an unfair advantage in electoral competition. Nor should cashed-up voices be able to drown out others in the electronic media.

Political equality does not exist when some are able to purchase access to ministers or senior political figures through large political donations or paying inflated prices for seats at a dinner.

In a context where the unrestricted role of private money and the abuse of public resources has become normalised in Australian elections, the shock of discovering mafia involvement in political donations may be a positive one. Hopefully, there will be renewed momentum for electoral reform — concerned with first principles, not just with integrity issues.

I am disappointed that the major parties again are shying away from legislative reform with regard to electoral campaign donations. This would have been an opportunity for the Electoral Matters Committee to look again at this issue, given what has happened in the intervening years. I do not have any faith that we are going to move any faster on this issue than we have in the past six years.