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senate vote 2020-09-02#9

Edited by mackay

on 2020-09-25 10:15:03

Title

  • Bills — Electoral Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2020; in Committee
  • Electoral Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2020 - in Committee - Lower disclosure threshold

Description

  • <p class="speaker">Don Farrell</p>
  • <p>by leave&#8212;I move opposition amendments (1) to (3) on sheet 1037 together.</p>
  • <p class="italic">(1) Clause 2, page 1 (line 7) to page 2 (line 6), omit the clause, substitute:</p>
  • The majority voted against [amendments](https://www.openaustralia.org.au/senate/?gid=2020-09-02.251.1) introduced by Queensland Senator [Larissa Waters](https://theyvoteforyou.org.au/people/senate/queensland/larissa_waters) (Greens), which means they failed.
  • Senator Waters [explained her amendments](https://www.openaustralia.org.au/senate/?gid=2020-09-02.251.1):
  • > *The effect of these amendments would be to reduce the federal disclosure threshold of political donations down to $1,000. It was originally $13,500 but it's indexed, so at the moment you can donate just shy of $14,300 to a federal political party for a federal purpose and you don't need to tell anybody about it; it's absolutely opaque. Donations just shy of the disclosure threshold are routinely made, and the public doesn't have the ability to hear about them. This amendment would repeat many amendments over the years that many experts and, in fact, other political parties have moved to reduce that threshold of disclosure down to $1,000.*
  • ### Amendment text
  • > *(1) Schedule 1, page 3 (after line 8), after item 1, insert:*
  • >
  • > *1A Subsection 287(1) (definition of disclosure threshold )*
  • >
  • >> *Omit "$13,800", substitute "$1,000".*
  • >
  • > *1B Subsection 287(1) (note to the definition of disclosure threshold )*
  • >
  • >> *Repeal the note.*
  • >
  • > *(2) Schedule 1, page 9 (after line 6), after item 26, insert:*
  • >
  • > *26A After subsection 305A(1A)*
  • >
  • > *Insert:*
  • >
  • > *(1B) An amount prescribed for the purposes of paragraph (1)(b) or (1A)(b) must not be more than the disclosure threshold.*
  • >
  • > *(3) Schedule 1, items 32 and 33, page 11 (lines 11 to 17), omit the items, substitute:*
  • >
  • > *32 Section 321A*
  • >
  • > *Repeal the section.*
  • <p class="italic">2 Commencement</p>
  • <p class="italic">(1) Each provision of this Act specified in column 1 of the table commences, or is taken to have commenced, in accordance with column 2 of the table. Any other statement in column 2 has effect according to its terms.</p>
  • <p class="italic">&#160;&#160;Note: This table relates only to the provisions of this Act as originally enacted. It will not be amended to deal with any later amendments of this Act.</p>
  • <p class="italic">(2) Any information in column 3 of the table is not part of this Act. Information may be inserted in this column, or information in it may be edited, in any published version of this Act.</p>
  • <p class="italic">(2) Schedule 1, heading to Part 1, page 3 (lines 3 and 4), omit the heading, substitute:</p>
  • <p class="italic">Part 1&#8212;Amendments relating to gifts</p>
  • <p class="italic">(3) Schedule 1, heading to Part 2, page 13 (line 1), omit the heading, substitute:</p>
  • <p class="italic">Part 2&#8212;Amendments relating to voting and scrutiny processes</p>
  • <p>This amendment seeks to delay the commencement of the bill until 1 December 2020. Currently the bill has different commencement dates for different provisions. The amendment will allow for a simplified starting date for the entire bill. Delaying the start date until 1 December will allow the AEC and the parties to familiarise themselves with the new regime and ensure that they have their compliance systems in place. In addition, there are state jurisdictions that are currently undergoing state or local government elections. It's always important to ensure that electoral changes do not confuse voters or entities. As such, a starting date later in the year lessens the risk of confusion.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Mathias Cormann</p>
  • <p>The government supports those amendments. The intention was never to have any impact on the conduct of state elections in Queensland or anywhere else. This is about keeping arrangements for federal elections and state elections appropriately separate. From that point of view, the government is comfortable supporting the amendment.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Larissa Waters</p>
  • <p>[by video link] I rise to make some brief remarks about the amendments moved by Senator Farrell. Given we think the bill itself is bad, we don't oppose delaying its commencement so we, too, will support the amendments.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rex Patrick</p>
  • <p>I am on the record as supporting the amendment.</p>
  • <p>Question agreed to.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Larissa Waters</p>
  • <p>[by video link]by leave&#8212;I move Greens amendments (1) to (3) on sheet 1002 together.</p>
  • <p class="italic">(1) Schedule 1, page 3 (after line 8), after item 1, insert:</p>
  • <p class="italic">1A Subsection 287(1) (definition of <i>disclosure threshold</i> )</p>
  • <p class="italic">&#160;&#160;Omit "$13,800", substitute "$1,000".</p>
  • <p class="italic">1B Subsection 287(1) (note to the definition of <i>disclosure threshold</i> )</p>
  • <p class="italic">&#160;&#160;Repeal the note.</p>
  • <p class="italic">(2) Schedule 1, page 9 (after line 6), after item 26, insert:</p>
  • <p class="italic">26A After subsection 305A(1A)</p>
  • <p class="italic">&#160;&#160;Insert:</p>
  • <p class="italic">&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;(1B) An amount prescribed for the purposes of paragraph (1)(b) or (1A)(b) must not be more than the disclosure threshold.</p>
  • <p class="italic">(3) Schedule 1, items 32 and 33, page 11 (lines 11 to 17), omit the items, substitute:</p>
  • <p class="italic">32 Section 321A</p>
  • <p class="italic">&#160;&#160;Repeal the section.</p>
  • <p>The effect of these amendments would be to reduce the federal disclosure threshold of political donations down to $1,000. It was originally $13,500 but it's indexed, so at the moment you can donate just shy of $14,300 to a federal political party for a federal purpose and you don't need to tell anybody about it; it's absolutely opaque. Donations just shy of the disclosure threshold are routinely made, and the public doesn't have the ability to hear about them. This amendment would repeat many amendments over the years that many experts and, in fact, other political parties have moved to reduce that threshold of disclosure down to $1,000.</p>
  • <p>The public should know who is donating to political parties. Political parties should own up to who is paying for their re-election campaigns. This is a very straightforward transparency and accountability measure. The federal disclosure threshold has been too high since the days when John Howard was Prime Minister and it is about time it was dropped back down to a level where the public knows who is paying for who.</p>
  • <p>In Queensland, my home state, we have a disclosure threshold under our state laws of $1,000. That has not proved onerous from an administrative perspective to comply with, and we don't think there's any justification for retaining that significantly too-high disclosure threshold that the federal laws enshrine. These amendments would reduce that threshold down to $1,000.</p>
  • <p>I thank the crossbench in advance who've let me know that they will be supporting this amendment. I haven't heard back from Labor, but of course they've got their own private member's bill to this effect and they had a second reading amendment as well&#8212;a bit of a departure there if they didn't vote for this. I'm hopeful that we will see this amendment pass shortly.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Mathias Cormann</p>
  • <p>The government will oppose this amendment. It will reduce the disclosure threshold from $14,300 to $1,000. It would also abolish indexation of the disclosure threshold, which would effectively mean that the threshold would shrink in real terms over time due to inflation.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Amanda Stoker</p>
  • <p>Senator Waters, on a point of order.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Larissa Waters</p>
  • <p>[by video link] I have not moved the amendments that abolish the indexation, so they are not before the chair.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Amanda Stoker</p>
  • <p>On the point of order, Senator Cormann?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Mathias Cormann</p>
  • <p>I'm not talking to the point of order; I'm just talking to the issue and to all of the amendments in front of us as I've done in previous debates and as is widely practised.</p>
  • <p>The Greens amendment will mean more red tape for individual Australians who would like to participate in the democratic processes, including by making financial contributions to their party of choice or the member or candidate that they would like to support. It would deter political participation and, even worse, this badly drafted amendment would reclassify numerous very small organisations as third-party campaigners if they spent more than $1,000 in a year on electoral expenses. This change would drag numerous not-for-profit and charitable organisations under the reporting rules for third party. This could sweep up tiny groups like neighbourhood associations, RSL branches, footy clubs and other small players who comment favourably or critically on federal politics. This would be the effect of the amendment because, under the Electoral Act, if someone spends more than the disclosure threshold they get categorised as a third party and face more burdensome reporting and disclosure obligations&#8212;namely, they have to make annual returns and appear on the Transparency Register.</p>
  • <p>The current threshold of $14,300 is set at the appropriate level to balance facilitating political participation while also facilitating and ensuring appropriate levels of openness and transparency. But $1,000 clearly is not.</p>
  • <p>This extreme change proposed by the Greens in the reporting arrangements has not been discussed with the charitable or not-for-profit sector as far as we are aware. The bad drafting of these amendments may be unintentional, but the Greens made exactly the same drafting error when they moved similar amendments back in 2013. I pointed out those errors then, but here we are again with the same, obviously, very badly drafted amendments in the same form.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Don Farrell</p>
  • <p>I'd like to make one comment by way of clarification to the leader of the Greens. To the best of my knowledge and to the best of the knowledge of my office, we've not actually received your amendments in a way where you have requested a response. I make this offer to Senator Waters that, if you choose to send us your amendments, we are very happy at all times to respond.</p>
  • <p>As you'd be aware, Labor already has a bill before the Senate that seeks to achieve the changes proposed by this amendment but we don't support this amendment being made as part of this particular package. Based on our consultation on the not-for-profit sector with the charities, following the implementation of the ban on foreign donations, we understand that, although we would like to see this change as soon as possible, non-political entities who engage in the creation of electoral matters require further consultation and communication and time to adapt their systems. This is something that they stressed very strongly to us when we fought successfully to establish the ban on foreign donations, and it would be remiss of this parliament not to listen to the concerns of those stakeholders.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rex Patrick</p>
  • <p>Minister, I've got just a couple of questions in relation to this. You talked about the burden this places on people who wish to make a donation. Can you articulate exactly what that burden is for someone who wants to make a donation that is below the threshold and how that might deter people from making a donation?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Mathias Cormann</p>
  • <p>I would refer you to section 314AEB of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, which sets out all the requirements that would be imposed on third parties in these circumstances, including the penalties that would apply.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rex Patrick</p>
  • <p>So, Minister, I'm putting to you that the burden is not significant in a balance of effort required versus the public interest in the disclosure. Senator Waters indicated that in Tasmania, for example, this is not a problem. Has the government looked at other jurisdictions to see exactly how any such burden would affect people who want to donate to a political party?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Mathias Cormann</p>
  • <p>Well, I've got to strongly disagree with you, Senator Patrick, and this is not just a theoretical disagreement; this is a very practical disagreement. Much larger not-for-profit organisations that were getting captured by the initial draft of the ban on foreign political donations and the increased disclosure reporting requirements were very concerned about the level of red tape it would impose on them. The level of red tape on smaller not-for-profits that would inevitably be captured through this Greens amendment would be entirely disproportionate and would not be appropriately balanced. We are absolutely in favour of appropriate balancing facilitating political participation by all while also of course pursuing the public interest in disclosure. But we believe the current arrangements appropriately balance those requirements and what is in front of us does not.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rex Patrick</p>
  • <p>So, say, I'm in a position to make a donation of $2,000 to a political party, how would the burden differ between someone who was making a $2,000 donation and someone who was making a $15,000 donation? I note that it might simply be an individual. I'm just trying to understand what pushes someone across a line in terms of not making a donation.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Mathias Cormann</p>
  • <p>Obviously businesses that are making larger donations are likely to be larger organisations that have the capacity to comply with annual return and other requirements, whereas if you are a small volunteer not-for-profit or if you are a smaller organisation that doesn't have the same resources to deal with all the additional reporting requirements that would come with getting captured by this then that would make it disproportionate. That is certainly the feedback we've had from not-for-profits. In the end, nobody's arguing against the need for disclosure. It's just about making sure we capture disclosure in reporting requirements with organisations of an appropriate size and with donations of an appropriate size.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rex Patrick</p>
  • <p>I want to speak to Labor's comments about having a private member's bill that seeks to do the same thing and therefore not wanting to support this particular bill. I think everyone who's listening needs to understand that private member's bills rarely get up. They're used to put pressure on governments to do particular things, to enable debate or to enable committee work in relation to particular policies or laws. No-one should pretend that when a bill that comes through the Senate that is a government bill and that will eventually go back to the House, if it is amended here, and be passed into law it will be ignored because you have a private member's bill up. It seems to be disingenuous to make a statement that you are in support of this but you want to have it up in your own private member's bill. That's the method by which you wish to seek the change. Labor has an opportunity here to implement something that it purportedly agrees with but is simply not prepared to back. I think people should at least appreciate that.</p>
  • <p>I'd also like to go back to a discussion that I was having with Senator Cormann prior in relation to this bill. I did ask Senator Cormann a whole range of questions about his personal circumstance in terms of dinners that he might have attended and so forth. I want to make it very clear to the chamber that I was not directing that at Senator Cormann in any other way than in acknowledgement of the fact that Senator Cormann is not in a position to answer this question for other ministers. I am of the understanding that all ministers do it. I was simply restricting my questions to the minister at the table in appreciation of the fact that he has knowledge of his own affairs. I wasn't suggesting or in any way seeking to single him out.</p>
  • <p class='motion-notice motion-notice-truncated'>Long debate text truncated.</p>