29 May 2014
(Contribution to Debate, 28 May 2014, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
I support the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Consequential Amendment Bill 2014. It will close the loophole created by the December 2013 High Court decision in Unions NSW and Ors v State of New South Wales, which ultimately makes donations from corporations, industrial organisations and peak industry groups lawful even though they were previously banned by this House.
While the decision opened the way for donations from these donors, the law is not drafted to require their disclosure. Following a meeting with the Electoral Funding Authority earlier in the year, I repeatedly asked the Government to close this loophole. New South Wales has made positive steps in donation reform over the last five years, including the banning of developer and tobacco industry donations under the previous Government and the limiting of permissible donors to individuals on the electoral roll under this Government.
It is unfortunate that the High Court restored the ability for corporations and organisations to make political donations. I believe the motivation for such donations is usually different to that of individuals. Although the High Court did restore that ability, it is obviously the decision of the political parties to accept those donations. Individuals often make donations to help the candidate get elected who they believe best reflects their values and beliefs. It is a valuable form of political participation and I hope it continues under future reforms. As an independent, my election campaign relied heavily on donations from residents and members of my local community who believed in me because of my work or who wanted to retain an independent representative in Parliament following this Government's anti-democratic move to force the resignation of the former Independent member of Parliament Clover Moore.
In comparison, corporate donations are rarely community minded and often represent an attempt to achieve influence. Recent hearings of the Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC] showed us how desperate some are to influence the political process. They find the loopholes in the system so that donations that do not comply with community values or the spirit of recent reforms can be made. We hear of corporations and developers making donations through other means, including from staff members, and this needs to be addressed. I welcome the commitment of the Premier to look at further reforms and the establishment of an expert panel to report on options. I join the member for Davidson in calling for a citizens jury on electoral reform.
The first step in this bill to ensure that all donations over $1,000 from corporations, peak industry groups and organisations are made public following the High Court decision is vital. Transparency and accountability of political donations is essential for confidence in the political process. I understand from my discussions with the Electoral Funding Authority that the High Court decision was retrospective, making all donations that were previously banned lawful, including those made prior to 18 December. I understand this means donations made unlawfully before this date are now valid, and this would be a defence in court. I am concerned that the law require disclosure of such donations so that the public is fully informed. I ask the Premier, in his reply, to respond to these concerns and explain why the 18 December date is needed in the bill. I join the member for Heffron, who made a similar call.
I am concerned that the expert panel does not include representation from Independents or minor parties, whose situation is different. Independents and minor parties often run local campaigns without support from concurrent statewide party campaigns and this means we have different needs. It is harder for an Independent who is not the incumbent to get elected. We need more community representatives and donation reform should not make it harder for new Independents to run and be elected. The panel, for example, could have included John Hatton, a former Independent of this House, or former Democrats MLC Arthur Chesterfield-Evans. I hope that the panel also looks at fundraising events that allow lobbyists and industry and corporate leaders to pay to sit at tables with Ministers and shadow Ministers. This contact should be limited and placed on the public record.
The ICAC hearings show us the need to continually assess our political donations system to ensure that it protects the broader public interest and prevents undue influence on the political process or indeed the perception of it. It was not long ago that we had a very lax donations regime in New South Wales, and I welcome the commitment of this House to further improvement, especially to address concerns raised at the ICAC hearings. I hope our political system becomes fairer and more transparent as a result. This bill brings us up to date and ensures that most donations will now be disclosed. I commend the bill to the House.
Support for amendment to bill:
I speak in support of the amendment moved by the member for Maroubra. I raised this issue in my speech, and before making my speech I raised this issue with the Labor Party and encouraged that party to ensure that they did amend the bill. They looked into this issue in detail, and I appreciate the time that they have taken to consider it. I appreciate that the Government is supporting this amendment. I am pleased to see all sides of this Parliament working together to ensure transparency in political donations.