@OakeyMP on the dirty LabLib deal to grab our cash

Credit Peter Berner, @NoFibs cartoonist, @peter_berner

Credit Peter Berner, @NoFibs cartoonist, @peter_berner

Parliamentary speech

May 28, 2013

by Rob Oaskeshott

The fix is in on political donation reform. In a week of racing scandals—in fact, a month of racing scandals—the only ones ‘More Joyous’ about this failed donation reform that looks to be coming before the House today, looks to be the cosy relationship between the head offices of the Australia Labor Party and the Liberal National Party. This arrangement over a one-dollar administration fee per vote, without what the joint select committee actually recommended for further funding reform of donations down to $1,000 being declared, is wrong.

Likewise, what is increasingly obvious is the increase in the amount of public funding that comes in political donations that is not reducing private or corporate donations, as is the model that everyone recommends. Rather, what we are continuing to see is the rise and rise of public funding as we also see the rise and rise of private and corporate funding.

I refer the government in particular to a certain agreement they reached three years ago with a few of us. In section 3 called ‘Promoting open and accountable government’ it states:

3.1   The Parties will work together and with other parliamentarians to:

a) Establish a Leaders’ Debate Commission—

well, that is going along swimmingly, and—

b) Seek immediate reform of funding of political parties and election campaigns by legislating to lower the donation disclosure threshold from an indexed $11,500 to $1,000; to prevent donation splitting between different branches of political parties; to ban foreign donations; to ban anonymous donations over $50; to increase timeliness and frequency of donation disclosure; to tie public funding to genuine campaign expenditure and to create a ‘truth in advertising’ offence in the Commonwealth Electoral Act.

Madam Speaker, you would have to agree from what has been presented to the House today that we are a long way from achieving those principles. They are principles that work for all. The arms race of corporate donations does not help any single representative in this chamber. It is an influence that should be unwelcome for those who truly believe in their role as a representative first and foremost. The power of the dollar has an influence over policy positions taken. That cannot be denied. So it is in all of our interests that the agreements reached place as many boundaries as possible over that influence that can come from the corporate dollar and the vested interests that we all know are alive and kicking in the corridors of this building and will do what they have to do and are allowed to do to influence the policy direction of this nation. If we are truly the representatives we all like to say we are, we should not be supporting some sort of watered down, washed out, head office cosy deal as political donation reform; we should be supporting genuine reform that protects our roles as representatives in this place and builds a better nation as a consequence.

I agree with John Faulkner. Some say I am wedded to the Labor Party. I do not actually walk into their caucus meetings but, if the report is true, he stated that he is beyond being disappointed, he is beyond being angry and he is now just ashamed. I think they are words that should ring true for all MPs in this chamber. This is a deal that should not stand and both sets of MPs should be rattling the cage on their leadership, on their head offices, and saying: ‘How on earth could you have cut this deal that sees $58 million extra into the kitty? What for? For reporting one extra time per year?’ If that, as reported, is true, if this is some sort of deal done across the chamber in the bipartisanship that we have been seeking on so many other issues, if this is what it has come to, then this definitely is one of those sad days and is beyond disappointment, as John Faulkner referred to.

We all have our adversaries in politics. Some may like John Faulkner and some may not, but he has been around awhile. He is a bit of a doyen on one side. If the roles were reversed, then I imagine it would be a senior figure on the coalition side lamenting the same about the ongoing arms race that no-one is really wanting to substantially address. When do we say, ‘Enough’? When do we say, ‘Let’s really have a go at putting representation first’?

I compare that with Clive Palmer running around in Queensland. I do not know Clive Palmer from a bar of soap. I know colleagues have been seen in Glen Innes having beers with him, but I do not know him from a bar of soap. This quote should really make us wonder what we are doing. This is Clive Palmer’s view: ‘It’s a battle of ideas, not money.’ Here we have a billionaire coming into the system with all that corporate wealth behind him trying to hide behind the fig leaf of an argument that it is not about the money; it is a battle of ideas. If this truly is a battle of ideas, whatever this head office arrangement is and whatever this leadership agreement is, it has to stop, it has to be broken. We have to do much more if we are serious about genuine political donation reform.

Do you know how bad this is? Funding is attached to the party members who lose as candidates. It is not only about those who win at the ballot box; there is a dollar per vote for losing candidates. What sort of fix is this? What sort of joke of a policy in the nation’s interest is this? All we should want in this chamber is, as much as possible, a fair and level contest at the ballot box. Everyone gets their one vote. Sure, there are going to be advantages leading into the ballot of being part of an organised political party, but when written into our laws is a weighting of undue advantage we really are starting to distort the very principles of our democratic process.

Colleagues, this is a huge opportunity for reform that we can grab or we can lose. I know there are 15 sitting days left and everyone is focused on the next four months, but I urge my colleagues in this House to do what they can in whatever capacities they serve to try to break open this cosy arrangement that seems to have been reached that is not in the interests of anyone in this chamber. It is a huge opportunity missed to end the arms race between the major parties over private sector donations that are now tipping into the half millions and millions of dollars. If we are going to follow the precedent of other jurisdictions, like the US, it is only going to get worse and the corporate dollar will run this joint, if it does not already.

I hope that is not the sentiment contained in the bill before the House today. I hope there are enough people who still believe in Australian representation and local member representation to do something about this. But it is a deal that should not have been done. It is a deal that has been done for the wrong reasons. It is a deal that does not uphold the recommendations from the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters from 2011 for the very reason that you are taking the good bits of extra cash in the kitty but not lowering the threshold to $1,000. You are stopping at $5,000—why? What sort of evidence is there to back up $5,000 as the threshold?

And I say this collectively, we are not dealing with this real issue of increasing the amount of money from taxpayers that is going into the kitty of major parties and attaching it to the votes so that everyone gets a bit of a lick of the lolly. We are not dealing with a lowering of private sector donations coming in as well. It is all just going up and up. Where is that conversation? Where is the evidence of that conversation? Where is the evidence of the effort that we are trying to deal with that very real issue that we face?

The range of issues here is great and of course I have only had a couple of hours to have a look at this. Another issue that jumps out is the 28 days to report single donations over $100,000. That is, arguably one month before an election anyone can receive a very large sum of money and not report it. It does not influence the ballot box at all. I would have thought that the pub test would say that $100,000 is worth voters having a look at and having a consideration at the ballot box as to why. There are the few little gems like that one in there.

Another one concerns candidates who lose at the ballot box. If they are a member of a political party they get a dollar a vote. This does not apply to Independents—and I am not sure whether minor parties are involved. We have got another issue of $300,000 for compliance funding for parties with at least five MPs or five senators. There are all these little sleepers. They are not examples of reform; they are just examples of being on the teat. That is where we have got this place today: it is just public sector money going out for no clear purpose other than dealing with what seems to be, on the surface anyway, some low donations. It is a chance for both sides to get a bit more money in. Where is the validity explained for this actually happening?

I do not need to speak for my full time. The donations declared should tell the story from all sides. We are seeing corporate donations now in the multiples of millions of dollars going to both sides, and that is not going to stop any time soon if this is our so-called ‘best effort’ at political donation reform. We can do better. For future generations in this place we must do better. I would certainly encourage both sides to have a deeper look at this and a bit of a think and reflection and come back with something that has some substance and some meaning behind it, rather than just what looks on the surface to be a grab for some more coin with four months to go before an election.


Oakeshott criticises ‘convenient and cosy’ backdated funding deal 

Graem Orr: No limits on political donations, but more and more public funding

Laura Tingle: Party funding sparks bitter caucus debate ($)

Turnleft: Gina Rinehart, Tony Abbott and the $700,000 plan to bring down Tony Windsor

Kylie Galbrait: Joyce denies Rhinehart donation

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  1. .@OakeyMP on the dirty LabLib deal to grab our cash http://t.co/DG5R7LEraK via @NoFibs. #LabLibcorruption

  2. Political Parties having an unfair advantage is not Democratic! @OakeyMP on the dirty LabLib deal to grab our cash http://t.co/ct2ZIjHyVo

  3. This is so true! People are turning away from Political Parties for a reason. We are all very different in this country and no longer so simple that we are happy with only 2 or 3 one size fits all type parties that are supposed to represent massive chunks of the population. We want to be ‘represented’, and I know for one I am sick to death of my so-called Representative telling me that something we ‘know’ is wanted by the majority in our electorate can’t be supported because ‘his’ party doesn’t support it. NOW they will get even more support???

    How the hell are we supposed to get ‘Candidates of Calibre’ who will really & truly support their electorates when the system is stacked against them in favour of Political Parties?

  4. @OakeyMP on who is More Joyeous at having a bob each way. A little bit of corporate $ & a little bit public $.*drink* http://t.co/3YLpGzApWT

  5. @MargaretSimons, agree. Try http://t.co/cBm9a2XRmT + http://t.co/DG5R7LEraK @ryansheales

  6. Now, any chance for decent electoral reform as promised to Indies? See @oakeymp denunciation of big party deal http://t.co/DG5R7LEraK

  7. .@Oblivious_troll, floodgates for huge private donations already open & LibLab deal did not close it! http://t.co/DG5R7LEraK @mikeseccombe