November 15, 2018









Senator CHISHOLM (Queensland) (12:08): I rise to support this motion. I want to talk about the importance of this legislation before the Australian people. What I know and what I've observed from Queensland is that we know that there's a high level of cynicism about politics at the moment, and we know that the primary vote for major parties has been suffering as a result. I think it's important that we take every step possible to ensure that the public have confidence in Australian democracy and the system that governs our elections.

What has been acknowledged by just about everyone who has spoken on this legislation, even those who aren't as supportive of it as others, is that it is a step forward. I think that is really important, because if we are to show the Australian people that we are committed and that we want to ensure that we have free and fair elections, it is important that we move forward and have legislation that the Australian people can be confident of.

Another important aspect is that when electoral legislation is being put forward with bipartisan support it means it can stand the test of time. We know that elections come and go, and there might be changes of government. It's important that when those things happen there are improvements in our electoral system that don't change with the whim of who comes to power or who loses power at a particular election. From that point of view it's important that we acknowledge the work of JSCEM, which a number of people have done. I know some of my colleagues have done work on that and I know how much effort they put into ensuring that they could reach an agreement with the government so that the legislation that we take forward is going to advance democracy in this country. At the heart of that, obviously, is the banning of foreign donations. That has received publicity around the world as something that needs to be dealt with, and this is an important step forward for Australia as well.

In my first speech in this place I mentioned changes in fundraising and disclosure and the electoral system, and it's something that in a previous life I had some involvement with. So I certainly am one who thinks further steps need to be taken, and I acknowledge that the Queensland government has taken some of those significant steps around disclosure—and around real-time disclosure. There are other things that we can look at, but it is also worth noting that this is a step forward and it is something the Australian people will support as well.

One of the things we won't cop is hypocrisy from the Greens on this issue. We know that Senator Di Natale likes to talk about the big parties and big money. We know—and it's been on the public record for a long time now—that the biggest corporate donation in Australian history went to the Greens, from the Wotif founder. We also know that they've had significant money come in from Mr Turpie—a $500,000 donation. When talking about big money and its influence on politics, we know that the Greens have absolutely been the ones who have been on the receiving end. If you want to take a principled stand on this, do what the Labor Party did when we said, months ago, that we would stop accepting foreign donations.

I know as a previous state secretary that in Queensland, even when the federal LNP changed the disclosure threshold to above $1,000, we still declared everything over $1,000, because we took a principled stand on that. But no: the Greens won't take a principled stand on this at all. They do try to take credit, though. Senator Waters tried to take credit for the Queensland legislation, but the Greens had no involvement in that whatsoever; they've been completely insignificant in Queensland when it comes to the world-leading reforms that the Queensland government has brought in. So, we won't cop any hypocrisy from them. We are very pleased to support this legislation, because we know it is a step forward. We know that the Australian people will support this and there will continue to be public confidence in the system. But we also acknowledge that there are people in this chamber who want to take another step forward and that there are further things that can be done.

I completely understand that when changes are made, if they are done at a level where there is bipartisan agreement then they are much more likely to stand the test of time and democracy and support for them within Australia are things that will also grow as a result of that. We're very pleased to support this motion and we look forward to getting this legislation passed, because we know that the implementation of this, from an Australian Electoral Commission point of view, takes time. We know it needs to get through the House of Representatives. So the time that is necessary to get it in place before an election is valuable.