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Electoral Amendment Bill 2019
Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, first, I take
this opportunity to welcome our newest member to the House and to
congratulate him on his inaugural speech. There are things that he said
that resonate with everyone in this place. I have taken notes but it is
good to have you here, Mr Tucker.
The Greens will be supporting the Electoral Amendment Bill 2019. How
could we not? However, on the way through I need to point out some of the
deficiencies in this Government's approach to what is an urgent need for
electoral reform in Tasmania, for far greater transparency in relation to
the conduct of elections, the money that flows to political parties and
candidates, the level of transparency around that money, how much money
can be spent, whether or not there should be, as there are in other
jurisdictions, around the country, public funding allocated to elections
I also commend Ms Haddad on her contribution, which struck many of the
right notes, particularly in relation to some of the flaws in this
Government's approach to a pressing need for electoral reform in Tasmania.
This is not me pulling out props but during the election campaign, every
single day there were tens of thousands of dollars' worth of pro-Liberal,
pro-gambling industry advertisements placed inside our newspapers, on our
airwaves, on our televisions, on social media and even on children's iPads
. That wall-to-wall advertising was funded primarily by the gambling
industry in Tasmania, and it just goes on and on. The ABC, in something I
read not long ago, estimated that in one day in this state there was about $
48 000 worth of pro-Liberal, pro-gambling industry advertising in print
alone. What we know is that the negative campaigning, the fear campaign,
began on our televisions during the Boxing Day Test and continued
relentlessly after that.
Madam Speaker, all of us who have worked in politics for a while - and I
have worked in television journalism - know that it costs a lot of money
to put just one television advertisement to air. What it cost to fund the
Liberals' fear campaign on our airwaves is something Tasmanians will never
know, but it was millions. Ms Haddad is right, there were millions of
dollars spent on advertising in order to support a Liberal Party win at
the last state election, and those millions of dollars are still concealed
from the people of Tasmania. The people of Tasmania went to the election
on 3 March last year not knowing which vested interest donated how much to
the major parties. The reason people knew what the Greens had received
was because we had secured a policy position at our 2016 state conference
that the Greens would publish donations in real time.
The bottom line is that we are an open book on the money we receive. It
is a fraction of the money the Labor Party receives during campaigns and a
minute fraction of the money that was received by the state Liberal Party
going into the last state election. It is important to remember that
there is the money that went to the party, there was the money that was
donated to state Liberal headquarters, there is also the money that went
into the Love Your Local campaign, which will not come up on the
Australian Electoral Commission returns, and there is also the money that
the Federal Group poured into its pro-industry, anti-Labor, anti-Greens,
pro-Liberal advertising campaign which was not about making sure
Tasmanians can exercise their free choice about the forms of recreation
and entertainment they enjoy but solely with the purpose of locking in the
profits of the Federal Group and the gambling industry in Tasmania for
another quarter of a century.
During the campaign it was confronting to face that wall-to-wall negative
advertising and see that it was coming from so many different directions,
all of them about locking in the profits of a predatory industry. It was
disheartening to see my colleagues in the Liberal Party put their
corflutes on gambling venues because when we are elected to this place, we
swear to serve the interests of the people of Tasmania. That is our job,
that is our responsibility. We are elected in faith and entrusted to
serve the interests of the people of Tasmania. In the last state election
campaign, my Liberal colleagues in this place, and other candidates, were
serving the interests of the gambling industry. They were bought and paid
for by the gambling industry and the history is there for all to see.
When we go to the Australian Electoral Commission returns, from what
little information we do get out of the Liberal Party's return, it is
clear that of around $4.1 million received by the state Liberal Party, the
source of some $3 million remains a mystery to the people of Tasmania.
That is disgraceful, disgusting and immoral. That is at the heart of the
cynicism I believe I heard from Ms Haddad, or the concern. Sorry, Ms
Haddad, I will try not to unfairly post motive on you, but there is a deep
cynicism the Greens in this place have about the process of the electoral
reform which was been initiated by the Attorney-General whose corflutes
were all over gambling venues.
Ms Haddad - Definitely we share that cynicism.
Ms O'CONNOR - We share that cynicism and concern, I am sure, Ms Haddad.
When you have a look at the terms of reference for the review the word
'transparency' does not rate a mention, and ultimately an effective
electoral framework and good donations disclosure provisions should be
founded on the principle of transparency as a bedrock of a healthy
democracy. Instead what we have are a narrow terms of reference which has
been designed to confine the extent of the reforms in a second tranche we
have been promised by the Attorney-General.
The terms of reference, as the Attorney-General tells us, are guided by
two principles, protecting freedom of speech with note to constitutional
implications, she says, and minimal cost to the taxpayer. It is difficult
to understand how it is a positive for freedom of speech, the implied
right to political communication in our Constitution, when millions of
dollars are coming in from vested interests that are undisclosed. That is
not a freedom of speech issue. That is a vested interest trying to
distort good policy debates in an election campaign, and with enormous
success last year.
I truly believe that if in a state election we had robust donation
disclosure laws and public funding of campaigns, as occurs in the
Commonwealth and other state and territory jurisdictions, and if elections
were a genuine contest of policies and values, we would have a Greens
government in Tasmania, because we were the only party that took really
robust, democratic donations disclosure integrity policies into the
campaign. We were the only party that developed a plan to deal with
climate change in Tasmania. We were the only party that took a policy on
planning for population growth to the last state election. Our housing
policy was far and away the strongest of all the three parties.
It is not a matter of free speech. In fact corrupted donations laws
stifle speech on good policy and values, and that is what happened last
March. People might point to us and say it is sour grapes. It is not
sour grapes, I am just furious for democracy. I am just devastated for
the people who will be harmed by poker machines over the next 25 years if
Labor does not find its spine and help us deal with that legislation early
next year. The consequences of a gambling industry buying a government
back will have profound social and economic implications for Tasmania for
another quarter of a century and then some, out to 2048.
It is also concerning that the guiding principles include minimal cost to
the taxpayer in such a narrow way, which does not acknowledge the cost to
our society and to taxpayers of having poker machines in pubs and clubs in
areas of disadvantage around Tasmania. Anglicare commissioned work by
Professor John Mangan, released early last year or late 2017. From
recollection, Professor Mangan found that the social clean-up costs of
poker machines in pubs and clubs in Tasmania is more than $100 million a
year. When you think about it, that is not too hard to understand because
you have poker machines placed in areas of entrenched disadvantage. We
know that people who are experiencing mental illness and addiction are not
making reasoned choices about how they spend their money and their time.
Anyone who has spoken to an addict of poker machines will understand that
along with the decision to spend what little money they have on these
predatory machines. Without exception, every gambling addict I have
spoken to is battling other demons in their life - depression, anxiety,
trauma, childhood trauma, poverty, homelessness and disconnection from
their community. You only need to walk past gaming rooms to see this.
While I avoid Wrest Point Casino like a toxic plague, I had to walk
through the Launceston Country Club Casino last week to attend the Honour
Roll of Tasmanian Women. I walked past the gaming room and no-one in
there looked happy and that is because they are not. They are sitting in
front of a robotic machine that is sucking the money out of their pockets.
I hear Mr Shelton over here having a chuckle. If you want to interject,
Mr Shelton - You are the ultimate reader of how people feel as you walk up
a corridor looking across at a group of people; you know exactly how they
Ms O'CONNOR - I said nobody looked happy. I have also spent enough time
in pokie venues in my life, whether it is because of my professional work
or my family history, to know that. People who sit down in front of poker
machines for extended periods, and repeatedly, are not happy. Anyone who
doubts that needs to watch Ka-Ching! Pokie Nation, which is a documentary
I hope my colleagues on the Government benches have watched. It is a
documentary highlighting what drives people to gambling addiction in the
most stark and distressing detail. People who have held down high-powered,
high-demand jobs, people who have been successful in business, people who
have raised a family, and there can be a triggering event in their life
that causes mental distress, disconnection or desperation and that is what
drives them into the venues.
The Tasmanian Hospitality Association, the Federal Group and other
gambling venues are highly aware of the vulnerability of the people they
target with the rollout of poker machines in pubs and clubs. The reason
we know that is because, when you look at the overlay of where the some
more than 2500 EGMs in our communities outside the casino, it is in areas
of socio-economic disadvantage.
If you could go back to the original Kids Come First dataset, scotched by
the Liberals when they came to Government, which was an excellent dataset,
you could overlay the experiences of children's lives with socio-economic
disadvantage indicators. You could see a very clear, at least
geographical, link between where these machines are deliberately placed
and instances of child abuse and neglect. There is a connection between
areas with these machines and where people are struggling, and with child
abuse, neglect, family violence, homelessness, poverty, mental illness and
The decision the Premier and the Treasurer made going into the last state
election to give the gambling industry exactly the framework it wanted and
thus to take those millions of dollars in blood money has stained their
souls. There are people in this place who do not believe in a soul; I
certainly do. The actions we take over our lifetime shape that inner
spirit. In our hearts we know when we have not done our best, when we
have not done the right thing, when we have not tried hard enough, or when
we have let people down. We know that in our quiet moments. Every member
sitting on this Government's benches sold their soul to the gambling
industry at the last state election and they will wear that stain on their
souls for the rest of their lives.
They escape lightly, unlike the thousands of Tasmanians who will suffer as
a result of the gambling industry deciding to buy Government so it could
lock in its profits for the next 30 years. It locked in profits and
expanded its value because of the policy the Liberals took to the state
election, which was not their original policy; it was the policy the THA
and Greg Farrell asked for. Once that policy to individually licence
venues comes into effect it will, overnight, substantially increase the
value of the venues and will lock in the profits of venues for the next 25
years. The estimated windfall gained by people who understand these
numbers is around $250 million out to 2048 and that is only on the
individual licensing model extra value to the industry.
Pardon my cynicism, and that of the Greens, but when we look at this
electoral amendment bill of 2019, it is exactly as Ms Haddad said, there
is an important change about publication on election day but it is mostly
an administrative bill that took a year to pull together. Unlike other
members in this place, the Government has access to the Office of
Parliamentary Counsel. It has whole government agencies at its fingertips
. If this Liberal Government was serious about electoral reform, we would
have had a bill in here last year. If this Liberal Government was serious
about making sure there is transparency around donations in Tasmania, it
would have delivered an electoral amendment bill that went to the core
The Greens also made a submission on the interim report. We have made a
number of recommendations which are all based on the evidence. We had the
Attorney-General and the Premier this morning talk about how complicated
it is to reform the Electoral Act. What rubbish. Every other Australian
jurisdiction has managed to put electoral laws in place that deliver at
least a measure of transparency. This is not a new area of law we are
talking about. The Commonwealth Electoral Act has been in place for
decades. It is clear that the heel-dragging on this issue again comes
from the self-interest of the Liberal Party.
We support and would like to see - and we have some amendments we will be
discussing today - the Senate Select Committee into the Political
Influence of Donations recommendations for a fixed disclosure threshold of $
1000. We support public funding of election campaigns. The current rules
would recommend the Australian average of about $4.15 per first preference
vote in 2018-19, indexed at an appropriate rate each financial year.
Before we get the squawking from the conservatives about public funding of
elections, it happens at a Commonwealth level and in every other
Australian state. We are the only jurisdiction in Australia that does not
have public funding. Public funding does not totally replace donations
but it provides a measure of a level playing field.
Because the Greens do not take dirty money - we do not take corporate
donations and would never take the kind of money that the Liberals took at
the last election - we raise money through raffles.
A member - From a gambler.
Ms O'CONNOR - Are you talking about Mr Duncan Turpie, the organic farmer
from south-east Queensland who donated to us, who also happens to gamble
on horses? Is that what you are trying to desperately point out in order
to salvage some of your pride in here today?
Mr Shelton - Isn't Mr Graeme Wood's donation to the Greens the biggest
single donation to a party in Tasmania?
Ms O'CONNOR - No, you need to get your history right if you are going to
try to sling dirt. Graeme Wood made a donation to the Australian Greens,
and he made it as an individual. Unlike your donors, Mr Shelton, Mr Wood
did not ask for anything in return other than the Greens to get a good
vote. Talk about clutching at straws.
In our submission we stated our support for a cap of $81 000 for
individual candidate expenditure and $810 000 for party expenditure in
House of Assembly elections, indexing up. So people have a sense of what
some parties spend, it is in our AEC return. We had an election budget of
around $400 000. That primarily paid for a campaign manager and some
staff in electorates. I made a personal donation that was quite
substantive. That was my family donating. We had raffles, we had dinners,
we had emails going out to members. We would approach our loyal members
who sometimes can make reasonable sized donations in the order of $1000 to $
5000. That is the sort of money that comes to the Greens and none of it
has those filthy brown strings attached.
We support the regulation of the political activities of third parties and
associated entities. The most obvious examples of that at the moment are
the third party that was the Federal Group in the last campaign; the
Tasmanian Hospitality Association, which slung $270 000 to the Liberals in
the last campaign; and the Love Your Local campaign. Who are Love Your
Local, Madam Speaker? We have never really got to the bottom of that,
have we? Unregulated, undisclosed, undeclared, illegitimate, corrupting
of democracy money.
We support a donation cap of $3000 aggregate per donor per parliamentary
term, and this has come out of the Senate select committee report. We
support strongly banning donations from corporate donors and, at a minimum,
donations from property developers, as they have in New South Wales, and
the tobacco, liquor and gaming industries, and we support a ban on foreign
The Australian Electoral Commission returns that came out on 18 February
this year made it clear that the Liberal Party accepted at least one
donation from a foreign entity, and that was a $25 000 contribution from
Vanderry Limited which, because of the way that purchase was financed, is
owned by the Chinese Communist government because they own all the banks
in China, so the Liberals accepted $25 000 from a company which has a
massive debt to the Chinese government.
Again, it is the weakness of this approach to electoral changes. Even the
federal Liberals have moved to ban foreign donations, even Scott
Morrison's government and the federal parliament has moved to ban foreign
donations because they know it has a profoundly corrupting influence on
the exercise of a sovereign democracy.
While I am talking about this, I hope members of the Labor Party
understand they are complicit in this too at a federal level. The Labor
Party has accepted vast sums of money from foreign interests. Former
senator Sam Dastyari knows full well the consequences of taking money with
strings attached and he got exactly what he deserved.
I would like to ask the Attorney-General why, at the bare minimum, there
was not a provision to ban donations from foreign entities to reflect the
change to Commonwealth law.
The change to the Electoral Act 2004 that relates to the publication of
content relating to the campaign on election day is welcome. It is a
reasonable reform that recognises that in an age of social media and the
dissemination of news and information via various mechanisms, a ban on
print content on the day of an election is ridiculous. Now we will have a
capacity for journalists to have their stories published on election day
and I hope that new authority will be exercised carefully.
Madam Speaker, Dr Woodruff will be getting up to make a contribution
shortly. We have a suite of amendments that we would like to discuss with
the Attorney-General. We will be going into Committee and the minister's
response to some of the issues we have raised will determine whether we
proceed with that suite of amendments now. The question is, are we going
to see good legislation come before the parliament next year after the
review process, because we believe that is exactly what Tasmanians are