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Electoral Amendment Bill 2019

21 March 2019
Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I support this bill. I want 
to reinforce some of the comments made by Ms O'Connor about our 
disappointment at the glacial pace of reform the Government is taking in 
this area. It should have been clear to anyone looking at the commentary 
on the state election last year that Tasmania is in trouble. Our 
democratic systems are under threat. It is core business for 
parliamentarians to uphold our democratic institutions and to make sure we 
do everything we can to protect it. It was clear in what happened at and 
around the election last year that problems occurred through bracket creep, 
changing circumstances over decades, the availability of different forms 
of communication, world wide web, social media and the rapidity of 
information that can be moved amongst people in the community. These have 
all made different opportunities available for corporate entities that 
seek to influence people standing for election, so they might be more 
amenable to changing or focusing their thoughts in their work as 
parliamentarians to meet the specific interests of particular corporate 
donors.

People might wonder, why should we care that people are elected to 
parliament with very specific views? The Greens are elected by people who 
respect that we have principles and we do not change them. We have held 
the same position for the last four decades on the things we care about. 
The things that have given the federal Liberal Party so much grief in the 
last term of this recent Government have been things the Greens have been 
campaigning about for up to four decades; things like marriage equality. 
That is something the Greens started a national conversation about.

Ms O'Connor - It started here in Tasmania.

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes, and things about energy policy. It is only the Greens 
who have been talking about climate change. It is only the Greens, at the 
federal, state and local level, who have been talking about why we need 
action to bring down carbon emissions. Only the Greens have created this 
really difficult space for the Labor Party at the federal level because 
they will have to make a decision about whether they are going to be 
upfront about the political donations they receive. They take donations 
from the coal industry. They take huge donations from the Minerals 
Council, as does the Liberal Party. The Labor and Liberal parties take 
huge rivers of money coming from coal interest. What a surprise, we have 
been locked in a state of paralysis for decades, incapable of acting on 
the most important issue of our time; climate change.

It does matter. We need to care about this. We have reached a tipping 
point where we do not function properly any more. Once democratic 
institutions people in the community have taken for granted, people are 
waking up and understand they do not have a say any longer. They thought 
they would elect us and that we would stand for something but instead, as 
Ms O'Connor said yesterday about the Federal Group and the money they put 
into the Liberal Party at the election last year; they won that election 
for the state Liberals in Tasmania, and they won twice, because now the 
Labor Party of Tasmania has buckled under the pressure from federal Labor 
and the pressure of corporate donors. 

Just once, the Labor Party went out on its own against the position the 
federal Labor Party has taken around pokies and gambling and they will not 
do it again because their corporate donors got what they wanted. That is 
why we need to care about electoral reform. That is why the Greens stand 
for reform that will make sure we have real-time disclosure of donations, 
so people can see exactly who is donating and make their own assessment of 
whether they think that is going to have an influence on what a person 
does if they are elected to parliament. It is not that people should not 
unashamedly have policies, principles or want to achieve a certain outcome 
when they come to parliament, but we should all know that is what is 
happening. We need to know when gambling interests, foreign governments, 
tobacco companies or the rifle association are funding the campaigns of 
members of parliament. As a society, we look at those things and we think, 
'they are toxic companies'. It is not healthy to have tobacco, firearms 
and gambling companies putting money into politicians' campaigns. It is 
not healthy, it is damaging to the body politic as well as to the 
individuals involved.

Real-time disclosure and a cap on donations, cumulative across the whole 
period of the term of government, so we do not have the ludicrous 
situation in which it is impossible to know where the $3 million donated 
to the Tasmanian Liberal Party for last year's election came from. It 
came from undisclosed sources. The community will never know. From the 
point of view of someone in the Greens, we find this ludicrous that people 
would stand for parliament and not have the confidence of their 
convictions to make available to the public a list of the people who have 
put them there. What does it say about a person who stands as a candidate 
for election and who is not prepared to talk about who is standing behind 
them? I find that concerning.

We have seen what has happened in Tasmania. The outcome of some of the 
donations that have been made to the Liberal Party over recent years. Ms 
O'Connor has talked about pokies and the Federal Group. I will touch on 
some matters that have been so problematic for the electorate of Franklin. 
They relate to developments by foreign government-owned companies in 
Bellerive that have involved secretive dealings, a lack of transparency, 
and it appears that false statements were made about what those 
developments were to be used for. I am talking about Kangaroo Bay. I am 
talking about the gifting of public land to the Shandong Chamboard 
Petrochemicals Company from China, a Chinese government-owned company. 
That company was essentially gifted one of the most beautiful areas of 
land in the middle of Kangaroo Bay in Bellerive and a development was 
allowed to go ahead that totally contravenes the community planning scheme 
developed for that area - at twice the height. There will be no public 
space left in the middle of that development, not even a transit, not even 
a way to ride a bicycle through. This is all about locking the public out 
of their own area. 

It is a matter of fact that in 2015, the Australian Securities 
Intelligence Organisation warned political parties not to receive money 
from the Yuhu Group. In 2016, the Tasmanian Liberal Party took $30 000 
from the Yuhu Group after they had been warned not to do that. It is 
deeply concerning to observe this cosy, secretive relationship that has 
developed over such a short period, since the Liberal's came to government 
in 2014. It ramped up with the Office of Coordinator-General, 
specifically set up to conduct a secretive process to find ways to flog 
off public lands around Tasmania and to make special deals which the 
community do not get to have a say about with, in this instance, a foreign 
government-owned company. We are concerned about those relationships and 
we are concerned that people do not get to have a say.

In relation to the Electoral Act review that was undertaken, what we have 
here today is a situation that would have been fantastic if we had had it 
in place before the 2018 election. Mr Deputy Speaker, I believe you would 
be quite aware that one of the things the people of Tasmania would like to 
have been able to understand in the Mercury or on the television or in the 
Examiner or the Advocate on the Saturday of the election last year was 
that it had been revealed that the Liberal Party had a secret deal with 
the firearms lobby in Tasmania to weaken the gun laws for the convenience 
of shooters, farmers, sporting associations and a whole range of other 
lobby groups. The evidence is now on the public record that this had been 
a process that was in train for many months and we know that at least 
three weeks before the election a policy had been handed around, which we 
have talked about so many times in this place. It was only because the 
Greens had a copy of it sent to us and we released it a number of days 
before the election and made it available to the media that this ever came 
to light before the election and became the election issue it was for many 
people. 

One thing I have learnt about my time in this place is that Tasmanians 
might be slow to react on many things but they are not slow to act on 
attempts to weaken our gun laws. Tasmanians understand, because of our 
history, that we will never weaken the National Firearms Agreement in any 
way. The Liberal Party policy that was taken to stakeholders and got 
their support three weeks before the election breaches the National 
Firearms Agreement in a number of very clear ways. It would extend the 
licensing of category A and B firearms to 10 years, which is twice the 
length that is allowed under the National Firearms Agreement which is 
currently only five years. It would have created a new category E licence 
which is explicitly prohibited in the National Firearms Agreement. It 
would have resulted in changes to storage offences so that under certain 
storage offence breaches firearms would no long be confiscated, a clear 
breach of the National Firearms Agreement. It would have enabled 
employees on properties to carry and shoot a category C weapon even though 
they did not hold that licence themselves.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Dr Woodruff, I am sure you will connect it to the bill 
before us but I am struggling to understand the relevance between the 
firearms agreement and the electoral bill. 

Dr WOODRUFF - The point is that on that Saturday of the election the 
details of this information were not able to be released to the media, on 
the very day that people would have been able to make a more informed 
choice. The information came out, from memory, on Friday but was not able 
to be put into print because of the ban on electoral material in 
newspapers that was in place then, which this bill seeks to change.

Ms Archer - Which we are reforming.

Dr WOODRUFF - That is right, Ms Archer, but if that had been in place then, 
Tasmanians would have found out the details about this, so we strongly 
support this amendment. It is a very important one.

Getting back to why we should care about political donations, it is not 
just about the detail of the Liberals' policy to weaken firearms laws that 
was concerning and relevant to today, the other part of it is the constant 
pressure of lobby groups to get politicians to change their position on 
something which is obviously so stinky from an electoral point of view. 
This was a secretive approach but it is also a matter of record that the 
firearms lobby is incredibly well funded. They have deep pockets and I 
have noticed, as has every other politician who has stood up against the 
tide to weaken gun laws, that you get trolled by tens of thousands of 
people, almost all American, so they put a lot of money and effort into 
focusing on politicians and people in positions of influence to get them 
to change their position. It is the case that in 2015-16 the federal 
Liberal Party received $22 500 from the Shooting Industry Foundation of 
Australia. That is concerning. We need to have reforms that make that 
not possible. In a situation where we have strong community concern about 
the weakening of gun laws, we need to make sure those toxic lobby groups 
do not have access, day in and day out, to the offices of politicians in 
federal or state parliaments.

Mr Deputy Speaker, there was a commitment made by the Liberals about the 
firearms policy and that information could have come out on the election 
day last year had this bill been law at the time, but it is also something 
the Labor Party is up to its neck in as well. The Labor Party 
unfortunately had a very similar but certainly not identical policy to the 
Liberals. I want to speak to something Dr Broad said. He put out a media 
release earlier in the week talking about the Greens' 'false claim' that 
Labor had received a copy of the Liberals' proposed firearms policy in the 
lead-up to the state election. 'I can categorically deny this desperate 
and untrue claim by Cassy O'Connor', Dr Broad said. 'Tasmanians can be 
sure this did not happen and I call on Ms O'Connor to check her facts 
before perpetuating claims which are unsubstantiated'.

It is disappointing that a member of the firearms committee is 
contradicting the truthfulness of the evidence that was presented at that 
committee because it is on the public record and Hansard will confirm that 
a person who provided evidence to the committee, Mr John Jones, said, 'I 
also made the Labor Party aware of it three weeks prior to that date', and 
that date was the day before the election last year. 'And as a matter of 
interest', he goes on to say, 'I said to them, do you realise' - and I 
will not mention who - 'the Liberal Party have this document and it was 
freely available? I am surprised you weren't in possession of it. There 
was no secrecy.'

I want to put to bed this idea that Ms O'Connor has been making up 
anything about the Labor Party having information about the Liberals' 
policy well before the election and had been provided briefings by people 
who were supportive of that.

Ms Haddad - We didn't have the Liberals' policy before the election.

Dr WOODRUFF - Not according to the evidence of the committee. I encourage 
the Leader of the Opposition, Ms White, to do so if she wants to appear 
before the committee and dispute the truth of somebody else's evidence. 
She is free to do so. As it stands, on the record, the evidence stated 
that the Labor Party had the information about the Liberal's policy to 
weaken gun laws three weeks beforehand. They brought a similar, watered-
down policy to the election themselves. This is why we need to be careful 
about our donations. This is why we need to be careful about where the 
money flows. We need to be clear about having the information available 
on the day people are voting. 

I strongly support this change and the bill before us today. It is 
disappointing this is all we have in this bill today. It is unbelievable 
we need to spend more time waiting to receive more details about what 
people think need to happen in electoral donations reform. There are a 
number of things that need to happen immediately, that is, real-time 
disclosure, a cap on the total number of donations, a cap on the total 
amount spent on elections and the public funding of elections. I look 
forward to continuing to argue, with Ms O'Connor, for those things to 
happen.