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Electoral Donations Disclosure Framework

21 March 2019

Ms O'CONNOR question to PREMIER, Mr HODGMAN

Tasmanians know that your 2018 election campaign was bankrolled by the gambling industry to the tune of many millions of dollars. Neither you, nor the Liberal State Director, have ever been upfront with the people about how much you took from vested interests and - because we have the weakest donation laws in the country - we will never know the price of your collective soul. For more than a decade, community groups, governance and legal experts and the Greens have been calling for substantial donations reform, yet you and your party have ignored those calls. Last year, the Mercury newspaper campaigned for changes to the Electoral Act and you jumped. Why are you and the Government you are leading so obviously tinkering and delaying what needs to be done? Why are you afraid to deliver a strong donations disclosure framework? Is it because you know if an election was a genuine contest of ideas, policies and values, you would probably not be sitting in that seat?

 

ANSWER

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for the question. The people of Tasmania were freely able to exercise their vote this time last year. It was a resounding re-election of a majority Liberal government and an endorsement of our policy commitments, including our policy on gaming. We have outlined the way forward and we are intent on delivering that as promised along with a range of other portfolio and policy reforms we are undertaking, a number of which I have outlined during the debate this week and will continue to do so.

In relation to donations and electoral reform, a bill will be brought before us today and some priority has been given to that.

Ms O'Connor - It is tinkering.

Mr HODGMAN - It is an important reform that goes to the heart of democracy and the ability for the press to operate freely in an election campaign. It is something we should respond to as quickly as possible, given we have elections in this state in a matter of weeks. We are moving on with that. I hope the Opposition, which has indicated support for these reforms, will honour that today.

We have also committed to reviewing the Electoral Act 2004. An interim report on the Electoral Act Review was released in December of last year, which is currently out for public consultation. Political parties will have their own views on what our electoral laws and donations laws should be. Most Tasmanians would view it with some caution because political parties have their own interests. It is important the broader community are also invited and have their say, which is why we have this out for consultation.

We have tabled the first stage of our electoral reform, wanting to move on with it and not have it obstructed and distracted by other matters. I hope opposition parties allow that to occur. It incorporates a number of important amendments to modernise and streamline the electoral process, including removal of the election day media coverage ban, which is a strange anomaly.

The first tranche of these amendments provides opportunity for the new laws to be put in place before the Legislative Council elections. It has been widely supported by stakeholders and in public consultation on the broader points, and more complex matters will continue up until 15 April. I encourage all Tasmanians with an interest to have their say. This time they will enable the report to be finalised this year, well in advance of the next state election so we can ensure we move on to those significant areas.

The Attorney-General alluded to a significant development in the High Court, which concerns electoral laws around the country. It is important that the regulation of third parties, the High Court decision on New South Wales electoral laws also be taken into account. While things sound really simple with a broad brush, they are often more complex than members opposite would want to believe. It is appropriate we carefully handle important matters that go to the heart of our democracy.

The High Court handed down its decision in Unions NSW and others against New South Wales which directly related to the issues of capping electoral expenditure, which is one of the matters that has been proposed by some and also during this consultation. It is really important to note that the High Court has recently ruled in relation to one of the matters we are currently considering, capping electoral expenditure by third-party campaigners, and potentially it also extends to limits on donations to third parties for the purpose of electoral expenditure.

The decision in this case made it very clear that careful analysis, research and evidence gathering is required to support and justify, as reasonably necessary, the formulation of legislation or policy that seeks to burden the implied freedom of political communication on governmental and political matters.

What I am getting at, and I will summarise by saying, is that the Greens, who often claim to be the strongest supporters of free speech, are wanting us to blindly forge ahead because it suits their party's interests, and potentially raise serious legal implications or, worse still, perhaps impact on the right to free speech.

Madam Speaker, we are a responsible government and we take these matters seriously. It will take some little time to get to the next phase but we hope that the first phase, which we are bringing before the parliament today, can be dealt with and got on with.