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Electoral Amendment Bill 2019

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 21 March 2019

Tags: Electoral Reform, Political Donations, Federal Group

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.