You are here

Electoral Amendment Bill 2019

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 21 March 2019

Tags: Electoral Reform, Pokies, Political Donations, Donation Disclosure, Federal Group

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 in Tasmania.

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, say it.

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 feel.

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 addiction.

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 issues.

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 donations.

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 demanding?