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Electoral Bills - Amendments made by the Legislative Council

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 2 November 2023

Tags: Electoral Reform

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, the Greens welcome this motion and we thank Ms Johnston for bringing it on. It is a motion that will commit us to bringing a bill on for debate from the Legislative Council, any amendments to the Electoral Disclosure and Funding Bill - should they arrive in this place - immediately upon the receipt of a message from the Council about that bill. It commits us to bringing on for debate any amendments made in the Legislative Council on the Other Electoral Matters (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill immediately upon receipt to this House from the Council.

This has been a weeping sore running in the Tasmanian parliament for more than half of this year. It has been quietly oozing behind closed doors and most people in Tasmania would not understand what is going on. It is a battle for the Liberal Party to avoid having public scrutiny over where they get money from for their elections. It is fundamentally to avoid people knowing how money ends up supporting the Liberal Party. Who are their donors? How much do donors provide the Liberal Party on a regular basis? If it were passed in the form that it is in, it would be a woefully inadequate set of electoral reform measures. However, it would still be a vast improvement on the situation where we stand today.

In Tasmania we have the worst electoral disclosure laws in the country, that is a matter of fact.

Mr Winter - We do not have the worst, we do not have any.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you, exactly, Mr Winter, we have none. What a surprise that the Liberals are doing everything they can to make sure that this bill does not progress through the Legislative Council. Ms Johnston was very diplomatic in her language when she talked about the Liberals wanting to, let us face it, kicking and screaming are the words that I would use was what happened for the Liberals being forced finally to bring this legislation to the lower House in the first place.

Before the 2018 election they promised it before the 2021 election they promised, afterwards they said they would hold true and they did not do it. They did not do for years because they were too afraid to tell Tasmanians where they get their money from, to get people to run for politics and stand for an election.

In the 2018 election campaign, we saw big money writ large. It was Federal Hotels that funded that election. They did, everyone knew that. The combination of Federal and the Tasmanian Hospitality Association and their campaigns meant that the whole of the state was blue in February and March 2018, and anyone who was here would know there were not any other colours there; every single pub across the state had enormous signage.

That is fine. Except that the Liberals would not tell us where the money came from. That is the problem. It is not that we have a problem with people sponsoring and backing members of parliament, to a degree. It is not that there is a problem with people putting money into political parties; but there has to be a cap on that. There has to be a limit, because there has to be an even playing field, and we do not have that in Tasmania. It is so far from that.

What we have is a very weak set of electoral reforms that staggered their way through the Lower House. The Greens tried to amend them, to make them as strong as we wanted them to be. They could have been stronger; they could have been so much better. We want real-time disclosure of donations. We want people in Tasmania to understand that if big business comes to town - like JBS, like Cooke Aquaculture, the big corporate international companies, the biggest on the planet - we want to know whether they are forking out a bit of money to the Liberals.

We hear about it in private by people dropping information and whistleblowers telling us, 'ah, the Liberals had a thousands-of-dollars-a-head fundraising dinner where it was special little cozy corporate event, and the salmon global corporate heads were there. They paid thousands of dollars to have special time with Jeremy Rockliff'.

Okay, fine. If you are so comfortable with that, let Tasmanians know. We should have a real-time disclosure about that. We should have a donation from JBS or Cooke that sent $5000 to the Tasmanian Liberal Party just before we went to a dinner with them - that is fine. Then people know who is backing the politicians they want to have representing them. If that is what they want, then they can go and vote for it.

What we are not comfortable with is what the Liberals have pushed through the lower House, which was a weak set of electoral reforms. It was a ban on foreign donors - that is great; the Greens support that. It was third-party campaigner regulations - sure, we are happy with that. It is about time that we have regulations, donation disclosure limits, expenditure returns for third-party campaigner regulations. And, we do need to have donations disclosure.

What the Liberals want is $5000 - they do not want it to be cumulative; $5000 is a lot. Labor and the Greens - we are on a unity ticket on this. We think $1000 is where it should be, because that is what other states have introduced and that is what we have seen as best practice. That is a reasonable position to strike the balance. If it gets down to less than $1000, it is just an administrative burden.

We need to know the cumulative donations over a period of time - so that there is an understanding that you can do $1000 here, but if you do $1000 every week, that builds up and it might be $52 000 by the end of the year, and Tasmanians need to know that. Under the Liberals' bill, they would not know what is going on.

We also supported having have more regular donation disclosure information. In the Greens' mind, donation disclosure should be within weeks after a donation is made - not what the Liberals are proposing in their bill, which is for six months outside of an election campaign and for seven months within an election period. Those time frames are too short, it does not give people an opportunity to understand in real time how decisions are being influenced by donations that are being made.

That bill has gone through the lower House. Labor can speak to what they did in that space; but the Greens sought to make that a better bill, a better democratic process for Tasmanians: real time donation disclosures; a $1000 limit; and our view is that we should cap electoral expenditure. Independents and members of all parties should have a cap on expenditure so that we are all working on the same playing field and an exorbitant amount of money cannot be funnelled into a campaign just to back a particular interest issue -like what happened trying to sway the decision around the pokies in 2018. That worked; of course it worked. Money does buy influence which is why corporations use it. It is effective, there is no doubt on that.

It went through the lower House and now it is in the upper House, and the expectation of the Tasmanian people was that Labor would be amending it in the other place. The expectation, I understand, from speaking to independent Legislative Council members, is that Labor would be bringing on a raft of amendments of the kind they attempted to bring in in this place. They would be bringing them on upstairs.

In knowledge of that, the Liberals have not brought that bill on for debate in the upper House, and they did not bring it on -

Mr Winter - They had not brought it on for 11 months before that, and they still have not.

Dr WOODRUFF - Correct, they had not brought it on. That is right. Then it came on, then it came off and on and off, but it has been on the bottom of the list for a long time. We have spent a lot of time in the lower House trying to create a gap that would require the Leader of Government Business in the upper House to bring on that bill for debate.

It is a very important matter. People might see it as an insignificant administrative procedural issue, but this goes to the heart of our democracy and it is what people in Tasmania want. They want transparency and accountability in politics. They want to understand who is buying the interests and getting an ear in the politicians they are voting for.

As I said before, many Tasmanians would be okay with the fact that certain companies, corporations, businesses would be providing funding to political parties and independents. And why not? Because, if you support good ideas, why not? But, we understand that there has to be a limit to that. If it is not capped, then it is not possible to get the diversity in parliament that we desperately need to have a fair and equitable society.

Otherwise, it is what we are seeing. We stack the House with people representing the rich end of town. Unless there are people representing all Tasmanians, then we are not going to get the views of people who are struggling; the most vulnerable; the views of people who care about protecting the environment; the views of people who are able to think and walk into the future and imagine the sorts of issues that we need to be acting on today so that we can have a better life in the future.

There is a diversity of people: women, people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, Aboriginal people. These are all the reasons why we need to have an even playing field as much as possible in politics. It is a core part of what a functioning democracy requires.

It appears that Labor has made a decision in the upper House, to decide that a bill to pass is better than no bill. It appears to be a failed strategy anyway, because the independent members are already preparing their own amendments. They are pretty unhappy at the fact that Labor has dropped the ball on preparing amendments. They are spending the time in the upper House doing the work that they have committed to the people that voted for them that they would do.

There is, in all likelihood, going to be an amended bill that comes to this place, but more than anything, we need to make it clear to Tasmanians that we can see what the Liberals are doing, we are watching them, they are on notice. Tasmanians are watching them. All of thire talk about electoral reform over five years now will mean nothing unless they bring it on immediately. Saying that, none of us in here trust them to do that job. That is why it is important that Ms Johnston has brought this on. This will give us the opportunity to have that debate immediately.

There are still many nefarious procedures the Liberals could employ to make sure this never gets Royal Assent and there are only so many things we can control. But in combination with this motion, with the immediate scrutiny and potential passage of a bill through this place, at least we control what we can control and we will let Tasmanians make their own judgement on the Liberals if, after it went through this House, they did not bring it on in a timely fashion to get Royal Assent.

The Electoral Reform Bill must pass before the next election. It is a timely matter. It is important it gets passed this year. If the Government stays until 2025, which is when they are meant to be here, we will have passage of legislation that will be in place in time for the next election. We thank Ms Johnston. I will leave it for other members to make their contributions but we will be supporting this motion.