Speeches

22
Jun

Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2018

Speeches
Debate resumed from 24 May; motion of Mr JENNINGS (Special Minister of State).

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS (South Eastern Metropolitan) (09:40:18) — Over the last two years Victorians have been appalled at the behaviour they have witnessed from a range of Labor Party MPs. In 2015 in this place we saw the start of the disclosure of what became the red shirts rorts. We saw a whistleblower talk about the way in which the Labor Party, or certain Labor Party MPs, had in an organised and deliberate fashion sought to exploit for political advantage the resources made available to members of Parliament to run their electorate offices. Following that public disclosure, that whistleblower account of what occurred, we saw the Legislative Council in November 2015 pass a resolution requiring the Ombudsman to investigate those allegations.

We then saw the government — or the government acting in the interests of the Labor Party — seek to frustrate that investigation. We had the Leader of the Government in this place write to the Ombudsman disputing that she had jurisdiction to in fact undertake that inquiry that had been referred by the Legislative Council. We then had the Ombudsman seek to have her jurisdiction confirmed by the Supreme Court, and the Victorian government acting in the interests of the Labor Party sought to dispute in the Supreme Court that she had that jurisdiction. When the Supreme Court upheld that there was jurisdiction the Victorian government in the interests of the Labor Party appealed that to the Court of Appeal, which also held that the Ombudsman had jurisdiction in respect of the referral.

Having failed in the Court of Appeal, the government, once again acting in the interests of the Labor Party, sought to appeal to the High Court. In what was, I believe, an unprecedented response by the High Court to an appeal from an Attorney-General the High Court dismissed that appeal summarily without even hearing the case, without even hearing arguments, which I understand has not occurred before. It is a very significant undertaking for an Attorney-General, state or federal, to appeal to the High Court. For the High Court to simply dismiss that as having no merit without even hearing it indicates how poor the case was that the Victorian government was seeking to put to the High Court.

Subsequently the Ombudsman's investigation took place, and we received in this place on 21 March this year the Ombudsman's report, which outlined an organised and deliberate exercise by certain Labor Party MPs to rort electoral entitlements. I am not going to go into details of who and what, because that of course is now the subject of matters before the Privileges Committee, but we had a situation where certain Labor Party MPs were caught out rorting. We had a situation where the Labor Party sought to use the levers of government — being appeals and interventions in the Supreme Court, in the Court of Appeal and in the High Court — to prevent the investigation of that Labor rorting.

When that failed, when the Ombudsman produced her damning report, we had the Labor Party seeking to go into damage control. The day before — as we now know — that Ombudsman's report was tabled on 21 March this year we had the Labor Party suddenly repay the $388 000 which had been rorted. That was not an act of contrition. It was not an act of recognition that Labor Party MPs had acted inappropriately, had done the wrong thing, had abused the trust that had been put in them by Victorian taxpayers; it was an act of damage control. The cheque was sent to the Department of Parliamentary Services the day before the Ombudsman's report became public for one reason and one reason only: to give the Premier and the government some attempt at a defence over what had happened in the lead-up to the 2014 election.

Between the discovery of the red shirts rorts in November 2015 and the Ombudsman's report arriving in this place this year we saw further examples of Labor Party MPs rorting the system. Of course that was at the beginning of last year when the then Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Telmo Languiller, and the then Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Don Nardella, were both caught out deliberately and intentionally rorting the second residence allowance — metropolitan members of Parliament claiming to live in country areas in order to claim an entitlement to a second residence allowance, an entitlement which has been made available to members of Parliament with the intention that it be used by country members of Parliament to provide for accommodation in metropolitan Melbourne when their duties bring them to Melbourne. But no, we had two metropolitan Labor members of Parliament thinking they could claim false addresses in country areas — false addresses 80 kilometres from the city and therefore within the criteria for the second residence allowance — and claim that allowance. We subsequently saw Mr Languiller repay some $40 000 in an attempt to hang on to his job as Speaker, but ultimately he had to resign from that office.

In an example which I think appalled Victorians even more, we saw the then Deputy Speaker, Mr Nardella, refuse to repay the $98 000 that he had incorrectly and illegitimately claimed as a second residence allowance. He was forced from the office of Deputy Speaker but he refused to repay the money. We had the Premier beating his chest that this was outrageous and saying he would be intervening and he had told Don Nardella to resign from the Labor Party because his failure to repay that money was inappropriate — for Don Nardella to hold onto that $98 000 was inappropriate and Daniel Andrews was acting.

In the context of those two rorts — the organised rorting through the red shirt mechanism and the individual rorting of Don Nardella and Telmo Languiller — Victorians would be appalled to know that we have a bill before the house this morning that not only seeks to legitimise the rorting we have seen from the Labor Party in the last two years but also to reward it. If this bill passes the house today as the government has drafted it, the rorting of Don Nardella will be rewarded because on Sunday week this bill, in its current form, we will see a cheque for $10 000 land in the pocket of Don Nardella. This is the man that the Premier beat his chest about and said, 'I've got him out of the Labor Party. It's terrible what he's done', and now he wants to give him $10 000 next Sunday and a further $6000 in three months time.

But of course it is not only Don Nardella that the Labor government wants to benefit with this piece of legislation; it is the Labor Party itself. Having taken the step of trying to run some damage control on 21 March when the Ombudsman's report came out and having sent a cheque to parliamentary services for $388 000 the day prior so that the Premier could get up and say, 'We didn't know what we were doing; we've repaid the money', just six weeks after repaying the money, six weeks after taking that step of damage control, the government introduced this bill to the Parliament. This bill not only puts $10 000 in Don Nardella's pocket on Sunday week if it passes, it also ensures that the Labor Party squares the ledger, because if this bill passes today, if this bill is supported in this place today, on Sunday week, 1 July, not only will the Labor Party get its $388 000 back but in fact it will get $600 000, and in three months time on 1 October it will get another $360 000 from the taxpayer. Having gone through the exercise of damage control, having stood up and said, 'Oh, we've repaid the money and we've squared the ledger', six weeks later the government brought in a bill to ensure it gets $960 000 back in the Labor Party's pocket prior to the election.

Today is the last scheduled sitting day for the autumn sittings. It is the last opportunity the government has to pass important legislation to address important matters which need parliamentary consideration. On Wednesday we saw the High Court strike down this government's legislation with respect to police killers, legislation which sought to deny parole to those who had killed police in Victoria. That legislation was put in place ostensibly to ensure that Craig Minogue, who was responsible for the Russell Street bombing that killed Constable Angela Taylor, would not be eligible for parole. The High Court struck that legislation down as it applies to Minogue, and now we are in a situation where Minogue is at will to apply for parole and have that parole application considered. In the last sitting week on the last sitting day of the autumn sittings, you might think it would be a priority for the government to address that defect in that legislation which means that over the winter recess Minogue can apply for parole. But it is not. The government has said, 'We'll deal with that when we come back in the spring. We don't have to worry about that now'.

You might have thought that the government, given this is 22 June, would want to pass its Appropriation
(2018–2019) Bill 2018 before the expiration of the financial year and the commencement of the new financial year. But instead the government is not using the last day of the autumn parliamentary sittings to focus on fixing the defect in the legislation that could see Craig Minogue released on parole. We do not see the government focusing on passing its budget through this house before the end of the financial year. We see the government focused on a piece of legislation which will put a cheque for $600 000 in the pocket of the secretary of the Labor Party next Sunday. That is the government's priority. Having gone through the exercise of damage control and repaying $388 000, the Labor Party is now desperate to get that cheque for $600 000 back in its coffers on 1 July this year. That is why we see this bill in the house today.

The government in its second reading — and I will quote the first paragraph of the minister's second-reading speech — claimed that:

The legislation being introduced today will be one of the most significant reforms of the Electoral Act 2002 (the act) since its enactment. In addition to making Victoria's electoral system clearer and more efficient and accessible, the bill gives Victoria a robust political donations and disclosure scheme that we can be proud of.

It is certainly true that this is the most significant change — it is disputable whether it is reform — to the Electoral Act 2002, but this bill is certainly not about making the electoral system clearer, more efficient and accessible. This bill is in fact about entrenching electoral and funding advantages for the Labor Party and for the Greens — and I will come to that — to the exclusion of minor parties and other parties. It is about tipping the playing field in favour of vested interests, in favour of the Labor Party in particular.

One of the things we can be very proud of in Australia at a state level and at a national level is the integrity of our electoral system, the fact that we have elections which are run independently of political parties, elections that are clean, elections that are fair and elections which are not called into question. The integrity is not called into question. I cannot recall a single instance where the integrity of an election in Australia has been called into question. That is something which we should be proud of, but it is also something which we cannot and should not be complacent about. When you think about electoral corruption, the mind often turns to the Third World, to Africa and to despotic regimes throughout the world which are seen as having tainted electoral systems, but in reality what we have in Australia, the integrity of what we have in Australia, is actually quite unique.

We only need to look at places such as the United States, which holds itself up as a bastion of democracy and holds itself up as the exemplar of democracy, to actually see the way in which even a Western political system can be manipulated and subjected to political interference. As many members of this house would know, the American electoral system at the moment, counting down to midterm Presidential elections, is certainly within the political sphere heavily focused on which party wins the majority of state governments, which party wins the majority of the governors' mansions.

The reason that is important in the American context in this political cycle is that having been through a national census in the United States, now is the time in cycle for the redrawing of congressional district boundaries. In the United States that is not something that is done independently as it is here in Victoria with our Electoral Boundaries Commission. It is something which is done by the government of the day. So whoever controls those state governments after November's midterm elections in the United States, whoever sits in the governors' mansions for the next two years, will be the party that determines the make-up of the boundaries of the electoral districts for their state. That government, that party, will determine how those boundaries fall and therefore will determine for probably the next decade the way in which the congressional results in their state will play out.

To look at some of the congressional electoral maps in the United States, to see the way boundaries are moved and manipulated and have extensions out one side to pick up a part of a suburb and then a narrow pathway back to the majority of the district area to get a particular political outcome, is absolutely extraordinary. This is in a country which regards itself as one of the bastions of democracy in the world. The fact that that can happen in the United States, the fact that we have seen through successive presidential elections in the United States in the last decade or two interference at a state level with voting entitlements, interference at a state level with the counting of votes in presidential elections — and there have been a number of issues raised with the last presidential election and with the presidential election in 2000 — highlights how vulnerable our democracies are, how vulnerable our electoral systems are and how precious the electoral system in Australia and Victoria is that none of those concerns are ever voiced and ever need to be voiced here in Victoria.

We have an electoral system — the conduct of the elections — which is run entirely independently of political party influence, irrespective of who is running the government at the time an election is held. We have the drawing of electoral boundaries independently at a state and federal level — in Victoria's case by the electoral boundaries commissioner, entirely independently of whoever is in government at the time — and that is something which is incredibly important, it is something which is incredibly precious and it is something which we cannot be complacent about. The fact that a democracy like the United States is not able to achieve that sort of independence in those basic political functions that we have here in Australia highlights how important what we have here in Australia is.

But of course the way in which our institutions, be it the Electoral Boundaries Commission, which draws up the state boundaries, or the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC), which conducts elections, operate, they all operate within the framework of the legislation that the Parliament passes. That is why legislation such as the Electoral Act 2002 is so important, and that is why we cannot have legislation such as the bill before the house today which seeks not to create a level playing field, not to increase efficiency and accessibility, as the second-reading speech claims, but in fact to entrench political advantage and funding advantage for some parties over other parties.

I will turn now to the issue of funding in this bill, because what is not explicit — certainly not headlined — in the second-reading speech is the electoral funding model that this bill seeks to introduce, which is unprecedented in its cost to Victorian households and families. We know at the moment that Victorian families are experiencing significant cost-of-living pressures. We have seen enormous increases in utility costs for Victorian families — gas costs, power prices, even water prices have increased substantially under this government and, certainly with energy prices, in many respects as a consequence of the policies of this government. We have seen and we are continuing to see housing costs increase exponentially over the last 10 to 15 years in Victoria.

We are seeing the cost of the Victorian government increase substantially under this government. We now have the highest taxes of any state in Australia. In fact those taxes cost Victorian households on average $9600 a year per household, so the burden of the Victorian government on Victorian households is very high and the cost-of-living pressures on Victorian households are also very high. So Victorian households, Victorian families, would be and should be appalled to learn that this bill before the house this morning will deliver into the pockets of political parties almost $54 million over the next four-year electoral cycle. Between the 2018 election and the 2022 election almost $54 million will flow into the pockets of political parties. It is no surprise who the single biggest beneficiary of that will be, and that is of course the Labor Party. We have Victorian households under considerable cost-of-living pressures. They are paying on average $9600 a year in Victorian state taxes, and their government, in the interests of the Labor Party, is now putting out its hand for around $54 million over the next four years to fund the political activities of parties in this state.

In 2002 we saw the introduction of the first electoral funding model in Victoria, and that was very controversial at the time. The notion that taxpayers should pay for the campaigning activities of political parties was something that did not sit well with the community. At the time the model that was introduced saw funding of $1.20 per first preference vote, upper house or lower house, provided a candidate achieved a threshold of 4 per cent of the primary vote cast. That $1.20 was indexed and now is around roughly $1.49. What we are now seeing is that model of $1.20 — or $1.49 indexed — per vote being replaced with a model that pays a political party $6 for each lower house vote it receives and $3 for each upper house vote it receives. So each individual voter casting a vote — one vote upper house, one vote lower house — is contributing $9 to political parties, jumping from $1.49 a vote, $3 upper and lower, to $9, a trebling of the per-vote funding under this model.

It is interesting to reflect on the fact that we are going from a model which currently pays the same funding for a lower house vote as an upper house vote to a model which makes a substantial differential, where a lower house vote will now be worth $6 and an upper house vote will be worth $3, which begs the question: which parties attract more lower house votes than upper house votes? It is fascinating not only to look at the results of the 2014 state election but also to go back further. I think the VEC publishes on its website statistics back to the 1999 election, and we see that consistently the Labor Party and the Greens attract more lower house votes than upper house votes and the Liberal Party attracts more upper house votes than lower house votes, as do most of the minor parties in this house. So what do we see? A model which does not treat the votes evenly — it now gives a 100 per cent premium on lower house votes because it is in the interests of the Labor Party and it is in the interests of the Greens and it is not in the interests of the minor parties in this place.

If it is not bad enough that we are seeing a model which currently pays $1.49 per vote swapped for a model which values lower house votes higher than upper house votes because that suits the Labor Party and the Greens and pays in the case of lower house votes $6 and upper house votes $3, with the way this bill is constructed we also see double dipping. Not only will funding in respect of the 2018 election be paid under the current model — that is to say $1.49 as indexed per vote under the current model — but we will also see, if this bill passes today, prepayment for funding for the 2022 election under this model. So next year after the election when the parties put in their returns and the Independent candidates put in their returns to the electoral commission, they will get the $1.49 funding for the current model but they will also get 40 per cent of the payment under the new model and in the following years they will get 20 per cent and then 20 per cent and then 20 per cent. In the period 2018 to 2022 they will get funding under the current model and they will get funding under the new model.

On rough estimates that means we will see almost $7 million paid out to parties on the current model and a further almost $27 million prepaid under the new model. Of course the notion that it is prepaid and subject to repayment is a bit of a farce because the way this bill is structured in every election cycle there will be a prepayment. So there is the double benefit in this first election cycle between 2018 and 2022 of getting the old funding structure and a prepayment on the new funding structure and then in every subsequent election cycle there is a prepayment under the new structure, so the parties are effectively receiving the funds for that period.

So we have almost $7 million that will be paid under the current structure and now an additional almost $27 million under the new structure, but that was not enough for the Labor Party, that was not enough for the Greens. So we now see, in addition to almost $7 million under the current structure and $27 million under the new structure, what is being termed 'administrative expenditure funding', which is an outrageous $40 000 per MP per year. The second-reading speech says that is to be paid to the MPs for administration, but in fact the bill does not say that — the bill pays the money to the political parties. So we actually have a very substantial inconsistency between the second-reading speech, which says the funds are paid to the MP for administration costs, and the bill, which provides that the funds are paid to the political parties. So $40 000 per MP per year ostensibly to administer their responsibilities under this legislation.

We see that for the Labor Party based on the election results of 2014, accepting that there have been changes with a number of by-elections but based on the general election result, that delivers a further $9.7 million to the Labor Party. It delivers $7 million to the Liberal Party and it delivers $1.1 million to the Greens. But that was not enough for the Labor Party and the Greens either. It was not enough to have that funding start in the new Parliament. We could not wait for this election cycle to be completed, so we have a provision in this bill that if this legislation passes today, on Sunday week, 1 July, those funds will start flowing. We will see in total some $960 000 end up with the Labor Party and some $112 000 end up with the Greens, even before the election.

The Labor Party had a problem. It repaid $388 000 to the Parliament because it needed a fix for the media cycle the day of the Ombudsman's report came out, and its way to get around that was to bring a bill into this place that ensures that it gets almost $1 million back in funding prior to the election, with the first instalment — $600 000 — to flow next Sunday, if this bill passes. I think Victorians would be appalled to know that this government has reached such a level of corruption that it is now willing to bring in legislation that tips the funding balance so far in its favour and against the interests of the Victorian community.

The government obviously supports this bill in the interests of the Labor Party; it brought it in. The Greens have indicated that they will support this bill, yet we have heard comments from most of the crossbench expressing significant concerns about the structures in this bill. It is worth reflecting at this point on who is the biggest beneficiary financially from this legislation. Who is the biggest beneficiary in terms of the funding that will flow to political parties? Surprise, surprise! It is the Greens. On a per MP basis this legislation will deliver more than $760 000 in public funding for each Greens MP. So it is not surprising that the party that holds themselves out as the virtues of integrity and keeping the other parties honest has rolled over on this bill, when it means that more than three-quarters of a million dollars in public money will flow for each Greens MP. And if there is not a bigger example of a sellout than that, I do not know what it is.

We have a situation where this funding model has been structured in a way that is so skewed that the Labor Party will get in the order of $400 000 for each of its currently elected MPs. The Liberal Party gets a little bit more than the $400 000 for each of its elected MPs. The Greens are the major beneficiaries, with more than three-quarters of a million dollars in public funding for each of its MPs. Then we see the minor parties in this place — the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, Dr Carling-Jenkins, Mr Purcell and Ms Patten — each entitled to $160 000 of funding. Under this model Dr Carling-Jenkins or her party receives $160 000 in funding for its one MP, but Dr Ratnam's party gets more than three-quarters of a million dollars in funding for each of their MPs — and this from the party that holds themselves out as having the virtue of integrity.

One of the rationales that has been put forward for this bill is that it is reforming donations, that political donations are bad and we are going to reform them and the funding is just a consequence of needing to reform donations. The headline around this legislation is that the government is introducing a cap on donations of $4000 per entity in an electoral cycle.

It is interesting again to reflect on the language that has been used around donations in the second-reading speech. The second-reading speech from the minister talks about what he describes as donation reform to, and I quote:

… limit any improper influence of private donations in the political process.

He went on to say:

… political donations should not unfairly or improperly influence a political process.

And that of course is true. I will quote one further excerpt from the second reading in relation to the cap on donations:

The cap will ensure a level playing field and provide equal participation in the electoral process, reducing the potential for those with 'deep pockets' to try and exert greater influence.

The rationale for this $50 million-odd of public money flowing to political parties is that we are reforming donations. So it is worth reflecting on what donations we are talking about. Where are these donations coming from? Who donates what to whom? In this regard the disclosures which are filed by political parties with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) on an annual basis are very illuminating. Frankly, in respect of the major parties there is very little to indicate major donation flows to the major parties and the capacity for influence. I will start by looking back at the most recent returns for the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party. There are donations from associated entities — the federal party donating to the Victorian party and so forth — which is not unusual, and other entities associated with the Labor Party like Progressive Business, which is an arm of the Labor Party donating to the Labor Party. In terms of external donors to the Labor Party they are actually relatively modest. Bertocchi Smallgoods donated $40 000 and Michael Gudinski, the entertainment promoter, donated $20 000. Going through some of the earlier returns, the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) donated $20 000; Holding Redlich, the law firm, donated $30 000; and Village Roadshow donated $20 000. There are a number of other receipts which are not described as donations but are described in fact as other receipts from trade unions, and I will come to those. They are typically much larger contributions than the corporate donations. The political party disclosures do not highlight big corporate donations seeking to influence political outcomes.

I will take a look at the Liberal Party's returns also. Again, they are filed on an annual basis with the AEC. It is actually the same story with the Liberal Party. Despite the rhetoric — and I will come back to the rhetoric from those opposite — if you look at the returns filed by the Liberal Party, equally there is no evidence of big donations seeking to skew political outcomes. Like with the Labor Party, putting aside internal funding bodies, there was a contribution from Zervos Lawyers of $22 500, there was a contribution from the AHA of $20 000, there was a contribution from the health insurance membership association of $45 000 and there was a contribution from Gandel Group, the shopping centre proprietors, of $70 000. What these returns do not show, despite the rhetoric from those opposite, is massive corporate donations of many hundreds of thousands of dollars seeking to influence outcomes.

In that context I would like to reflect on a post made by the Leader of the Greens, Dr Ratnam, earlier this week following the announcement that the Liberal Party was opposing this bill. Dr Ratnam posted on Facebook:

So frustrating and disappointing to see the Libs withdraw support for donations reform at the 11th hour.

We need strict limits on political donations to get corporate influence out of government.

It just shows how much the Libs are in the pockets of big business!

It is worth reflecting on that, because the returns filed with the Australian Electoral Commission for the Liberal Party in Victoria do not show big donations from corporate Australia at all, and in fairness the returns filed for the Labor Party also do not show big donations from corporate Australia. But let us have a look at the returns filed for the Greens in Victoria and see what donations the Australian Greens in Victoria have received in recent years. It is Dr Ratnam who is talking about the pockets of big business and big donations. Well, the biggest donations to flow to political parties in Victoria have in fact flowed to the Greens.

The most recent return, for example, of donations received is a donation from a Duncan Turpie in Queensland, and if anyone cares to google Mr Turpie, they will see that he is an entrepreneur associated with gaming interests. That was a donation of $150 000. We go on to see other donations that flowed to the Australian Greens: from Graeme Wood of New South Wales, not $10 000, not $20 000 but half a million dollars. A private individual, Graeme Wood, donated half a million dollars to the Australian Greens in Victoria. Then we go back to Mr Duncan Turpie again, who also donated a further half a million dollars to the Australian Greens in Victoria.

Why does an individual with gaming interests in Queensland donate half a million dollars to the Greens in Victoria? Why does Graeme Wood, an individual in New South Wales, donate half a million dollars to the Greens in Victoria? Then we have Anna Hackett, an individual in South Australia, donating $100 000 to the Greens in Victoria. The hypocrisy that we see from the Greens and the hypocrisy we see from Dr Ratnam is that they talk about big donations from corporate Australia to the major parties when the biggest donations flowing to political parties in Victoria are to the Greens — and they are not all from corporate interests. At least with a corporate interest, like the AHA, you know what their interests are. We have a private individual, Graeme Wood, virtually buying the Greens in Victoria, virtually owning the Greens in Victoria, with further contributions of half a million dollars. We have Duncan Turpie making contributions of half a million dollars. Who knows what the interests of these individuals are? Why are they seeking to purchase the Australian Greens in Victoria in the way they have? We have the hypocrisy of Dr Ratnam talking about corporate donations when her own party has some of the largest and most opaque donations of any of the political parties in Victoria.

Mrs Peulich — Communists were always hypocrites.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS — Mrs Peulich says, 'Communists were always hypocrites', and she is right, and once again we are seeing that with the Australian Greens here in Victoria. Why are they supporting this legislation? Because they are the biggest beneficiary on a per-MP basis from the funding model that would flow if this bill passes in its current form.

Mr Gepp — So you want the status quo to continue?

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS — Well, Acting President, I will pick up Mr Gepp's interjection. It is a timely interjection, Mr Gepp, because you talk about the status quo continuing. Under this bill there is a status quo continuing, and the status quo that is continuing under this bill is the mechanism that allows the union movement to continue to donate to the Australian Labor Party. That status quo is continuing — the mechanism that allows the association between the union movement and the Labor Party and indeed the Greens. Because when you put aside the purchase of Greens party by Mr Wood and Mr Turpie, their other big donor has been the Electrical Trades Union (ETU). This bill allows that financial influence to continue. A donation under this model is not permitted, but the payment of a fee of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in most cases is apparently permissible. But then of course that is because it is in the interests of the Labor Party and in the interests of the Greens.

Prompted by Mr Gepp I will refer back to that return filed by the Labor Party. As I said these are not donations; these are other receipts. But the question should be asked: how is the influence from a donation any different to the influence from another receipt, when these receipts are things such as from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union metals division, $92 000; the Australian Services Union Victoria and Tasmania, $125 000; the Australian Workers Union, $97 000; the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union of Australia plumbing division, $66 000; the CFMMEU construction and general division, $142 000; and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, $184 000? How are those payments, how are those receipts of the party, any different from the $20 000 donation from the AHA? Why should one be banned and not the other?

I say the same to the Greens because they are as culpable in this matter as the Labor Party, because the small part of their party that has not been purchased by Mr Turpie and Mr Wood is in fact the section that has been purchased by the ETU. We have seen very substantial donations and contributions flowing from the ETU in particular into the Australian Greens here in Victoria over a period of time. Once again, they are not seeking to have a level playing field, not seeking to expand access to the political process in this state, but rather seeking to tip the scales in favour of the Labor Party and the Greens; we see their funding flows from the union movement quarantined from the need for the 'reform' that we are supposed to be getting under this bill.

With only 6 minutes left, there are a couple of other matters that I would like to touch on. In seeking to put in place this structure of so-called donation reform we see a structure created for what has been termed third-party campaign activity and a whole series of definitions framed around third-party campaigning. What we do not have with this bill is clarity for the many groups in the Victorian community who do have views on issues or clarity on how those provisions are going to work. One of the things we will be seeking in detail in the committee stage is to actually understand how the government thinks those third-party provisions will work, and what the practical application of those third-party provisions is for groups in the community that seek to put a point of view, that seek to express an opinion, on political issues.

The other area this bill covers, other than a massive financial hit on the taxpayers to the benefit of the Labor Party and the Greens and the changes in donations to benefit once again the Greens and the Labor Party with the preservation of the union links, is changes with respect to the voting system. There are a number of changes with respect to the voting system. Some of those changes relate to the enrolment requirements for electors seeking to enrol for Victorian elections, but other changes relate to the way in which people cast votes and the way in which parties register.

Again, keeping with the theme that this bill is about advantaging the Labor Party and the Greens at the expense of minor parties and other parties, one of the changes the bill seeks to make is narrowing the window for the registration of third parties. If this bill passes today and receives royal assent next week, minor parties will have only four weeks in which to register for the 2018 election.

In fact if you look back at the parties which registered for our last election, more than half of the minor parties and third parties which registered for the 2014 election did so in the last three or four months before that election. In fact looking around this chamber, two of the members of this chamber, being the two representatives from the Shooters and Fishers party, actually would not qualify for the 2018 election if they did their registration in the time frame that this bill will now allow. Theirs was one of the parties which registered late in the final four months before the election, and they had two members elected. Under this bill they would not have the opportunity to register and participate in the political process, which again highlights the way in which this bill is tilted in favour of the Labor Party and their friends the Greens and against minor party interests in the Victorian community.

One of the other changes we see is with respect to postal votes. Again, when you go back through historical Victorian Electoral Commission data — and the data for the last five elections or so is on the VEC website — and you look at the way in which postal votes fall, we are increasingly seeing Victorian voters use postal votes. We are increasingly seeing Victorian voters use other early voting mechanisms, including prepoll votes. In fact more than one in three voters at the last election voted early, either through postal votes or prepolls. But historically, the postal vote system has, on a two-party basis, not favoured the Labor Party. It has run slightly against the Labor Party on average.

So what do we see in this bill? We see the government — the Labor Party — conspiring with the Greens to make it harder for Victorians to cast a postal vote. Because postal votes traditionally do not favour the Labor Party and the Greens, we see changes in this bill which provide less time for a voter to apply for a postal vote and then provide less time for a postal vote to be counted. Under this model voters will have only until the Wednesday before the election to apply for a postal vote, and then have only until the Friday following the election for their postal vote to be counted. Because the Labor Party and the Greens traditionally do not get the majority of postal votes, they seek to now restrict the access of voters to postal votes and the counting of those postal votes.

This bill is not about increasing access to the electoral system. It is not about putting parties on an equal footing. It is about creating electoral benefit for the Labor Party and for the Greens. It is about creating funding benefit for the Labor Party and the Greens. Our electoral legislation should be legislation of integrity that preserves our electoral system. It should not be structured to benefit political parties like the Labor Party and the Greens to the exclusion of minor parties. I urge the house to oppose this bill.
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