SUBJECT: Political donation reform
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon. I've seen that whilst Mr Turnbull is at the G20 meeting world leaders, he's found the time to pop out from his meetings and start a domestic attack upon the Labor Party.
These hypocritical and pathetic attacks show Mr Turnbull ducking from the real issues. The real issue is donation reform. It is banning foreign donations. Mr Turnbull, rather than vote to ban foreign donations and sign up to Labor's sensible plans to reform, is engaging in petty attacks against junior senators from New South Wales.
Labor has a clear plan and we'll be writing to Mr Turnbull again today to ask him, just as Liberal backbenchers are proposing, just as the Greens political party is proposing, that we have donation reform in particular but not exclusively banning foreign donations.
Labor thinks it's long overdue to reduce the amount of donations where the identity of the corporate donor remains anonymous from a threshold of $13,200 just down to $1,000. We think that once an organisation's paying more than $1,000 their identity shouldn't remain anonymous.
Labor believes in banning foreign donations full stop. The Liberal Party on two occasions in the last nine years has managed to use its numbers to defeat Labor's proposals to ban foreign donations, that time should come to an end. We also want to ban donation splitting whereby different organisations provide amounts of money to different branches of political parties and can hide the overall amount and importantly their own identity.
We also want to make sure that we have reporting in real time of the donations which are being made, not many months after the event, where in fact the effect of the donation could be had politically and we'll never know what’s happened while the election is under way.
We also want to make sure that we link public funding to campaign expenditure. The idea that political parties or individuals can rake in public funding and then rake it in as a sort of business making venture rather than spending it on campaign expenditure, that needs to stop.
We're also very, very committed to reducing the threshold for disclosure of anonymous donation down to $50. The idea that a political party can receive anonymous donations above $50 is an idea whose time has come and been. And I think finally Labor's proposals with all of these sensible measures that we increase the penalties show that we've got an opportunity in this country to reform election donations. Transparency is what the public need to have confidence in the political process and I absolutely believe that Mr Turnbull now needs to act.
It's a bit like this really: Mr Turnbull needs to put his vote where his mouth is, he needs to put up or shut up in terms of electoral donation reform. Mr Turnbull needs to make it clear whether or not he supports Labor's ban on foreign donations or if he doesn't support Labor's ban on foreign donations but he can't have a bet each way. Happy to take questions on these important matters and other matters.
JOURNALIST: Isn't it hollow of you to ask for a ban on foreign donations when you won't sanction Senator Dastyari?
SHORTEN: Well, let's talk about Sam Dastyari. He is a bright young man, I think that's acknowledged, and I think he can make a serious contribution to Australian political life and to this nation. But he's made an imprudent decision and he acknowledges that and he recognises the mistake that he's made. I've spoken to him severely and I've made it crystal clear that this behaviour is not the behaviour I expect in the future from him. He's made his mistake, he knows it and I am prepared however to give him a second chance because I think he can make a contribution to this country.
JOURNALIST: Do you find it disturbing that someone in your inner circle, that is close to you, felt comfortable enough to take a, to have a company linked to the Chinese Government pay for his travel bills?
SHORTEN: Well first of all you've raised a couple of issues there. In terms of the mistakes that he's made he acknowledges them but I refer you to what I said earlier about him. But Mr Turnbull here is ducking the real issue which is the second part of your question. What is appropriate in terms of a donation and from whom is it appropriate to receive that donation? Mr Turnbull's got to stop ducking the real issue. He wants to make it about one person and ignore the elephant in the room which is donation reform. Plenty of people are now saying it's time to act. I acknowledge Senator Bernardi from the Liberal Party, Craig Laundy, other members of the Liberal Party are now saying we should have a ban on foreign donations. The Greens have joined the debate even though they voted against these reforms previously . So you have got Liberal backbenchers and indeed some frontbenchers, you've got the Green political party, and you've got Labor calling for donation reform and a ban on foreign donations.
The best way to avoid the debates we're seeing now is just to make it beyond doubt foreign donation's not on. But I also think if we're going to rebuild some trust in politics, and we've seen at the last the election where more people than ever voting for third parties, that we can do that by reducing the threshold for disclosure. What is the case in the country for an organisation to be paying $13,000 to a political party and what are they so scared about making that donation not reveal who the identity of the donor is? What is the case, in the electronic age and the digital age, in delaying reporting of donations for many, many months after they've been made? What is the case in the country for not having a linkage between public funding, taxpayer money and requiring that the people receiving the public funding spend the money on their campaign expenses? And what is the case, like about 114 other countries, why is it that the Liberal Party and Mr Turnbull are ducking the issue and not supporting a ban on foreign donations full stop?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, there are two issues here aren't there? One is foreign donations, another is that a member of your frontbench has received a payment into his Parliamentary office, not a donation to a party but an actual payment for his work as a Parliamentarian. He hasn't paid that back to the person who gave the money to him. And he has a bit of form here including that after receiving his first donation, if you like to call it that, payment, assistance, he went against Labor Party policy on South China Sea and Chinese foreign policy and mouthed what the Chinese are saying. Was he receiving this money for comment?
SHORTEN: There's two issues there. I'll go to them in the sequence you asked them. First of all when it comes to Senator Dastyari there's no hiding the fact that he's a bright young bloke and that he's made his mark in Canberra and I think he can make a big contribution in the Senate and to this country. But there's also no hiding the fact that he made an imprudent decision. He disclosed that decision for the record.
JOURNALIST: He didn't pay the money back -
SHORTEN: Sorry, let me finish the question. He disclosed that decision and the record should reflect that. He disclosed he received the money. Now I think he's made an imprudent decision, I know he's made an impudent decision and he's going to make amends, he's spoken to Finance about how he repays that, so that part of the issue he's dealing with. I think you raise a very serious point though in the second part of your question. This is the issue about Labor's policy on the South China Sea. I know I can say without fear of contradiction that when it comes to the South China Sea Labor's policy is the same as Liberal’s policy and Turnbull has even conceded that. We believe in freedom of navigation. We believe that where there are territory disputes such as there are in the South China Sea they need to be resolved by using the norms of international law and we believe in the peaceful resolution of those disputes. But I and my previous defence spokesperson, Senator Conroy, were absolutely resolute about supporting the right of the Australian Navy to have freedom of navigation exercises in these disputed areas. That is Labor's policy, that was Labor policy and it will be Labor's policy.
In terms of Senator Dastyari, he has spoken to me directly about this issue. He's made it very clear that he supports Labor's policy on the South China Sea. I don't buy into Mr Turnbull's petty insinuations of anything untoward in terms of Senator Dastyari’s motivations. And the very fact you've got someone as powerful as the Prime Minister of Australia so threatened by Senator Dastyari that he's buying into attacking a junior Senator from New South Wales, shows that Mr Turnbull is ducking the real and fundamental issue here which is not policy on the South China Sea, Labor has the policy I just enunciated. It's not whether or not Senator Dastyari was imprudent, he acknowledges that. But why is Malcolm Turnbull so scared of donation reform that he reduces it to a matter of the individual rather than dealing with the elephant in the room, especially when he's got a coalition of the willing to do electoral reform on foreign donations from the far right of his party to the far left in the Greens and of course you've got Labor with a Bill ready to go to clean up the system.
JOURNALIST: Did you ask the Senator why he made those comments on the South China Sea?
SHORTEN: I've explained to Senator Dastyari our policy on the South China Sea and he has expressed his unreserved support for our policy on the South China Sea.
JOURNALIST: Why didn't he express that when he was speaking to Chinese interests? Having received a payment for him falling short of being able to pay his travel expenses even though he gets $95,000 a year for them.
SHORTEN: First of all, let's go to the issue of the South China Sea. Senator Dastyari supports our position -
JOURNALIST: He didn't then -
SHORTEN: Sorry I'm just saying to you, Senator Dastyari supports our position black and white – and that goes for all of our Labor people. When it comes to the rest of the insinuation which where you're repeating the Prime Minister's baseless attack on Senator Dastyari -
JOURNALIST: I am not repeating it -
SHORTEN: Perhaps if I can go then you go and I'll have another go. First of all, Mr Turnbull has tried to impugn the motives of Senator Dastyari and I'm saying in return Senator Dastyari has made clear his views to me. He has made clear his views and further more, I say to Mr Turnbull if you want to have a discussion about donation ethics, let's have a look at why don't we both collectively ban foreign donations. You've got to ask yourselves this question: why if 114 other countries have already done what Labor's calling for, why is it that Mr Turnbull is so quick not to deal with that issue?
JOURNALIST: So if you're going to push on with the idea that there should be no foreign donations, I take that there should be no payments to your frontbenchers to pay for their problems?
SHORTEN: First of all, I think Senator Dastyari has already demonstrated that when it comes to getting a third party to pay a Department of Finance bill, that shouldn't happen. Whether or not it's in the rules, it just shouldn't happen. And trust me, Senator Dastyari has learnt that lesson very clearly. I think the rest of the Parliament has learnt it as well.
JOURNALIST: Did you consider standing him down or was it just never on the table?
SHORTEN: I go back to the answer I have given previously. Senator Dastyari has been a thorn in the sides of the Liberal Party. He has been a thorn in the side of the big banks, he stood up for consumers and certainly been very active in speaking up for the victims of banking financial scandals. I think his form guide shows that he can make a contribution to the Senate and I think the Liberals are paying him a perverse compliment by targeting him so heavily. But what I also recognise is that he has made an imprudent decision, I have severely counselled him, I've made it crystal clear I don't expect to see this happen again. He knows he's made a mistake, on balance, I'm prepared to give him a second chance.
JOURNALIST: And you'd accept it is going to be harder for him to prosecute the case against unscrupulous financial services providers when this has happened?
SHORTEN: No, I actually think that the case against the big banks and unscrupulous financial providers is a case which, not only Senator Dastyari and the Labor Party will make, I think it's something the Liberal Party ought to make. I do not understand when it comes to the vested interests, Mr Turnbull doesn't want to act on banning foreign donations and you’d have to ask him why. He doesn't want to act on donation reform which we have outlined today, but for the record, we've been outlining for years – Mr Turnbull's come very late to the party in terms of donation reform – and you have to ask why Mr Turnbull is so determined to attack people who have been so stringent on attacking the banks. Mr Turnbull needs to stop ducking the fundamental issue which is confidence in the political system. He needs to stop ducking the issue of election donation reform and he could make a very good start by banning foreign donations and we'll be fighting for that because we think Australians deserve that plus more. Last question thanks.
JOURNALIST: Before the next election, will you be refusing donations from foreign sources and foreign linked sources to help you in your next campaign?
SHORTEN: Well I think that both political parties need to seriously take on board your suggestion. There's no question in my mind that the rising concern of whether or not foreign interests are using soft diplomacy is one which we need to address as a whole. I mean, there is concern that the Foreign Minister of Australia took a half a million dollar donation into her local branch from a company which has little business operations in Western Australia. So I think you do raise an important issue. And I just say to Malcolm Turnbull - I know you're busy at the G20 but seeing as you've chosen to dive back into domestic politics while you’re over there – let's take this current issue and turn it into a better note for Australian politics. We've got at very straightforward plan: ban foreign donations, ban donation splitting, reduce the threshold of disclosure so that donations over $1,000, the donor is identified, reduce the threshold for disclosure and not accept anonymous donations over $50, make sure that public taxpayers money is actually expended on campaigns and is not enriching individuals, toughen up the penalties and of course as we keep saying, ban foreign donations.
Mr Turnbull has an opportunity, he can talk a good talk but can he walk a good walk on donation reform.