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Australians are telling us that our political system, the quality of our democracy, that all of us - we need to lift our game.
What turns Australians off politics is the consistent bickering and the meaningless daily squabbles.
What turns Australians off politics is the perception that politicians are purely in it for themselves and their own interests.
These are the reasons that too many Australians feel as if the system is broken, that what happens here is cut-off from their lives.
That – to quote Katharine Murphy – people feel politics has become:
“little more than a series of arbitrations with cashed-up rent seekers”
As long as this perception holds, we will continue to see the rise of fringe movements.
False prophets who convert their anti-Canberra, anti-politics message– into seats in parliament for themselves.
This is a challenge for all of us who have come to this place to speak up for our communities - and to deliver a better standard of living for the Australians who call them home.
We all have a responsibility for restoring trust and confidence in our system.
What the people of Australia want is leadership - when leaders say what they will do, they mean it and they just get on and do it.
That is why Labor is just getting on and doing it.
This year, we have outlined a three point plan to restore confidence in the political process.
Not because we think that, in and of itself, will change the daily lives of Australians - but it is the green-fee for credibility, for Australians to say 'hey, this mob are taking us seriously and our concerns seriously.'
Our three-point plan includes:
- Last week, in the Senate we introduced an inquiry into the merits of a National Integrity Commission.
- Tomorrow, we will be voting for long-overdue reform of the expenses system.
- And today, I present to the House our plan for stricter donation rules, stronger transparency and greater accountability.
Because secrecy and reform cannot co-exist. Secrecy and reform do not go together.
Because the Australian people have a right to know.
The health of our elections, of our democracy, of people’s faith in political process depends upon setting and meeting the highest standards.
That is why this legislation is so important.
This legislation is about that great old-fashioned concept that Australians have a right to know.
To make sure voters, shareholders and consumers are aware who donates to which party - and how much they give.
This legislation will also include closing the loopholes that vested interests currently use to hide their donations and conceal their influence.
This begins with the long-overdue reduction of the disclosure threshold from $13,200 to $1,000.
I am very proud of Labor’s record on this question – and I genuinely believe we make a very strong case.
In 2006, we opposed Prime Minister Howard raising the threshold from $1000 to $10,000.
When last in government, we sought to lower it back to $1000 – and we were prevented from doing so by the Liberal-Nationals
Now, yet again, we are rising to the challenge from Opposition.
And this isn’t a hypothetical for us.
The standard we are seeking to write into law is one we have nationally voluntarily met for more than five years.
Since 2011, Federal Labor has had a policy that every donation over $1000 should be declared.
And it’s time for the Government to step up and show the same commitment to transparency and the same respect for the Australian people.
Not just complying with the legal minimum – but meeting the best ethical standard.
Not just complying with the legal minimum – but meeting the best practice standard.
Lowering the threshold is just the start.
Labor’s reforms will also stop donation-splitting, where groups with deep pockets spread their donations out across the different states, so they just sneak under the bar in every jurisdiction.
It is wrong that an individual, a company can write nine $13,000 cheques, to nine different branches of a political party and the Australian people never know about it.
That’s over $110,000 – off the books in a year, $330,000 across the term of a government.
We’ll also put a stop to the convenient fiction that donating to an associated entity is different to donating to a party.
This legislation makes several other common-sense changes to the integrity of the system:
Foreign citizens don’t get a vote in Australian elections - and foreign companies shouldn’t be allowed to donate to Australian campaigns.
Transparency in our donations system is critical for protecting against state or non-state actors who seek to influence our political system for advantage.
Labor’s legislation will ban foreign donations – full stop.
But I recognise there are other problems in this area to which we do not collectively hold the answer.
This legislation doesn’t solve the challenge of foreign money being washed through Australian entities.
We need to work with agencies – including our security agencies – to look at the full transaction chain.
This is a difficult issue and jurisdictions grapple with this around the world.
Our legislation will stop direct foreign donations.
But we must not just ticking the box of a technical test – we need to be thoroughly evaluating the origin of a donation.
And where there is genuine apprehension – we need to act on it.
This is vital to maintaining public confidence in our system.
No-one can talk seriously about tackling foreign donations, unless they acknowledge this issue which I have just outlined here today in the parliament.
The Coalition didn’t cause this problem – but I invite them to work with us to help us solve it.
If the leaders of this country know that there is a risk that foreign governments or non-state actors will wash money through Australian entities, then it is not good enough to say: 'we haven't yet come up with mechanism to solve it'. We must solve this soft influence problem.
Under this legislation, the upper limit for anonymous donations will be restricted to $50.
If you want to buy a new ‘It’s Time’ t-shirt for your parents without giving your name, fine - but that’s where it stops.
Public funding – allocated according to votes received – is one of the key components of our democratic system.
This legislation will keep that strong and relevant.
Citizens expect that if we are to use taxpayer funds in public funding of election campaigns to help defray the reliance upon private donations, they do expect their taxes to be used transparently - not as a business model to be opportunistically exploited.
Our measure will do this by tying funding to declared campaign expenditure - this is how we prevent serial candidates from putting their name on the ballot paper, but not putting in the effort to seek office.
No-one should be running for the houses of parliament just to gain a windfall at the taxpayer’s expense.
Making these changes in law is one step.
Upholding and enforcing those laws is the next.
That’s why this legislation also contains tougher penalties for failures to disclose.
It shouldn’t be a calculated risk to take the cash up front and debate the consequences later.
Disclosure should be inbuilt, instinctive and automatic.
And it should be as close to real-time as possible.
This means as close to instantaneous as the technology and accounting allows - this has to be the next step.
Because when we say the Australian people have a right to know – they have a right to know before they cast their vote.
Australians shouldn’t have to wait until the election is a distant memory before they find out who gave what. Our rules go for businesses, banks, unions – and wealthy individuals.
Of course, no party is without fault on this issue.
None of us can say we have always been saints.
Everyone has talked about cleaning up the system, this legislation is a chance to go beyond talk.
It’s a chance for the government to work with Labor, for the parliament to work together, to put the right to know into law.
If the government stand in the way, if they block this reform - they’ll be giving every single Australian another reason to be cynical about politics.
If they are happy to be part of the problem, as long as they profit from it, people will mark them down.
It’s that simple: secrecy or reform. Part of the solution – or part of the problem.
We want to make the system stronger and fairer - and just get on with it.
In the Labor Party we know where we stand:
- More transparency
- More accountability
- Tougher penalties
- And a better system
We need to respect the Australian people - they are the ones we are here to serve.
We all need to do better.
I have absolute faith in the Australian people, they will recognise this legislation for what it is.
An important first step to rebuilding confidence in the whole system.
And I ask the Government to work with us, for the sake of the nation.