The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN [5.38 p.m.]: I speak in debate on the Government’s Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Bill 2011. A significant achievement in the Greens decade-long campaign is removing the influence of money from politics. I do not hesitate in joining my Greens colleagues in claiming a Greens achievement in the passage of this bill.
The Hon. Lynda Voltz: You are taking out the unions.
The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN: We are not taking out the unions. The credit for this bill can be justly claimed by Greens campaigners, including Senator Lee Rhiannon and Greens donations expert Dr Norman Thomson, whose calm advice and incredible expertise in the area of donations reform truly made the Democracy4Sale project the world-class project that it is. It exposed the level of donations from corporations to political parties.
The Greens Democracy4sale project began in March 2002. Lee Rhiannon and Norman Thompson began a small research project to classify the top donor companies by industry sector, to see what influence political donations were having on the major parties. They estimated that the project would take about 30 hours. Several years and thousands of research hours later the project now analyses all political donations made to New South Wales political parties and presents this data to the public in a simple website that sorts donations to political parties by industry category. What an inspiring and revolutionary project Democracy4sale was. We can thank Democracy4sale in large part for the incredible situation we are now in, where the Premier of New South Wales has described the banning of corporate and organisational donations as “a reasonable, measured and equitable way to put in place a system of political participation in New South Wales that is more transparent and more accessible.”
This is the Premier of New South Wales adopting Greens policy, and I congratulate him and the Government for this. And so I remind the House that this bill’s key feature—a ban on all political donations from corporations and other organisations—is not only core to The Greens policy; it is an absolutely essential step towards ridding New South Wales of money politics, because we know that the influence of money on politics is insidious, to say the least. The reality that organisations and corporations can buy influence with policymakers and legislators is contrary to every democratic ideal and to the Australian mantra of a fair go. No, this bill is not perfect. And, yes, it does impact on affiliated organisations in the way some political parties have been operating. But, as the Hon. Trevor Khan has said today, this bill does not prevent organisations affiliating with political parties and will not prevent unions from affiliating with Labor.
The Hon. Lynda Voltz: Yes, it does.
The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN: No, it does not. It just gets the money from those organisations out of parties. We all know that as political parties we get funding of $80,000 per upper House member of Parliament to pay for administration for political parties. It is not as though Labor will not have any money if affiliated unions decide not to affiliate as a result of this bill. Of course, there has to be a price paid to get this type of reform through. But the hard fact of the matter is that we have to get money out of politics, and that will hurt. We understand that Labor and the Shooters and Fishers Party are not happy with us about this. Of course they are not. This bill impacts on those parties, and they have spoken at length about that. But, unfortunately, the road to cleaning up politics necessarily involves removing donations from not only corporations but all organisations, including unions.
As members have heard today, The Greens have discussed this matter at length and have prepared various amendments to the bill. But, as we have also heard today, the Government has not met with The Greens this year to discuss any of our amendments. However, I will put on the record that the Premier met with The Greens twice last year to discuss whether the Government would be open to supporting some of The Greens amendments that we believe would improve the bill. The Premier was not willing to agree on amendments at that time, and he has not been willing to meet with us more recently to discuss further amendments. This is unfortunate, as there are some amendments on which we could have found common ground with the Government in seeking to improve this bill, for example, with better enforcement measures.
However, as we have heard, the Government will not be supporting any amendments. So The Greens cannot support amendments that will ultimately lead to the bill being defeated in the lower House because, on balance, The Greens deeply held principle of cleaning up politics and getting money out of politics has to be upheld in this case. Therefore we have no choice other than to support this bill. That means, as my colleague Dr John Kaye has said, not supporting any of the amendments which will kill the bill, and Labor and the Shooters and Fishers Party know that.
I would like to turn now to one of the main arguments I have heard against this bill, that is, that it would impact on the ability of environmental groups to campaign. I have heard this claim ever since the bill was tabled—in private conversations I have had with members of this place and with members of the community outside it, in the media, and again and again today during this debate. The Hon. Robert Borsak said this bill would kill community groups, including “greenies”, to use his language. The Hon. Steve Whan, in his contribution to the debate, said that the online campaigning organisation GetUp! would not be able to run campaigns. That is simply not true. Organisations like the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales, GetUp!, the Wilderness Society, the Australian Conservation Foundation and Greenpeace, et cetera, receive the vast majority of their donations from individuals, not from other community groups.
The Hon. Lynda Voltz: But not all of them.
The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN: GetUp! is not a peak body. GetUp! has been used in this discussion; every member who has spoken in the debate today has suggested that that organisation’s environmental campaigning will be adversely affected. That is simply not true. GetUp! is an environmental group, not a peak body. However, GetUp! is a registered third party campaigner in New South Wales which receives most of its donations from individuals. Therefore, it will still be able to spend up to $1.05 million on political campaigning that is related to the State election, as long as that $1.05 million is from individuals. If this bill was going to impact on the ability of environmental groups to do what they do best—that is, to run environmental campaigns—they would have been making public statements to that effect. And those would have been very loud public statements—as environmentalists know how to do so well. They would also have been making submissions to the inquiry but they did not. No environmental organisations in New South Wales made a submission to the inquiry and nor did GetUp! Further, these groups made no comment, either publicly or to me, that they were worried about the impact of this bill on their work.
The Hon. Lynda Voltz: So it only matters if they talk to you?
The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN: I am correcting misinformation, which has been spoken about at length in this House by members of the Labor Party, that this bill would affect environmental campaigning. That is simply not true. As for the State’s peak environment body, the Nature Conservation Council, it receives the vast majority of donations from individuals. Nothing in this bill will stop the Nature Conservation Council from using the donations it receives from individuals on electoral expenditure. Under the Act electoral expenditure is defined as:
… expenditure for or in connection with promoting or opposing, directly or indirectly, a party or the election of a candidate or candidates or for the purpose of influencing, directly or indirectly, the voting at an election.
However, many not-for-profit organisations have certain restrictions placed on them due to their charitable status, including the Nature Conservation Council and many other environment groups as well as thousands of other community groups. I am not sure whether all members are aware, but the Australian Taxation Office already restricts what type of campaigning not-for-profit organisations which are registered for deductible gift recipient status are able to do. Deductible gift recipient status means that organisations are able to take tax deductible donations. Many charities have deductible gift recipient status. Any organisation that has deductible gift recipient status is at risk of losing that status if its main purpose is seen as no longer charitable; in other words, if it is seen as a predominantly lobbying organisation.
We saw that happen when the Australian Taxation Office revoked the Aid/Watch organisation’s tax deductibility status in 2006. Thankfully, the organisation’s deductible gift recipient status was reinstated upon appeal to the High Court. So restrictions are already in place for many non-profit organisations when it comes to how much, and what type of, campaigning they can do during election periods. Let us remember too that third party campaigners will still be able to spend $1.05 million if they were registered before the commencement of the capped expenditure period for the election. That is a fair amount of money. Then there is an additional cap of $20,000 for expenditure incurred by a third party campaigner substantially for the purposes of the election of a candidate in a particular electorate. I would like to read out part of the contribution of Professor Anne Twomey to the inquiry:
The most contentious and vulnerable part of section 96D, however, is its application to donations to third-party campaigners. The effect is to prevent lobby groups from acting as third-party campaigners where they raise money for political campaigns from other groups with the same interests. Hence an association that represented the interests of shooters, pubs and clubs, environmentalists, religious bodies, or retail businesses, which would ordinarily receive its funding from rifle clubs, hotels, environment groups, churches or shops, would under section 96D be banned from receiving those donations and would be effectively neutered from running a political campaign during elections. This would leave the third-party campaigning field to big corporations, unless lobby groups were able to raise sufficient funds from individual donations from people on the electoral roll, which would be exceedingly difficult.
While I agree with this statement to some extent—and I thank Professor Anne Twomey for her excellent work in this area and for her contribution to the inquiry—I repeat that because of the way in which environmental groups in New South Wales are funded, section 96D will not impact on environmental groups to any significant degree. We have not sold out non-profit organisations, which The Greens have been accused of doing today. I am sure what environmental groups and most non-profit organisations would like to see is the political system cleaned up. They want money out of politics just as The Greens do.
As we heard from my colleagues Dr John Kaye and the Hon. Jeremy Buckingham, this is a very hard decision for The Greens. We have thought and talked long and hard about what position we will take on this bill. Our members have debated our position long and hard because of the tension this bill creates between one more significant step towards cleaning up politics and the impact it will have on affiliated organisations like unions—not environmental groups—and some political parties. The Greens support unions and the right for unions to be able to campaign. Let us remember that this bill will allow unions to campaign. It will still allow each union to spend up to $1.05 million during the election. It is disingenuous to say that The Greens have sold out unions or non-profit organisations by supporting this bill, which is one step closer to removing money from politics. The Greens support the bill.