Support for Fair and Honest Election Funding

(12.03pm 12 October, Parliament House Sydney)

I support the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Amendment Bill 2011, which builds on reforms that were introduced over the past two years. The bill bans donations from anyone other than a person on the electoral roll and prohibits donations from corporations, industrial organisations, peak industry groups, religious institutions and community organisations. Under the bill legislated caps on the amount a party can spend on its election campaign will cover the amount spent by an organisation affiliated with a political party, such as a union. Those changes will create a fairer political system.

I believe political campaign donations are part of our democratic process. They provide an opportunity for people to participate in the political process and express support for particular candidates, policies or groups. As an independent, my election campaigns have relied on donations from residents and members of the local community. Giving donations provides people with an opportunity to express their support. In such cases, donations may be selfless, even altruistic—or they may be made with the intention of supporting a candidate who broadly supports the donor's concerns. Although individuals and organisations may have varying motives for funding political parties and candidates, donations that are intended to influence policies or decision-making for private benefit create community concern and undermine public confidence in the political process. I believe that past practice in political donations has discredited the political process and caused really serious concern. The public does not believe that corporations donate to political parties because they are community minded.

I supported past reforms to ban donations from development and tobacco industries because of the potential for those donations to be used to gain influence over decision-makers, but other industries can use donations to achieve political policy outcomes. I am particularly concerned about donations from the liquor industry. Politics should be about the public interest. This reform will prevent undue influence being exercised over the political process or the perception of it, and that is welcome. Limiting donations to individuals who are enrolled to vote in New South Wales parliamentary elections will help to achieve that.

Currently party campaigns can be topped up with campaigns run by affiliated third party organisations to give that party an unfair advantage over other candidates. What the former Government did with that legislation was really quite cynical and I opposed that move at the time. The inclusion of campaign expenditure of affiliated organisations, such as unions, in the legislated expenditure cap of a political party also will assist to level the playing field. That is particularly important for independents, who do not have the advantage of statewide campaigns. I welcome these latest changes and recent moves in New South Wales to improve what not very long ago was a lax donations regime. I commend the bill to the House.