HON CHARLES SMITH (East Metropolitan) [10.13 am] — without notice: I move —
That lobbying and political donations influence policy decisions made by political parties and, in the interest of good, transparent and democratic government, Western Australia’s political donations and lobbying regime be reformed to include —
(a) caps on donations;
(b) lower disclosure thresholds;
(c) real-time reporting;
(d) bans on foreign donations; and
(e) a two-year blackout period for public servants joining private operations that stand to benefit from insider knowledge.
[Speeches and comments from various members]
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [10.50 am]: I rise on behalf of the Greens to indicate our support for the motion in front of us today. It is an important discussion for this house to have because the integrity of our electoral process is at the core of the concerns raised by Hon Charles Smith. These concerns have been echoed by the Greens since our party was first established in 1990. Indeed, we have very strong policies at both a federal and state level that call for transparency and reforms of donations and electoral expenditure. The Greens fundamentally believe that all citizens have the right and responsibility to participate in and to equally access the processes of government. That second part, equal access to government, is at the core of the call for electoral reform of donations.
To be very clear, the Greens have long advocated and supported public funding of election campaigns. I want to make sure that is fully transparent. It is clearly there in black and white in our policies and has been since our party was first established. The obvious question consistently gets raised: if not through donations, how will elections be funded? The Greens are of the view that public funding of election campaigns has a role to play. It happens in other jurisdictions. The Greens are not saying that there should not be donations—not at all! As I think Hon Simon O’Brien was effectively suggesting people have a legitimate role to play in expressing their support for one political party or another. I certainly agree that that is a legitimate part of the political process. However, we need to talk about who is accessing the power and authority that comes with the privilege of government. That is where the Greens have a fundamental concern. Although we certainly recognise that individuals absolutely have the right to exercise their democratic rights, we have a genuine concern about large for-profit companies and corporations that are able to buy disproportionate influence. The Greens continue to have that concern.
I think an argument can be made for caps on donations and a discussion can be had about what an appropriate cap would look like. Is an appropriate cap $10 000 or is it $1 million? Who knows? I think it would be important for the community to have a discussion about what people consider to be a reasonable cap in a democratic society that values and treasures the rights of individuals as equal participants in the political process.
The Greens have long advocated for lower disclosure thresholds. The federal and state systems, obviously, currently have different thresholds. We consider it to be a no-brainer that the threshold should be much lower than it is now. The Greens opposed the changes to thresholds when they were introduced at the time and we remain opposed to them. This ties into the issue of donation transparency. That is the concern! We never really know who is donating to political parties. If members support donations being made, at the very least they must think that people have the right to know who supports political parties or individual candidates at any given time. That is why the Greens have strong views about the role of third party donations. Most notably, I am thinking of organisations such as the 500 Club, which are able to donate large amounts but it is very unclear—in fact impossible—to find out where those donations have come from. That lack of transparency is deeply concerning.
We have a real issue with the lack of real-time reporting of political donations. I note that the government said it would look at some reform in this area. However, we have yet to see what will be proposed. At the moment, it can take up to 18 months until people get some idea of who has donated to a political party or candidate. Frankly, that is outrageous. Real-time donations should be able to effectively reveal and potentially shed some light on who is trying to buy influence, particularly with any party that may constitute a government of the day. We need to look at this issue as a matter of priority. It is one that the Greens absolutely support.
The Greens also support addressing the issue of foreign donations, particularly those that go directly to political parties. It is hard to see an argument for any foreign entity feeling the need to interfere in our domestic political process by donating directly to a political party. That area needs to be looked at. I remind members that I have a matter on the notice paper of a reform issue that I think is quite urgent—that is, a bill that will make it unlawful for ministers, who are the executive of government, to sell access to themselves to fundraise for their political parties. I remind members that ministers are given extraordinary powers so that they can undertake their roles most effectively. However, I argue that with those extraordinary powers comes extraordinary responsibility. Frankly, it is inappropriate for certain entities to be able to buy access to a minister and for the minister to use those funds to line party coffers. Serious concerns have already been raised about the Australian Labor Party leaders’ forum and what has happened with the Scarborough development. I have no idea whether something is in it or not, but questions have been raised in the minds of many citizens. As has been said, that is concerning in itself because people lose faith in the integrity of the government process and everyone should be deeply concerned about that.
The Greens also support the principle of the final part of the motion, which is a two-year blackout for public servants joining private organisations that stand to benefit from insider knowledge. As a principle, the Greens are very concerned about this. It is gravely concerning when senior public servants and, particularly, previous ministers are able to benefit commercially from the knowledge and trust placed in them during the period they were in Parliament. It is concerning when they use that for their own personal benefit once they are outside of Parliament. The only reservation I will place on that at the moment—I do not think this is necessarily at odds with the intent of this motion—is that coming up for debate in this house is a bill that will impact severely on some senior public servants. That bill will effectively mean that they will lose their permanency and, as a result, will need to look for work elsewhere, most notably within the private sector. If we are serious, as I think we should be, about wanting to maintain the integrity of our public service and put limits on the capacity of public servants to gain a personal benefit within the private sector, likewise we also need to protect the capacity of our public servants to remain public servants. These things do not happen in isolation. We will be debating that legislation in the near future, so I do not wish to reflect too much further on that. However, we need to ensure that every time we look at these issues, we also look at the broader implications.
[Speeches and comments from various members]
Motion lapsed, pursuant to standing orders.