Mr PERRETT (Gympie—LNP) (5.01 pm): I rise to speak on the Electoral and Other Legislation (Accountability, Integrity and Other Matters) Amendment Bill. This bill is an unconcealed manipulation of the electoral laws by the Labor government to hang on to power. Claims that these changes are in the interests of transparency and accountability are dishonest. The reality is that they are cynically designed to favour the Labor Party and to rig the election. The policy objectives are to make significant amendments relating to election campaigning issues of funding, expenditure and signage and dishonest conduct of ministers and councillors. Campaigning expenditure caps will apply to political parties and their associated entities, candidates and third parties.
The legislation is motivated by political goals and raises serious legacy issues. Taxpayers will have to make up funds for political parties. The fundraising burden will shift from the party to the public purse. The advantage will go to political entities that do not rely on donations over those that rely on donations. It will generate a rise in third-party campaigning. The Australian Institute of Progress’s submission said that the bill ‘massively slants financial advantage to the ALP’ and ‘it arbitrarily limits individual and corporate giving to a ludicrously small amount’. The funding caps are designed to skew the system in favour of the Labor Party. Donations from an individual or organisation cannot exceed $10,000 in each parliamentary term, with a $6,000 limit to party candidates, $4,000 for political parties and $4,000 or to a maximum of six third parties over four years. Donations include designing, producing, printing, broadcasting or publishing an advertisement or other election material—for example TV ads— direct distribution costs for an advertisement and conducting opinion polls or research.
The maximum amount that can be spent is $58,000 by the endorsed candidate, $87,000 by an independent candidate, $92,000 by a party with an endorsed candidate in any single electorate and $87,000 by a third party in any single electorate with no more than $1 million in aggregate. The government will compensate political parties with increases in public funding, otherwise known as taxpayers’ money. We cannot even have a budget this year, but the government thinks it is fine to dip its sticky fingers into the pockets of Queensland taxpayers. It shows a breathtaking contempt for the financial burden Queenslanders are carrying. A Courier-Mail editorial said—
… the lesser known part of these laws will radically alter Queensland’s electoral landscape and voters deserve to know about it because it will hit every single one of them in the hip pocket. A compensation for expenditure and donation caps which will supposedly clean up politics, the Palaszczuk government has proposed a very generous new regime of public funding.
Public funding will almost double from $3.14 to $6 for formal first preference votes. The eligibility threshold for political parties and candidates will decrease from six per cent to four per cent. These changes to rig an election will cost an additional $23 million. In effect, the government believes that there is one electorate—not one frontline service that could better use that $23 million. It is $23 million which will not be spent on health, transport, police, law and order, small businesses, ambos, fireys or education.
Political parties which rely on donations for the majority of their funds are more closely connected to their communities and supporters. The AIP said—
The public funding will ensure that candidates in both safe and unwinnable seats will essentially have their campaigns funded for them, whether the public think they are worth supporting financially or not.
This is bad for political parties and also for the taxpayer forced to subsidise not only successful politicians but unsuccessful ones as well. It also gives the existing political parties a free ride. These changes will institutionalise our democracy and promote increased campaigning by third parties. Third parties, other organisations, activists, NGOs, protesters and unions will fight proxy wars on behalf of their political party sponsors. It creates a gross imbalance in favour of those parties that have strong ties to the trade unions.
The expenditure cap of $87,000 which is applied to trade unions means that our state’s 26 trade unions can spend $87,000 in each electorate, up to $1 million in total across the state. Simple mathematics tells you that they can manipulate saturation expenditure across electorates throughout the state. The cost will be a lack of transparency and the Americanisation of our elections. Cash contributions are only part of the equation. The AIP submission said—
… we can’t quantify the totality of the union contribution to Labor … there is abundant anecdotal evidence of unionists being paid and bussed around to operate in various key electorates during election campaigns, as well as warehousing candidates so they can campaign for the next election on a salary, and generally running “independent”, but aligned public relations and issues campaigns beneficial to the Labor Party.
These same unions hold immense sway over this government—over decisions, over
appointments, over preselections and over the agenda. The member for South Brisbane is no longer deputy premier only because the unions said so. The Premier did nothing until the unions said so. That is why we have integrity measures. The bill proposes a new criminal offence when a minister knowingly fails to disclose a conflict of interest, and a new offence to fail to comply with the register of interest obligations with the intent to dishonestly gain a benefit or cause detriment to another person. Both offences have a minimum two years imprisonment or 200 penalty units. A minister convicted of either offence and sentenced to more than one year imprisonment may lose their seat.
The second most senior person in this government purchased a property and failed to make appropriate declarations in a timely manner. Those actions go to the heart of the culture of this government. It is unethical, it manipulates and it is driven by factional machinations. It treats the public with contempt, is arrogant and incompetent. The CCC’s assessment is that, while the then deputy premier did not break the law, what she did should be a criminal offence. This bill does not meet the Premier’s assurance that she would accept the CCC’s recommendations following its assessment of the then deputy premier. The new offences fail to adopt the CCC’s recommendations by requiring proof that the minister had a dishonest intent. The elements of this proposed offence overlap entirely with the existing and more serious offences of the Criminal Code of misconduct in public office and fraud but with a substantially lower penalty.
The CCC was very critical of those proposed integrity offences. The Premier boasted to parliament that the government accepted the CCC’s recommendations, only to have them rejected. The CCC chairperson, Alan MacSporran, said that the laws duplicate and provide a lesser penalty, so it lowers the bar rather than raises it in one sense. The CCC said the laws introduce lesser offences than what is already provided under existing legislation, thus watering down penalties. The government’s rhetoric does not match its behaviour. A Courier-Mail editorial said—
… between the inextricable removal of Queensland’s “Just Vote 1” laws that banned developer donations, the Palaszczuk government already has an established track record of reforms that favour itself … the government (needs) to properly explain to Queenslanders why they must pay a hefty price so politicians aren’t unduly influenced by donors after endless assurances that such prejudice doesn’t exist? After five years in power, it is difficult to accept that the second term Labor administration is suddenly motivated by munificence to clean up politics.
Labor has governed for 26 of the last 31 years. This government has been in power for half a decade—five years which have provided a litany of examples about the culture and standards in William Street. The government applies a different set of rules regarding property purchases, the appropriateness of phone calls to investigating bodies and those at the inner sanctums of power who have enough time to have a sideline business which secured state funds. This bill mocks government claims about accountability and transparency.