Parliamentary speeches

Electoral Matters committee report

June 12, 2020

I'm pleased to make a few very brief remarks in connection with the work in progress of this very significant committee. I want to touch firstly on some work which was undertaken initially by the committee in the previous parliament, of which I was a member, and to associate myself with the report, which is in connection with our participation in the international efforts to deal with disinformation, fake news and concerns that are widely shared in this parliament and broadly about the operation of social media and its impact on our democracy. I'm very pleased that my colleagues Senator Brown and the member for Oxley were able to participate in the most recent engagement of that process, and I look to those recommendations and hope that we can see some fruit of that brought back before this parliament. I would also like to speak again briefly on the recommendations that go to the committee's consideration of the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Lowering the Donation Disclosure Threshold) Bill 2019. I want to restate my firm view that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is a particularly significant committee. Unlike the other committees of the parliament, it is the committee charged with safeguarding the institutional framework within which we do our work and conduct our debates. Its work is significant. In the past, and indeed through this committee, I believe, members strive to reach bipartisan views to make sure that there is a broad agreement on the framework through which we undertake our politics.

Right now I believe that rising to this challenge is more important than ever. At the moment we know that Australians crave decision-making that is clearly in the national interest broadly defined and which brings people together. That is something that we are all hearing from our constituents, and we all striving, through the various disagreements we have in this place, to meet those expectations. But meeting those expectations on a day-to-day basis requires us to look seriously at the framework within which our democracy operates. An enormous part of that is ensuring that all Australians can have trust and confidence in the operation of this place and wider democratic institutions. We've seen in recent months, for the first time, an increase in those Australians who feel trust in politics and our democratic institutions. We can't ignore this. We need to recognise that we need to do more to build on this, to turn around a decade-long decline in political trust.

A critical part of that is recognised on the Labor side and, indeed, by many of the crossbench, including my friend the member for Mayo, in reducing the influence, real and perceived, of money on our politics. That is why it is so disappointing to see this bill dealt with summarily by government members. I urge all members of this place to look carefully at the dissenting report of the Labor members and to think about that as a basis for further action in this regard.

We need to come together to boost transparency when it comes to donations reform. We need to look at lowering the disclosure framework as part of a broader approach to tidying up our political institutions. We need to think about real-time donation so that people can more clearly assess any influences on our politics outside the formal process. We need to think about issues around expenditure and ending the arms race around donations that has done so much to damage the standing of politics.

We need to take a broad look at our political institutions now. It would be remiss of me, in encouraging that this week, not to include reference to seeing a voice for Indigenous people reflected at the core of our political institutions. So I urge all members of this place to consider carefully the dissenting report of Labor members and to hold government members to account for the closing remarks in their report, for their commitment to look closely at these issues and to deliver real change in this parliament, so that Australians can have trust and confidence in the operation of our democracy.