SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: The impact and influence of donations on the politics and governments of this country, and I start by reflecting on a woman who resides in Adelaide, who has become quite notorious for her full-page ads in the Adelaide Advertiser, Ms Sally Zou. We don’t know much about Sally Zou, but here is what we do know. We know that she is a Chinese national. We know that she has a strong interest in mining, with the rights to develop four mines across the country. We know that she is wealthy—very wealthy. Her business dealings through companies like AusGold Mining Group are opaque and unusual.
We also know, of course, that Sally Zou is a big fan of the Liberal Party. She even went out of her way to set up the Julie Bishop Glorious Foundation, which was apparently established without the knowledge of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, despite bearing her name and despite the fact that Ms Zou has met with the minister on multiple occasions. We know Ms Zou was willing to put her money where her mouth is to the tune of $750,000 in donations to the Liberal Party over the last two years. She is one of the largest donors to the Prime Minister’s own political party, and we know nothing about where that money came from. We don’t know why it was donated or what Ms Zou expects in return.
The Acting Special Minister of State announced the Turnbull Government would overhaul the regulation of foreign donations. The minister said that it was in an effort to crack down on ‘inappropriate foreign interference in our democratic system’. He made the connection explicit: foreign donations risk foreign influence. But the connection raises more questions than it answers. What is it about a donation that makes it possible to interfere with our democratic system? Is it the amount, the identity of the donor or the nationality of the donor, or is it the donation itself and what is expected in return? If the government is concerned about ‘inappropriate foreign interference in our democratic system’, what level of foreign interference is appropriate and what is the government’s real concern? Foreign companies asking for public handouts to open one of the world’s largest Coal Mines in Queensland, aka Adani? The fact that our democratic system is being interfered with, is that the government’s concern? Or is it just about scoring quick political points? Is the government okay as long as the people who are interfering aren’t foreigners?
If the government honestly want us to believe that they are worried about the interference that donations make on our democratic system, then they’ve got to get fair dinkum about cleaning up donations across the board—those coming from domestic money as much as those coming from overseas. If we want to crack down on interference, we’ve got to get real about what the problem is. We know that the legislation mooted by the government is dressed up as a crackdown on foreign donations. Of course, we should have a ban on foreign donations to political parties, particularly when, as the minister has said himself, he’s worried about interference. Yet, on the other hand, of course, the Liberal Party are willing to take $750,000 from one person—no idea where the money’s come from; no idea what it’s for. The government’s proposal recognises that money buys you influence—and that big money buys you influence. This move from the government says that, if you’re a New Zealander who lives in Australia and you want to donate to a political party, you can’t, but that it’s okay to keep taking money from big tobacco, gambling companies, the gambling lobby or mining corporations. The Liberal government, the Liberal Party themselves, have taken $2 million from big tobacco since 1998. They’ve taken $15 million from mining and resource companies since 1998. Why did those companies donate to the Liberal Party? What kind of influence did they want to buy?
Let’s not get fooled here: this is all smoke and mirrors from this government in relation to what they are dressing up as political donation reform. It’s not reform of political donations; it’s an attack on civil society. If they want to get serious about the influence of political donations, they need to identify what the real problem is—and that’s political parties doing the bidding of those donors who continue to donate to them in large numbers. Fixing the problem means actually identifying what the problem is. Foreign donations are a problem because donations are influential, and so are donations given here in Australia. The government have willingly and consistently taken donations. For example, there was $750,000 from Ms Sally Zou, a foreign national—’But we don’t know where the money came from; we don’t know what it’s for.’ There are a lot of questions that need to be answered.
If the government thinks donations interfere with democracy, how about saying that we’ll stop donations from those insidious, greedy, democratically-bullying mining and resource companies straightaway? It is this type of political donation that exerts huge influence on the politics in this place, and the public know it. Talk to anybody on the street and they will say that what’s wrong with politics is trust and the fact that government and political parties don’t act for the people because they’re too busy looking after the mates who paid them to get there. That’s the problem. It’s not just about whether the donation was in one currency or another; it’s about why the donation was given and what the donor wants in return. A new coal mine in Queensland? Mining rights in South Australia? The right to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight in South Australia? If you want to clean up political donations and democracy in this country, it’s time the Prime Minister got serious about where the influence is really coming from.
Source from the Chamber Senate on 6/12/2017 Item STATEMENTS BY SENATORS – Donations to Political Parties Speaker :Hanson-Young, Sen Sarah /parliament of Australia WebsiteP