Senator Jacqi Lambie: I reckon the only group of Australians less trusted than bankers is politicians at the moment, but the effect of that gradual erosion of trust is serious. It has a serious effect on the ability of people in this house to make a difference. That is the reason why I have been calling for a federal ICAC since day one. I do not care if it is a royal commission or federal ICAC; this needs to be opened up. Open up those floodgates.
Those on the Labor benches cannot say the same. They had a chance to formally support a federal integrity commission in their party platform at the 2015 national conference, but they fluffed it. They talk tough now but they have been dragged kicking and screaming to the table. We have nearly got them in a corner. It isn’t hard to see why. I am sorry to say it, but the reason why these political parties take money from foreign donors is the same reason they cannot be trusted to put a federal ICAC in place. They cannot be trusted to do what is needed because they are more interested in doing what is best for their bank balance than what is best for their country.
When it blows up in their faces they suddenly support reform. In the meantime, every controversy inflates public support for a federal corruption watchdog. When it is a Labor politician caught up in a scandal people just do not think, ‘Better vote for the Liberals instead,’ and when they hear about a Liberal caught up in a scandal they do not think, ‘Labor has got my vote.’ When it comes to even a whiff of political corruption it is a case of there being a pox on both your houses, because you are both gorging yourselves out of the same trough. In the eyes of the public you are both guilty of looking after yourselves first and foremost. The public do not even get a look in.
If you are serious about doing something real about this, you will not just ban foreign donations to political parties at the federal level, because you would be kidding yourself if you thought that this problem starts and ends with the people who work in this building. I support the proposal to ban foreign donations, not because it is what I would have proposed with a blank piece of paper but because this place needs something more than nothing. The only thing that is going to get the two major parties to agree to reform is the public demanding it, and I tell you that they are on their knees. Make no mistake, the only reason we are talking about this today is that the public are out there talking about it on their knees.
For too long the major parties have been locked in a comfortable conspiracy of silence. They have not wanted to touch the system of handling foreign donations because both of them have profited off it. That is embarrassing. It is as shameful a display as you are likely to see. It is a stunning example of the political elite deciding to put their political interests ahead of the national interest. It is a display of politicians agreeing to corrode the public’s faith in our democratic institutions and doing so for profit and self-advancement. Make no mistake, every time we read about another donation slicking the hands of another politician we question who our elected representatives are really representing.
The world faces big challenges right now and the system we have relied on to help us navigate these challenges relies on the confidence of the public. Every foreign donation chips away at that confidence. We need to be guided by principle now more than ever, and we need to be seen to be doing so. But instead we see politicians of both sides locked into a dirty deal where both sides profit from the same corrupting system so long as nobody rocks the boat. I think those days are about over. It should not be acceptable to run down the public’s faith in their political representatives so long as both sides are as bad as each other. What happened to being better? When did this job become about being less worse than the other team?
If one side is profiting from foreign donations, that should be an opportunity to stand proud and say you will not do the same and that should be an opportunity to highlight the shameful behaviour of your opponents. Instead, it is being treated as an opportunity to do the same thing, as an opportunity to debase yourself and your democracy at the same time. The public see time and time again that the two major parties prefer the latter. They have decided to run down the public’s trust for their own private benefit and now, having been embarrassed by revelations that they ignored the advice of ASIO and stuck their noses right back into that trough of foreign donations, they rush into action to say they oppose foreign donations and want the whole system reformed.
It is great that there is finally some will to change this broken system, but let us not lose sight of what is really needed. A federal anticorruption watchdog would not solve all problems or reassure all of the public’s fears about the influence of foreign donors on the political class, but if it helps restore some confidence in the ability of politics to be a force for good in people’s lives then it is worth doing 100 per cent, and that can only happen if it is given a big set of chops and it gets to do its job independently, with all the powers we can possibly give it and the resources to do its job.
People all around the world are sick to death of politics and politicians. When it comes to politics, business as usual is on the nose, and it is not hard to see why: the taxpayer is being played for a mug. Politics has to clean up its act; it has to get its act together both in practice and in perception. The only way to do that is to put an end to the system that has let foreign donations flourish for as long as they have.
How we do that is simple: step one—we ban foreign donations and cap all other donations at $1,000 per donor per financial year. That makes it harder for any one donor to exert influence, by diluting the value of any one donor to a political party. This needs to be coupled with immediate disclosure of all donations in real time so that the days of there being a long delay between money received and money disclose are put to an end. The public is not buying it anymore either, I can assure you. If we do this we will go a long way towards ridding the public of the perception that politicians are stuffing their pockets with foreign donations, or even with corporate donations that are only ever made to get a return on their investment.
Step two—we introduce a federal anticorruption and integrity watchdog, one that is funded adequately and appropriately and with the powers needed to hold the political class to account. Taken together, this package would restore the integrity of the donation system by reducing the value of foreign donations to the major political parties. This is the only proposal that is constitutional, reasonable and effective. It would demonstrate to the public a new commitment to integrity and independence. I can tell you now: this country could do with this. It is what is needed and it is what the public deserves.
Chamber Senate on 13/06/2017 Item ADJOURNMENT – Donations to Political Parties, Speaker: Lambie, Sen Jacqui.Attribution Parliament of Australian full- Official Document Copyright: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/au Document used for News Reporting.