Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:22:06) — I am very pleased to stand and speak on the Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2018. I have to say that at the beginning of this week I was not going to be saying what I am saying now. At the beginning of this week I approached this with quite some ambivalence. This bill will deliver some important changes and transparency for our Parliament. While it delivers on a number of the recommendations from the Electoral Matters Committee Inquiry into the Conduct of the 2014 Victorian State Election, some of those recommendations were repeats of the recommendations from the Electoral Matters Committee report on the 2010 election. A number of those reforms have been included in this bill, and I am pleased to see that.
We were not spoken to about this bill. The coalition had been very supportive of the bill. Mr Smith spoke in glowing terms about this legislation in the other house. He said he had been working on it and discussing it for six months. He thought it was important reform and that going forward this was what was needed. We needed to create greater transparency. We have to recognise that democracy actually does cost and that the public has lost its trust in us. I have said that a lot of times in here. The public has lost its trust in us. I think I have actually managed to bring some integrity and I think the crossbench has tried to bring some integrity to this.
Honourable members interjecting.
Ms PATTEN — Because the bill that you were supporting was just entrenching the privilege of the major parties, to the extent that you would have killed off the minor and emerging parties with this legislation — and you were very happy to support it then. We know that in 2015, 19 per cent of our population had some trust in political parties — 19 per cent had some, 81 per cent had no trust in political parties. Voters in regional and rural areas were particularly disillusioned. More than one in four Australians now vote for someone other than the Liberals, The Nationals or the ALP.
Mrs Peulich interjected.
Ms PATTEN — Mrs Peulich, just to take up that interjection, I feel like you are the shadow minister for the Reason party. You constantly seem to want to talk about my party and my vote, and frankly I do not know whether to feel slightly chuffed about it —
Honourable members interjecting.
Ms PATTEN — I would not be so disrespectful —
Honourable members interjecting.
Ms PATTEN — Mrs Peulich, I did not interrupt you during your contribution. I would appreciate the same respect shown to me. As I was saying, more than one in four Australians now vote for someone other than the Liberals, Nationals, the ALP or the Greens in the Senate and the Legislative Council, and this is explained by the falling trust.
We saw that absolute breach of trust on Good Friday, and from the other side we have seen the breach of trust in what was called out as rorting — and that is exactly what people expect from us. They think that we get dodgy money from corporations or dodgy money from unions and that we wash and launder this money through our processes. Then, to add insult to that, we pile political propaganda into mailboxes, onto Facebook pages and onto billboards around their highways and around their streets.
People have lost trust in us. The Grattan Institute has articulated this, saying that improving political institutions by reforming political donations, for example, could help reassure the public that the system may be working for them, not for the politicians. We see this so often — policy over people, politics over policy. This bill may give Victorians some reassurance that we are principally removing the ability of big donors to buy influence. Despite what the coalition has been saying today, it will also reduce the influence of unions over Labor Party members.
These things, I trust, will enhance the integrity of the Victorian electoral system in the long term. But, as I said, I could not have supported this bill in its original form. The bill would have killed off minor parties by denying them private funding and not balancing this with any public funding. The same public funding would have entrenched the Liberals, The Nationals, the ALP and the Greens, who were all complicit in the formation of the original bill.
Despite what Mr Rich-Phillips has said on the floor of this chamber, it certainly seems that just a couple of weeks ago this bill had the full support of the coalition and that there had been considerable conversations with the coalition. The coalition accepted that we needed to change our donations process and that the public thought that donations were an issue. To paraphrase something that was said in the other house, they agreed that this was complex and vexed and that we had to do something. They were very open to this piece of legislation.
I note that they mentioned they might put some amendments up, but I have seen no amendments from the coalition. I have actually been trying to make this bill into something that can work — something that can work for small parties, something that can work for emerging parties and I think, at the end, something that can work for all Australians. I think that minor parties play a major role in scrutinising government, particularly in this house. We also play a role in being able to initiate policies and initiate legislation. I would certainly say that small parties have played a role, including me, on voluntary assisted dying, supervised injecting centres in Richmond, ridesharing reform and safe access zones around clinics.
When I look at the bill as it is presented today, with the amendments that have been negotiated over the last few days, I am pleased. I think what I am most pleased about is that there will be a future cap to campaign expenditure that will be implemented by an independent panel review following the 2022 election. This will be legislated. I think this is absolutely crucial; it is something that people have been calling for for decades. I would have liked it to happen quicker, but I respect that these things do take time. The amount of time frustrates me.
I would just like to quote from an article by Professor Joo-Cheong Tham, who is a professor at the Melbourne Law School:
The absence of limits on election campaign spending in the Victorian legislation risks placing pressure on the ‘political donation’ caps, as parties and candidates seek to meet unabated demand for campaign funds. If the bill had provided for limits on spending, they may have curbed the impact of the uneven flow of private and public funds that will result from its enactment — the limits could have acted as a barrier to unequal income translating into unequal spending.
That is exactly right, and we will see the beginnings of that with this legislation. There will be an amendment to ensure that election expenditure is capped. We must do that. Prior to the bill going through, the public has been funding our elections. If we are going to expect them to fund an election, I think we should expect to cap that expenditure, and I think the public expects us to cap that expenditure.
I am very pleased that I have been able to get a move towards expenditure capping, as we see in many other countries and in many other jurisdictions around Australia. Canada, the UK, New Zealand, France, South Australia and the ACT have all introduced capping so that public funding does not keep escalating and one year we are asking for $3 and the next year we are asking for $5, $7 and then $9. It would continue to grow, and we would continue to provide the public with possibly unwarranted propaganda around election time.
I am also pleased to have secured funding for emerging political parties. This is something that I was very concerned about with the legislation as it stood at the beginning of the week. Emerging parties that do not get a candidate elected will still be eligible for some funding, and I think that is really important. They will be limited, and they will be following the same donation rules as parties that have elected members. In previous iterations of the bill they would not have received any funding whatsoever. This gives a small amount of administrative funding for new and emerging parties.
It is wonderful for our democracy. As I said, more and more people are voting for small parties, and I do not want to see wiped out those parties or their ability to establish and have their point of view heard, be on the poll and in the election and taking part in presenting the views of the community. Independent and small parties, in my view, are integral to a democracy. To provide some funding for those emerging parties is really important, and I am very pleased to have been able to achieve that.
The third amendment I have been able to achieve responds to the continuous calls from Vision Australia, who have been asking for electronic voting for vision-impaired citizens of Victoria. It gave very good evidence to the Electoral Matters Committee when we looked at electronic voting. It has written, no doubt, to all of us about the need for electronic voting so vision-impaired people too can have a private vote — so that they too can have the right to privacy that every other citizen has. I will quote from one of the letters I received:
I am a constituent who through disability with low vision is denied the basic human right to be able to vote independently and in secret. This is unfair. My loss of vision has robbed me of my right to participate in good citizenship.
Please help me and others afflicted with blindness and low vision to remain engaged with the community and to exercise the right to vote independently by ensuring remote electronic voting is legislated as changes are made to the Electoral Legislative Amendment Bill 2018.
A person with low vision sets up their computer, sets up their phone and sets up their iPad to work for them so they can effectively communicate well in this visioned world. The bill now will create a review to ensure that, like Western Australia and New South Wales, those with low vision will be able to vote electronically and remotely.
I have been hugely supportive of the changes that will stop our voting centres from being drowned in party bunting. This makes me very pleased. Maybe this is something that is experienced more in the inner city than in regional areas, but so many voters complain about having to run the gauntlet as they enter a polling station, being thrashed by people and having things handed to them, so I think expanding —
Mr Finn interjected.
Ms PATTEN — That is exactly what this bill does. It does create a bit of an exclusion zone. It gives voters 6 metres without having to listen to Mr Finn while contemplating who they may vote for. The 6-metre clearway to give our voters some peace when they go into the booth I think is needed, is warranted and will be very welcomed. The removal of the large majority of the bunting that pollutes our polling booths also will be welcomed.
As we enter this 2018 election campaign period integrity in politics will remain Reason’s central policy platform and will continue to drive the changes in this area. Our agenda is: new fiduciary-type duties for politicians to only act in the interests of the community; open, publicly available ministerial diaries; an end to parliamentary entitlements to be replaced with enforceable office expense rules; and preventing retiring MPs from working as powerful lobbyists around this place.
The public deserves a political system where their representatives act in good faith and with integrity. The self-interest of our major political parties has resulted in significant public distrust, which is something that I will try to rectify. With our amendments, I think this bill is a better bill; this bill will lead to the capping of election spending, which will be welcomed by our community. This bill will lead to ensuring that the emerging small parties that are finding their way in the system will be supported through this system and through this legislation. On that, I commend the bill to the house.