Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:32): Well, I do not know. It feels like parents fighting, doesn’t it? We know that both of the major parties are able to manipulate legislation and to manipulate the system to their advantage. And I know that I heard Mr Finn crying poor and Mr Tarlamis saying, ‘We would never do that’. However, we know both of you take advantage of whatever opportunity you can. It is avoidance, not evasion—is that right? There is that very fine line between what is legal and what is not. So I am happy to lend my support to Mr Hayes. I think the motion picks up on Reason Party policy, and I think probably a lot of us on the crossbench would have similar policies. In fact we did some work on this, and certainly during the debate in the last term we worked with Mr Tarlamis and obviously Mr Jennings on trying to find a pathway forward that did give us the system that we as a community deserve and we want.
We want the public to trust in us, and when the public does not, that is when it is really hard to bring them along with change. And as we saw, the Centre for Public Integrity only two weeks ago released a paper called Integrity Inadequacies, and that was particularly focusing on Victoria. They said that our state frameworks were falling short when compared to other jurisdictions. They went on to say that there might be a dinner where Mr Gepp is the lead speaker and people are spending thousands of dollars to hear the wise words of Mr Gepp, but we know that the parma on offer at Mr Gepp’s fine dinner did not cost thousands of dollars. So the difference between the cost of running the event and the fee needs to be explicitly captured as a donation, and I think this is certainly what Mr Hayes was going to in his contribution today and also in his motion. That is actually what New South Wales does. While I certainly think that our legislation would try and capture that, I do not know whether it does adequately. We know that it excludes gifts between registered parties, and I think that is a significant loophole.
We can tighten these donation rules, but I think that the better solution to this problem—and certainly the Centre for Public Integrity concurs—is that we cap election spending. I think that is where we could really disincentivise big donations, disincentivise fundraising, and as Mr Tarlamis knows, that is exactly what I negotiated last term as part of the review. They put an amendment into the Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 so that a review is to be conducted, and that is to happen after this election. In that is whether the act should be further amended to provide for a cap on political expenditure and, if so, whether the cap should apply generally or to specific persons or entities, the value of the cap and the consequences of failure to comply with the cap. That body of work is coming up. After this election we will be looking at that cap, and I think that actually is where we can limit the relevance and maybe the undue influence of donations.
This is from Professor Joo-Cheong Tham from Melbourne Law School, who would also concur:
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 …
And he went on to talk more about this. I think with the independent review due next year I will find it hard to believe that the expert panel would not come to the same conclusion.
I think Mr Hayes goes to that in his point about Canada, that that is one of the things that Canada does—there is a cap on spending. It is the same in the UK and the same in New Zealand, and this is certainly, I think, the way that we can get meaningful change in this. We can curb the perceived undue influence that donations have in our democratic process.
So I see no problem in broadening the definition of ‘donation’, and I was listening to Mr Tarlamis and watching him shake his head during some of this as well. Yes, they did broaden that definition, and it did capture a number of areas that had not been captured previously. But, as I say, there is going to be an independent review after this election, and I welcome that review. Without being unkind, Mr Hayes, I think that review actually will hopefully go to what you are doing and possibly more than us talking on a Wednesday afternoon, as delightful as it has been to be here for this.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Motion by Mr Hayes 6/4/22