Matter of Public Importance - Donations to Political Parties

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (16:15): Just to make it clear, as I make my contribution to this debate, can I assure the chamber and those who are listening that I have never received a donation from a Chinese company that has associations with the Chinese government. I also want to make it clear, by way of disclosure, that never have I personally received any money from a Chinese company associated with the Chinese government. I am aware that not all senators in this chamber can say that, because we know Senator Dastyari clearly did receive money for his personal use from a Chinese company associated with the Chinese government. Can I also make it clear that I love investment by foreign companies, by foreign investors, in Australia, because we need foreign investment to create wealth and activity and jobs for Australians. So do not ever suggest to me that I am anti Chinese investment in proper investment venues within Australia.

However, I am concerned that members of the Labor Party seem to think it is okay to receive personal donations from Chinese companies associated with the Chinese government—personal donations not only for campaigning purposes but also for purely personal purposes. That concerns me. We remember the celebrated case of a Labor politician who ended up being convicted of fraud. He was defended for most of the duration of that incident by the New South Wales Labor Party, the secretary-general of which at the time was Mr Sam Dastyari. We kept wondering where all of that money was coming from to pay the legal bills of Mr Craig Thomson, because they were substantial. We understood they were being paid by the Labor Party, but one can only wonder where that money was actually coming from. I agree, and I think the Prime Minister is on record saying this as well, that there should be some reform of the political donation system. In fact, the Special Minister of State has asked the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters to look into that. Mr Turnbull is quoted as raising some issues, and I think they are sensible issues.

It is not only the Labor Party that is involved, of course. I see Senator Xenophon over there. He gets a very, very substantial donation from the guy who owns the Optical Superstore. That is the optometrist I used for ages, because they did not give bad service. I only bought these new spectacles a few months ago, and I have since brought another pair from the Optical Superstore. But, when I learnt that the profit from my consultation and from my purchase of these spectacles was going to one of my political opponents, I told the Optical Superstore, 'Thanks for your service. I appreciate what you've done for me, but I will no longer be dealing with you. I will no longer be dealing with you because a substantial part of every $500 I pay for my glasses is profit.' I am told by people who know that you can get these spectacles for about $10. They are made in China, they are very cheap, but in Australia I think I paid almost $500. That is business. I do not mind people making profits at my expense, but I do object when I find that their donations are funding political campaigns against me.

Then we get onto the Greens political party. The largest single donation ever in the history of Australian political campaigns was given to the Greens political party by a Mr Graeme Wood. Those of us who were around—and there are not many left—remember that Mr Wood was trying to set up an online newspaper which he wanted tax-deductible status for. Do you remember that? It all happened just about the time the Greens got this $1.6 million donation.

Senator Waters: I have a point of order: an unfair inference on members of this chamber. There is absolutely no connection between those two matters, and the senator should withdraw that inference.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Back ): That is a debating point, but thank you very much for making it. Senator Macdonald, please resume.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Mr Acting Deputy President, I have only just started! At various Senate committees, who was the greatest protagonist of this tax deductibility for those who—no names mentioned—might just want to set up an online newspaper? The greatest protagonist was former Senator Bob Brown, the then leader of the Australian Greens. He did not declare an interest at the time. Mr Wood is quoted as saying that the $1.6 million he gave to the Greens was the best investment he had ever made. People can draw their own conclusions from this. I only raise these issues involving the Labor Party, the Greens and Senator Xenophon because clearly we need to have a look at these sorts of things.

I know the Greens receive enormous amounts of money—as does Mr Katter, I might say—from the union movement. It comes from the CFMEU, a union that is always before the court for criminal activity and breaches of its act, and the Greens and Mr Katter both happily accept donations from the CFMEU. We do not know where the CFMEU gets its money from. We know it does not pay tax. We know from recorded evidence in various court cases that the CFMEU does deals with some unscrupulous employers. Do we know whether those employers who pay big money to the CFMEU—who then pay it to the Greens and the Labor Party and Mr Katter—and those companies that the CFMEU gets its money from are Chinese companies, Indian companies, English companies or American companies? We really need to look into that and see where these moneys are coming from.

I notice the Greens and the Labor Party are always keen to want certain donors banned, but they never seem to raise the issue of the union movement, who are completely unaccountable to the Australian—

Senator Waters interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You have raised that, have you? So you are going to insist that donations by unions are no longer allowed. I am pleased to hear that, Senator Waters. That is very, very good news. I wonder how you will account to the CFMEU—and, I think, to the MUA as well, wasn't it? I will be interested to see how you are going to explain to the CFMEU and the MUA that you are no longer going to allow them to make these donations to the Greens political party, because the Greens are always holier than thou when it comes to these sorts of things, but they are always a bit embarrassed when people point out that the CFMEU—that union that is always in trouble before the courts—made substantial donations to the Greens political party.

One might then ask: why do you think it is that the Greens political party and the Labor Party were so antagonistic to the ABCC? They voted against it time and time again. If you were to follow their donations, if you were to follow why they are here—their raison d'etre—they are here because of donations not only from big business, in the form of Mr Graeme Wood, but also from the CFMEU and, I think, the MUA. And if I am wrong there I will apologise for that later, but I am certain about the CFMEU.

These sorts of donations really need to be looked at a little further, and I think Mr Turnbull's floating of the idea that donations should be only from individuals seems to be a very good one. That is something that needs to be further investigated, and it is something that I hope the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters will do. So whilst I am not certain about committing to comprehensive and immediate political donations reform, I do think the JSCEM should look into this— (Time expired)

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