ABC 7:30

SUBJECT/S: The government’s hypocrisy on donation reform










SUBJECT/S: The government’s hypocrisy on donation reform


HAYDEN COOPER, PRESENTER: My guest tonight is the Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, thanks for coming in.


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you for having me Hayden.


COOPER: Well be honest, it hasn’t been the best week for Labor has it?


DREYFUS: No, of course. And it’s now finished because Senator Dastyari has said that he did the wrong thing and he is resigning.


COOPER: Surely a lot of the damage could have been prevented though if Bill Shorten had sacked him about a week ago?


DREYFUS: Well, a week ago this hadn’t even been raised, this has been dealt with in fact pretty promptly. Bear in mind this started because Senator Dastyari made the disclosure that was required by the rules, he put it out there on the public record.


COOPER: Can you straighten it out for me, has he resigned because this is a distraction for Labor or has he resigned because he did the wrong thing?


DREYFUS: It’s both. He resigned because he did the wrong thing, he’s resigned because it’s a distraction for Labor.


COOPER: Is it still a distraction for Labor?


DREYFUS: Well I don’t see why it would be, Senator Dastyari has returned to the backbench, he’s no longer in the shadow ministry, he’s not the Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate, and no, it’s not a distraction. What it’s done is actually get, I’d hope, the whole of politics in Australia talking about donations reform. Something that Labor has been calling for for many, many years now. Including at the last election calling directly for a ban on foreign donations and we’re still calling for it, we want to see some action from this Prime Minister.


COOPER: Well you’ve seen what the Prime Minister said there and that is that sure, he’s prepared to consider it as long as you also ban donations for corporations and unions. Would Labor come with that? Would you consider banning donations from unions?


DREYFUS: The High Court has already looked at this a couple of years back, and has said absolutely clearly that you can’t, within our constitution, ban corporations from making donations or ban unions from making donations. I think Mr Turnbull has been an absolute hypocrite. Apparently in his ideal world, only very wealthy individuals like himself would be able to give 1 or 2 million dollars to their own political party to buy an election result. Astoundingly knowing at the moment, under donations laws, that it wouldn’t even be formally disclosed for another 18 months. So he is all talk, no action, I call on him to sit down with Labor as soon as he gets back to Australia and we can get somewhere on donations reform.


COOPER: Could you tell me then exactly what Labor wants to do?


DREYFUS: Starting with a ban on foreign donations, secondly a very very large reduction in the disclosure limit. At the moment it is $13,200 thanks to a change to the law by John Howard which indexed it at $10,000, it’s now crept up to $13,200. We say the limit should be $1,000. There’s not a single reason why someone who gives more than $1,000 shouldn’t have to publicly disclose that and the political parties as well. We say that there should be real-time disclosure of donations. This is a ridiculous situation. Mr Turnbull who reportedly made a donation of 1 or 2 million dollars to his own political party at the death knock of a campaign to support his own re-election and doesn’t have to formally disclose it for 18 months, we say straight away it is already happening in New South Wales, and we say there should be no donation splitting which is something which certainly the Liberal Party is massively engaged in where you give to every single Liberal Party branch around the country and thus get under the disclosure limit.


COOPER: What about dual citizens?


DREYFUS: Well dual citizens raises a question about whether they would properly be regarded as a foreign donation. That would be particularly so if they are resident here in Australia. And that is something that will have to be ironed out. But I see that as a nuance. The guts of this is a ban on foreign donations. Most of the donations, it’s absolutely clear that they are foreign donations.


COOPER: Would you say that donation reform is a matter of principle for the ALP?


DREYFUS: It is a matter of principle. We tried when we were in the minority Parliament, during the term of the Gillard government, to get donations reform. I was actually Special Minister of State in 2013, I thought we’d nearly got there. Tony Abbott actually signed an agreement that we would drop the disclosure limit to $5,000, but he reneged at the last minute.


COOPER: If it is so important though, why doesn’t the Labor Party say right here, right now, that OK we’ll stop accepting foreign donations?


DREYFUS: We have said very directly that we will disclose, and we do disclose, all donations over $1,000.


COOPER: But you’ll still take them?


DREYFUS: And the path we should be going down, all political parties should be going down, is a ban on foreign donations which is something that 114 countries around the world have already got to.


COOPER: Why not lead the way? Why not just do it?


DREYFUS: We want to change the rules for all political parties. We want Malcolm Turnbull on his return to Australia to sit down with us. None of this talk, this hypocritical talk about oh it’s something that the joint committee on electoral matters is going to look at - he can act right now and we can get somewhere on donations reform.


COOPER: I assume every MP right now is running around behind the scenes getting their staff to check every donation they have accepted and declared. Have you been doing the same? I presume you have accepted foreign donations for your campaigns in the past?


DREYFUS: None that I am aware of, and I can tell you that personally I am acutely aware of every single donation I have ever received, and I hope that everyone in Parliament is in the same position. And I know my political party, the Australian Labor Party, is well aware of the donations it’s received because we are scrupulous in our disclosure. Unlike our political opponents. Particularly here in NSW, the Liberal Party is still being denied some $4 million by the Electoral Commission of NSW because of its failure to abide disclosure laws.


COOPER: Just finally you touched on, what is wrong with the processes of Parliament, like that committee which has been set up?


DREYFUS: We’ve been around and around and around this topic for years and years. The parameters of it are very well-known, some of them are so easy to do. Real-time disclosure would be one of them. Malcolm Turnbull needs to get right down to this and stop walking out of international conferences to berate Labor senators. I find that an extraordinary act by an Australian Prime Minister, what he’s been doing the last two or three days. Walking out of a conference in China to berate a Labor senator. Walking out of a conference in Laos, he should be concentrating on the work that he’s meant to be doing at an international summit.


COOPER: We’re right out of time but thanks very much.


DREYFUS: It has been good to be with you.