Transcript – Drive with Patricia Karvelas – Radio National

Topics: foreign donations, WA election

E&OE …

 

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Welcome to RN Drive.

 

SENATOR SCOTT RYAN:

Good afternoon Patricia.

 

KARVELAS:

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters recommended foreign citizens and entities be banned from donating to Australian-registered political parties. In this report that has come down this afternoon it also recommends harsher penalties for those who break the rules. It is now your responsibility to put these recommendations into practice, when are you going to do it?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well there is a lot of work to be done on the issue of foreign donations Patricia. This report was due to a reference I gave to the committee on behalf of the Government last year and is the second in a series of reports. There is an important difference today, which doesn’t meet the standards the Government has set, and that is about ensuring foreign donations, if we are to move down the path of banning them, that they don’t actually find their way into Australian politics through loopholes. And sadly, the Labor Party walked away from, what I thought, was a widespread understanding that if you’re actually putting ads on TV, if you’re having people stand out the front of polling booths, just because you’re not a registered political party, doesn’t mean you should be able to take foreign money.

 

KARVELAS:

You mention that, so I will go to that. In their dissenting report, Labor said the move that you talk about could restrict the ability of not-for-profits to engage in the national debate about issues like overseas aid, for instance.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

That is completely and utterly untrue and a diversion from Labor walking away from a key principle here. We currently require third parties, as they’re called – people who get involved in politics, for example, might run TV ads, might letterbox, might stand out the front of polling booths and they often do it at election time itself so that when people are walking in, you might get a how-to-vote card from an activist group as well – it would create a massive loophole to actually say, ‘well the TV ad that comes on during the break that is paid for by the Liberal or Labor party, that can’t be funded by foreign money, but an activist group can put a TV ad on, and some of these groups have hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars, but that can be paid for with foreign money’. And we don’t even have the same disclosure requirements. The Government’s made clear that we need to actually make sure that if foreign donations and foreign money are to be regulated because they’re a problem, there has to be a consistent law.

 

KARVELAS:

So given you don’t have support from Labor on this part of the issue, this third-party issue, why not proceed on what you do have support for, which is the part where you both agreed?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Because I’m not going to create a law that creates a funnel, an opportunity or a loophole of this scale. Now the Government will consider the report and will respond in due course. I am optimistic, I saw Mr Shorten say today he still wants to talk to the Government about this. We already regulate third parties by requiring disclosure of political expenditure. It would be unprecedented to say that we are going to have a ban on foreign donations, but we are going to exempt or provide a ‘get out of jail free’ for GetUp!

 

KARVELAS:

So where does that leave the reform? More talking with Labor, because the report’s been handed down? Obviously there is some urgency on this issue, when do you plan to proceed?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well there is a lot of work still to be done on defining a foreign donation, Patricia. I think we’ve spoken before about how this isn’t the easiest thing to define. Do we mean a foreign-owned company in Australia? Labor’s proposal I think runs the risk of being unconstitutional by saying that an Australian citizen living overseas, who is on the electoral roll and can vote, might not be able to make a donation from their bank account. This actually requires a bit of work. What’s disappointing about today is that I thought the application of it, to all people currently covered by the Electoral Act. There is no proposal to expand this, it is simply saying, ‘well everyone covered by the Electoral Act disclosure rules is also going to have to be covered by the foreign donation rules’. I’m happy to have conversations and I hope we can progress it.

 

KARVELAS:

How will this ban apply to dual citizens?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well, again, there are lots of legal issues around this. My personal view – not being a lawyer, I’ll hasten to add – is that as the committee has reflected, you wouldn’t want to apply the ban to dual citizens. If you’re an Australian citizen and you can vote in an election, I don’t think you want to head down a path of saying because of a foreign nationality you hold as well, you wouldn’t be able to make a donation.

 

KARVELAS:

So do you feel like you and Labor have come any closer together? Because the main sticking point still remains.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well I was caught by surprise by this Patricia, to be honest. I thought that given Bill Shorten said earlier this year that Labor’s legislation would ban foreign donations, full stop, that the application of this equally across all the bodies that are regulated by our Electoral Act could be almost taken for grant. There are a lot of issues about what a foreign donation is. Labor has walked away from that commitment of Bill Shorten and if they want to come back to that, the Government is very happy to talk to them.

 

KARVELAS:

The Greens have raised concern the ban would not include groups such as the Minerals Council of Australia because it was funded by large membership fees, which were not technically donations. Doesn’t that provide – I mean the kind of line you’re pushing – doesn’t that create two tiers where groups like that can get away with it, but groups like GetUp! are targeted?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

What I’m interested in Patricia, is consistent laws.

 

KARVELAS:

But that’s inconsistent. The Greens have a good point then.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

No it’s not, because there is no allegation that there is foreign money. For example, the Greens also talk in their recommendations, I understand, about banning donations from companies. Now that’s a wider political donations discussion, which the committee is now moving onto as part of the reference I gave it, to talk about the wider political donations laws and rules. But this was about money from overseas, foreign money, however defined. It is a furphy to say BHP and Rio Tinto, with a huge presence in Australia, the Greens want to ban them because they might disagree with the campaign. I just want the rule that applies fairly and equally.

 

KARVELAS:

When would you like to legislate?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well there is some work to be done on foreign donations. I don’t necessarily want to put a timeline on it because the Government has to go through its processes [inaudible].

 

KARVELAS:

Would you like it to happen this year?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I think I could say I would like it to happen this year, yes.

 

KARVELAS:

So you think by the end of this year you’d like to see this legislation passed?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well, what I’d like isn’t always what the Senate does. But I have been focussing on this. I’ve been doing some work in the lead up to this report on what defines a foreign donation, now that we’ve got the report, I’ll take my time to read it, seriously consider it, and speak to other parties.

 

KARVELAS:

Just a final question, the West Australian election is on tomorrow. Obviously all eyes on Western Australia to see just how this One Nation deal will affect the Liberal Party, will affect One Nation? Will the Barnett Government even hold on? Obviously after tomorrow we will know. But are there any political lessons here because you’ve got a lot of blow back over this One Nation deal in Western Australia, should it be something that is replicated, for instance, in Victoria?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well, I generally I have a view of not commenting on state elections and I definitely don’t comment on them the day before polling day. Let’s wait and see what happens in the Western Australian election. I hope the Government gets re-elected. I don’t want to see what happened in Victoria, with the Government ripping up contracts and hoping the money would flow anyway. I don’t want to see the same thing happening to the people of Perth and Western Australia.

 

KARVELAS:

Sure, but I asked you to reflect on the One Nation deal. Are you concerned about that deal and the implications?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

The time for reflection on an election is after the polling booths have closed and the votes have been counted.

 

KARVELAS:

All right, so I’ll invite you back on next week and you can reflect?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

You might be jumping the gun there Patricia.

 

KARVELAS:

Senator Scott Ryan, thanks for joining me.

[ENDS]

Author: senatorryan

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