Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2000 Week 9 Hansard (7 September) . . Page.. 2962 ..
That this bill be agreed to in principle.
MR STANHOPE (Leader of the Opposition) (10.58): Mr Speaker, Labor accepts the basic intent of this bill, that is, to ensure that as far as practicable the requirements for reporting amounts received by Independent MLAs are the same as the requirements placed on MLAs who are members of parties. Section 230 of the Electoral Act requires Independent MLAs and parties to give the Electoral Commissioner a return disclosing amounts received, amounts paid, and the outstanding amounts of debts incurred each financial year. Returns are to be lodged within 16 weeks after the end of each financial year. Both amounts and the source or destination of transactions are required.
In looking at the government's proposal, the first thing to say is that the government is addressing only one of the three elements in the annual returns, namely, insofar as that requirement affects Independent MLAs. Independent MLAs and the parties will continue to disclose as previously amounts they have paid and debts incurred. Parties will continue to disclose as previously amounts received.
Just what is covered by the term "amounts received" is not defined in the legislation, but the amendment gives us some examples and lists interest on bank accounts, dividends on shares, and salary and other benefits paid as members of this Assembly. I accept that we could all come up with some other examples, such as income from businesses owned, superannuation payments or payments for other employment. Gifts, too, come within the ambit of amounts received. The Electoral Act defines a gift as a disposition of property without consideration of money. The act and the government's bill exclude from disclosure gifts received in a private capacity.
So, Mr Speaker, what is the effect of the government's bill? It will require Independent MLAs to disclose gifts related to the members position in this Assembly. These members will be excused from reporting payments of the kind I listed earlier.
As I said earlier, Labor supports the intent of the legislation insofar as it goes, that is, to put party members and Independent members on the same footing. It may not always be the case that these members should be on the same footing, however, and there is another debate that could be had about that. Being Independent, or being seen as Independent, gives particular benefits, and it may well be that in some circumstances it imposes particular costs. In this case Labor does believe that independent party members should be on the same footing, but we do not agree, however, that parity can be achieved only in the way that the Attorney has suggested through this legislation.
We will propose therefore, Mr Speaker, that rather than reduce the obligation of Independent members we should increase the obligation on all members of the Assembly, including party members. I foreshadow that I will move amendments to require all MLAs to disclose all amounts received by them, and also amounts paid and debts incurred by them. I will also propose an amendment to address the commencement date of the bill. I will move those amendments at a more appropriate occasion.