Page 1673 - Week 05 - Thursday, 8 May 2008

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This is a sad day. Most of these things will pass today because this minister has the numbers, but we need to put it on the record that the Labor Party have undermined our electoral system today.

MR MULCAHY (Molonglo) (8.17): I find myself in agreement with a number of sentiments put forward by Mrs Dunne in relation to this bill. I want to make it very clear at the outset that I certainly will not be supporting the bill in its current form. I acknowledge that the government have made some concessions in their further amendments to the bill, but I am still unable to support it. Certainly, for example, the retention of the offence of defamation of a candidate is most welcome. Mrs Dunne went to some lengths to outline why it was such a foolhardy recommendation and proposal for amendment. The way in which the process existed under the act will now be preserved. It did protect members of this place, and indeed candidates, from the sort of treachery that goes on in the electoral process.

Indeed, I found that, in the 2004 election campaign, a disreputable soul attempted to embark on an exercise of defamation, gave money to a member of this place as well—a matter that is not a closed chapter—and when that person became aware that there were criminal sanctions for defamation, the person suddenly panicked and said, “No, there’s nothing to be concerned about.” If this government had proceeded with plans to remove this, the only protection would have been to proceed to take action in the ACT Supreme Court—and I know that these matters can take three to four years. I am aware of the case involving two prominent businessmen in Canberra that has taken four years. The costs of that matter are in the order of several hundred thousand dollars. As a result of a decision taken in this place a couple of years ago, we now cap payouts at $200,000, which would not even equate to more than two years remuneration for a member of this place.

I know that Mrs Burke thinks this is very funny. She comes into this place, as we have seen in the health area, and it is a matter of saying, “Don’t let the facts interfere; if you can trash somebody in the health area, let’s do it.” In fact, I think it is very serious. I do not care whether it involves Labor, Liberal, Green, independent or any other new party; I think that electors are entitled to a measure of protection from villainous and scurrilous activity of the nature that occurs in election campaigns. So I am pleased that this change will occur, and I endorse everything that Mrs Dunne said about what would have been the case if the government had not retreated from this very foolish reform. Having a reputation besmirched and smeared by false statements is stressful and damaging for the individuals involved, and we need to retain protections that stop people trying to go down this path.

Although there are obviously some fairly minor parts or technical changes in the bill, my objection to the overriding purpose of the bill means that I will not be voting to support it. I am sure that the government’s majority will ensure that the bill passes, but I place on the record my opposition to some of the changes that will result from this legislation. I am obviously not opposed to openness and transparency; I believe that members and candidates should have to declare donations openly when they reach a certain level. I have been diligent in declaring everything in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

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