Politicians would have to declare political donations over $1000 in real time as part of a sweeping package of integrity measures Special Minister of State Don Farrell hopes to introduce by mid-2023.
Labor also wants to introduce “truth in political advertising” laws and potentially double the number of senators allocated to the Northern Territory and the ACT, from two each to four. The proposals would be examined in an inquiry by the joint standing committee on electoral matters.
Real-time disclosure would mean that, for example, former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull would have had to declare the $1.75 million he donated to the Liberal Party in 2016, which under current laws he did not have to disclose for more than a year.
Similarly, some advertisements run on social media platforms during recent federal elections could have been pulled under truth in advertising laws.
Senator Farrell told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald the package of proposals, which had been Labor policy in opposition, were designed to deliver “greater transparency and greater representation”.
With federal parliament to return in a fortnight, Farrell said the inquiry could begin once new committee memberships were decided.
“For instance, at the moment, you don’t have to make a donation disclosure under roughly $15,000. We want to reduce it to $1000 and we want to look at real-time disclosure laws,” he said.
“We won’t proceed with legislation until JSCEM [the parliamentary committee] has had a chance to look at it all. And we would prefer to do these things with consensus. For us, this is about transparency.”
Many of the proposed changes are likely to find favour with the crossbench and the Greens, who already have similar policies, and the suite of measures are in addition to Labor’s plans to create a federal integrity commission.
The truth in political advertising would apply “across the board” and take in online and potentially social media, Farrell said.
“Media is so diverse now that you’ve really got to look broader than just say a newspaper ad or something like that…we’re inviting JSCEM to examine the issue. We’ve got concerns about what… people have been saying and … that will be one of the things we will ask them to examine when it’s doing its report,” he said.
The inquiry by the parliamentary committee would take six to 12 months, Farrell said, and would potentially also examine issues raised by the Australian Electoral Commission about early voting.
At present, the NT has two senators for about 250,000 residents and the ACT has two senators for 460,000 people, whereas Tasmania has 12 senators – because it is a state – for 560,000 people.
Farrell said that “on the one vote, one value issue and looking at the population numbers in the NT and the ACT, we want to see if there is a need for greater representation”.
“We will look at the numbers. There is pressure to increase the number of senators from those [territories].”
Farrell would not specify how many extra senators the territories could receive but two senators are considered more likely than one as each major party would likely gain one extra senator each from both territories.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr recently called for the number of senators from the territories to double.
Granting the territories two more senators each would require legislation, not constitutional change, and according to constitutional scholar Anne Twomey, it would not require an increase in the number of MPs in the lower house, as would be required if the number of state senators was raised.
“You can increase the number of Territory senators without having to increase the number of politicians overall [in the lower house],” she said.
Written by James Massola. Originally published in the 9 papers on July 13 2022.