This debate was delivered 21/10/2014. You can read the full debate here.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE [5.30 p.m.]: On behalf of The Greens I endorse the words of my colleague Dr John Kaye and the contribution from Dr Mehreen Faruqi in debate on the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Amendment Bill 2014. There is a cricket team in New South Wales politics that has been created by the Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC]. The members of that cricket team are: the former Minister for Resources and Energy, Chris Hartcher; the former Premier, Barry O’Farrell; the former police Minister, the Hon. Mike Gallacher; the former Legislative Assembly member Mr Andrew Cornwell.
The Hon. Luke Foley: Left arm over the wicket.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Left arm into the wicket. There is the former member for Newcastle, Tim Owen; the former Liberal Party member, now offensively using the term “crossbench member”, Craig Baumann; former Liberal Party member Garry Edwards; former Liberal Party member and nightwatchman Darren Webber; former Liberal Party member Chris Spence; and former Liberal Party member the Hon. Marie Ficarra. That is an 11-member cricket team—the ICAC mixed XI. Collectively, through the work of the Liberal Party, they have dragged New South Wales politics to an all-time low. The party that is responsible for the ICAC XI has the audacity to bring legislation to this House—which they pretend is an anti-corruption measure—that will give the party that put the ICAC XI on the field a huge boost in public funding.
The bill, as proposed by the Coalition and if passed unamended—which would be a disgrace of the first order—will give the Coalition a record $14 million in public funding. Coalition members have dressed up the enormous gift to their coffers as an anti-corruption measure by tacking on a few provisions that will make future illegal conduct subject to greater criminal penalties. It is a con job of the first order by this Government. Attached to that con job is a totally unprincipled attack on third party political campaigners. Government members are puffing up their public expenditure to a record $14 million yet at the same time seeking to hack into third party campaigns—any alternative voice that might want to raise a campaign against this rotten Government—and reduce their expenditure from $1.1 million to $250,000.
The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps: Hear, hear!
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: I note the response from the Government Whip. While the Coalition is putting its electoral expenditure on steroids—it is a massive, unprecedented increase—at the same time it is silencing critics in the broader community. It is dressed up as an anti-corruption measure because a couple of provisions have been included that say if anybody breaches the law in the future a higher criminal penalty will be imposed. But none of the ICAC XI will be covered by this legislation. This is base self-interest from the Government dressed up as an anti-corruption measure. The people of New South Wales were hoping that the Government had learnt that corrupt, sneaky deals done behind closed doors do them no good, but it has tried to sneak the silencing of third party campaigners into the bill.
The bill in its current form should be rejected by this House—indeed, by any Parliament. The Greens have sought to engage with the Government but, more importantly, with the Opposition and other crossbench members in this House to come up with something to salvage the Government’s grab for cash. I endorse the work of my colleagues Dr John Kaye and Mr Jamie Parker from the other place, who have sought to inject some principle into the negotiations. I commend to the House the amendments that I foreshadow The Greens will move in Committee to reduce the amount of money going into New South Wales politics—not the token, pretend haircut that the Government is giving to reduce expenditure caps to 2011 levels.
The Government wants to impose the campaign funding caps from 2011. Does the Government not realise that during the 2011 election campaign its candidates were illegally taking bags of cash from developers? The principles of the 2011 election campaign should not be revisited. The Greens have a series of amendments that will greatly reduce election expenditure. Reducing expenditure is the way to stop Liberal candidates from taking brown paper bags full of cash from developers. This Government thinks the 2011 election campaign was a great campaign because it received wonderful gifts from its developer mates, and it wants to repeat history. This bill, astoundingly, adopts the 2011 caps as good practice for New South Wales. It was with an eye on the 2011 caps that Andrew Cornwell took a call from Jeff McCloy. Andrew Cornwell is a vet. He was also a Liberal Party candidate in the Hunter. He got that call from Jeff McCloy while he was operating on a dog. Indeed, the developer’s cash was so important to him that he left that dog on the operating table to climb into the back of Jeff McCloy’s Bentley and take a bag of cash.
The Hon. Adam Searle: Paper bag.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: He took a brown paper bag full of cash from the developer whilst the dog was on the operating table. I genuinely thought that New South Wales politics could not sink to new lows. If one wants a picture of the utter nadir of New South Wales politics—the most corrupted, debased, amoral low in New South Wales politics—it is Andrew Cornwell, the Liberal Party member, abandoning a sick dog on the operating table to go and take a bag of cash from a developer in a Bentley parked out the front of his veterinary clinic. How disgraceful. And that is the election the Government wants to go back to. Worse still, the ICAC XI continue to sit in this Parliament knowing full well that, no matter what the Independent Commission Against Corruption finds regarding breaches of the electoral funding laws, they will be protected because their mates have brought their great corruption-fighting bill to this House but accidentally forgot that those crimes were subject to a three-year statute of limitation.
This Government will not lift its palsied arm in order to extend the statute of limitations to ensure that those who knowingly broke the law, those who took the bags of cash from developers, will be held properly to account under the criminal law. They know that the three-year statute of limitations has expired and that the ICAC XI can wonder off, free from any penalty. The Government said that it is getting tough and robust by putting in place a 10-year criminal penalty. It knows full well that it will not touch any of the ICAC XI—unless they stay in politics, then heaven knows what will happen—because it only operates prospectively. If this Government were serious it would say that those who broke the law in the lead-up to the 2011 election—those who knowingly took the bags of cash from the developers; those who knowingly entered into arrangements to launder the money through the so-called Free Enterprise Foundation or Eightbyfive or the Federal Liberal Party—should accept that they knew what the penalty was at the time and it would agree to extend the statute of limitations so that the guilty could be held to account under the laws that were in place at the time of their crimes.
There has been talk about whether extending the statute of limitations is retrospective. I know Labor has a set of proposals to increase retrospectively the penalties for that conduct. The Greens will not be supporting that element of retrospectivity because, even though I find their behaviour base, venal and beneath contempt, it is a fundamental principle of our legal system—of all Western legal systems—that one does not retrospectively impose penalties, whether a fine or a criminal penalty, that was not in place at the time the conduct occurred. We do not retrospectively jail people for conduct nor do we retrospectively increase the fines in our criminal justice system. This Government is happy to breach the principle of retrospectivity when it comes to removing rights from people—provided they are not members of its party. For example, the former Minister for Finance and Services, the Hon. Greg Pearce, introduced bucketloads of retrospectivity when it came to injured workers to take away their rights to compensation payments, even when they had court determinations in their favour.
But the Government runs a mile when there is talk of retrospectivity that might affect the interests of Liberal Party members and says that it cannot possibly visit retrospectivity upon the ICAC XI. Let us protect the ICAC XI. Thousands and thousands of injured workers can be attacked retrospectively but it is the view of this Government that their mates who have paid the all-important Liberal Party membership fee should be guaranteed statutory immunity. There is an important distinction between retrospectively increasing criminal penalties and extending the statute of limitations in which penalties can be made by statute. The distinction is this: At the time the ICAC XI were breaking the law they knew what the penalty was and they knew what they were doing was a crime. A statute of limitations was put in place to limit to three years the period in which this crime can be prosecuted. Extending the period in which they can be prosecuted retrospectively will not change their culpability, the penalty or their behaviour; it will allow them to be brought to justice for a crime that was on the statute books at the time they committed it—
The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps: Allegedly.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: It is a matter to be decided by the court. This will allow the law to take its course and, if the evidence is there, they can be found guilty for their crimes. Instead, in this pretend corruption-fighting bill, this Government has given them a get-out-of-jail-free card from the Monopoly guide to politics—brought to us by the same rotten Government that put the ICAC XI in Parliament in the first place. The Liberal Party has seen 20 per cent of its members removed from its party because of ICAC allegations. The Government should recognise that the public expects it to accept accountability. If one in five of its members has been removed from the party because of corruption revealed by ICAC perhaps it is time for the Liberal Party to fundamentally change the way it does politics. The Liberal Party has been doubly decimated by ICAC. So perhaps it owes it to the people of New South Wales to say, “We accept that those people from amongst our ranks who broke the law and took the cash should be held to account.” Liberal members should not vote against an amendment that will extend the statute of limitations to allow that very thing to happen. The doubly decimated Liberal Party should not vote in this House to protect the ICAC XI from criminal penalty.
There is much more to say about this bill. I note the contribution of Dr John Kaye, in particular. He dealt neatly with the extreme grab for cash that this bill is and grappled neatly with the issues in relation to third parties. I commend the work of unions such as the NSW Teachers Federation and others that have written to all members, saying, “Don’t silence our voice while you are pumping up the voice of the major political parties.” That should be a fundamental democratic principle in this Chamber. If this bill is passed in anything like its current form then corruption in New South Wales will not be fixed; it will be furthered. The bill will entrench an appalling degree of privilege and deliver vast buckets of public money to the very party that has brought the State to its knees and lowered the state of politics. Whatever remaining esteem the people of New South Wales had for this place has been dragged through the gutter by the Liberal Party, and this bill confirms the party that introduced it belongs in that gutter.