Grattan on Friday: it’s good to put administrators into the CFMEU – but how do you prevent future crops of bad apples?

Former leading Canberra press gallery journalist, Laurie Oakes, now retired, had a cut-through question about the government’s response this week to the CFMEU crisis.

“Bill Shorten tough and effective on CFMEU,” Oakes posted on social media after Shorten’s appearance on the ABC’s 7.30. “Why wasn’t it Albo taking the lead?”

The prime minister could point out he was in Queensland, campaigning, and unveiling candidates for the election. Regardless, Oakes’ question was spot on.

The PM wouldn’t have missed the sharp comparison with Shorten, the former Labor leader, who is always closely watched by the Albanese camp.

Albanese has answered questions about the CFMEU scandal all week. But despite the magnitude of the issue, he has left the public front-running to Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke.

The government needed to cauterise the imbroglio as fast as possible. Hence the huge flurry of activity, centred on having the Fair Work Commission get underway the appointment of an administrator into the construction division in eastern Australia.

On Thursday the ALP’s national executive suspended the affiliation of the construction division to the NSW, Victorian, South Australian and Tasmanian branches of the Labor Party. This means the party won’t levy any affiliation fees or accept donations. Delegates won’t be able to attend ALP conferences.

(The construction division is almost all that is left of the union. The miners have left and the manufacturing division is on the way out. The only other division is the Maritime Union of Australia and no action has been taken against it.)

The desire to put the CFMEU issue behind it may have driven the government’s choice to have the Fair Work Commission apply to appoint the administrators, rather than doing so itself.

“What I’m wanting to do is make sure this is a process under the regulator and not a political process,” Burke said at his Wednesday news conference.

Burke has promised the government will play an active supportive role to the Fair Work Commission, even legislating if that becomes necessary. Still, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion the government’s aim is to keep the follow-through at a distance, especially in the run-up to the election. That’s likely to mean fewer media questions.

When he was workplace relations minister in the Gillard government, Shorten took a different course with the Health Services Union.

The HSU was even more scandal-ridden than the construction division of the CFMEU. In dealing with it, the government acted directly, itself applying to put in an administrator.

Shorten has a special interest in the CFMEU. The Australian Workers’ Union, which he formerly headed, has had years of conflict and competition with the CFMEU. Shorten retains his interest in industrial relations more broadly. Nevertheless it was notable to see him turn up in the high-profile 7.30 interview on the day of Burke’s announcement (albeit with approval from the PM’s Office).

Former leaders are always in a somewhat ambiguous position, given the levels of paranoia that characterisepolitical parties. Shorten mostly stays within his ministerial guardrails, but inside those he determines his own tactics.

At the moment, as Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, he is pulling out all stops to try to get his legislation to reform the scheme through parliament. Recently this included holding a news conference with Pauline Hanson.

Shorten won’t have another chance at leadership, but he has a legacy to protect and advance. The NDIS grew out of his idea. It’s important to the government generally that the reforms are put on track before the election. It’s actually also in the Liberals’ long-term interests – it would be harder for a future Coalition government to rein in this scheme, which has run out of control.

Returning to the CFMEU, the week-long revelations have meant Labor has again found its post-July 1 “good news” on the cost of living totally overshadowed by domestic stories that are negative for it (never mind the drama in the United States). The first distraction, as the tax cuts were landing, was the resignation of Labor senator Fatima Payman from the party and speculation about whether a “Muslim vote” could harm Labor in western Sydney. Then came the union stories.

Labor will hope its quick response on the CFMEU issue will mean that in voterland it washes over fairly quickly.

Many people, one would expect, will be highly cynical about the reaction of political and union leaders who declare the revelations about criminality have come as “a shock”. While the extent and details may have been, the atrocious conduct of the construction union has been common knowledge.

The public would likely think the politicians protest too much. People’s general scepticism about their representatives was again highlighted by this week’s Essential poll that found three quarters of Australians think politicians enter into politics to serve their own interests.

It will take years to know whether industrial conduct in the construction industry can really be reformed. The deregistration of the Builders Labourers Federation in the 1980s failed to do the job.

The CFMEU’s Queensland/Northern Territory secretary, Michael Ravbar, a one-time member of the ALP national executive, flagged in a defiant statement that change will be fought by some. “Albanese has panicked and soiled himself over some unproven allegations in the media,” he said. “These gutless Labor politicians talk tough about affiliation fees and donations because that’s the only language they understand – money. The CFMEU is an industrial union, not a political outfit. Our strength has always come from our members on the shop floor, not from ladder-climbing politicians in the halls of power.”

After the ACTU suspended the construction division on Wednesday, ACTU staff were told to work from home as “a health and safety” measure. The CFMEU generates a level of fear in all sorts of places.

No doubt the administrators will clean out the union. But you’d be an optimist to feel confident that one collection of bad applies won’t eventually be replaced by another. Finding a way to stop the tree being blighted by yet more rotten fruit may be beyond any administrator. At the very least, it will require more rigorous regular spraying and pruning than we’ve seen in the past, Läs mer…

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Joe Hockey on how Australia should navigate a second Trump term

American politics has become weekly high drama.

Donald Trump narrowly survived an assassination attempt last weekend. Now Joe Biden has COVID, and is under ever-increasing pressure to stand aside as the Democratic candidate for November’s presidential election.

We’re joined on the podcast by former Australian Ambassador to Washington, Joe Hockey, who’s at this week’s Republican convention.

Summing up the convention’s mood, Hockey says:

Frankly, there’s an energy that I wasn’t expecting after last Saturday’s attempted assassination […] People are positive. They’re not aggressive, they’re just positive and they’re very energised.

The “enormous support” for Trump has been a marked contrast from the divisions Hockey witnessed at the 2016 Republican convention. Yet Hockey agrees the former US president seems unusually subdued this week.

People I’ve spoken with, who have spoken to him, say it is a different Donald Trump. He’s obviously had a near-death experience, and his hand has dampened a lot of the usual aggression that pervades Democrat and Republican conventions. So, I think there’s no doubt he’s been significantly affected by the attempted assassination.

Biden’s most likely replacement

On the calls for Biden to step aside as candidate, Hockey says that up until now, he thought the president would fight on and stay. But the Biden office’s push over the past 48 hours to speed up the confirmation process has backfired.

All that’s done is just hastened the demand of Democrat leaders to have Joe Biden step down. Now, how [do] they do it? It’s uncharted territory. Clearly in Australia, we know – with unfortunate regularity – how to bring down the leaders of our own parties. In America, they just don’t do it.

Biden’s COVID diagnosis, coupled with his declining performances, means it’s now looking more like the president will have to go.

I saw two interviews that he did where it’s just, it’s depressing. I think it’s really interesting that no one here is celebrating or dancing on Joe Biden’s ill-health. I mean, no one’s mentioning it. No one’s even talking about it because we’ve all had parents, grandparents, that have gone through this cognitive decline.

Who’s mostly like to replace Biden? Hockey says he would be “dumbfounded” if Vice President Kamala Harris didn’t step up – particularly because, as of today, she’s already out-polling Biden against Trump.

What it means for Australia

On Australia’s relationship with a possible second Trump term, Hockey lays out what Prime Minister Anthony Albanese should do on his first phone call.

Albanese should give him something in that call to show that we are serious. It could be the next down-payment on the submarines – to bring it forward. It could be something else. But Donald Trump is a person of action.

I think it’ll be important to remind him that we have already given a cheque for $3 billion to the US for Virginia subs, and we’re doing our heavy lifting. And look […] the starting point for Donald Trump is Australia is a great country and a great friend.

A divided America affects the world

On the trajectory of what is happening in the United States, Hockey says:

I think there’ll be plenty to worry about. I mean, America still, in my mind, represents the biggest sovereign risk to companies that are operating outside of Australia. And that’s because there is so much uncertainty in America, I mean, the key thing […] we’ve all got to understand is that in America, the political divide is chiselled on policy. There is a policy divide between the Republicans and the Democrats.

There are deep divisions from taxation, where there’s different tax rates between Trump and Biden, through to regulation and of course, climate change is a big one. […] So there are big, deep divisions between the parties, which is why the parties are so fired up about the election. Läs mer…

Fair Work Commission moves to appoint administrators into construction division of CFMEU

The Fair Work Commission’s general manager, Murray Furlong, is moving to appoint administrators into the construction division of the CFMEU, following a string of allegations of nefarious behaviour.

Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke announced on Wednesday that Furlong was seeking legal advice on applying to the federal court to do so, and the government would “intervene to ensure the proceedings are successful”.

If the proceedings were challenged and unresolved when parliament resumes on August 12, the government would bring in legislation to enable the commission “to put any part of the construction division of the CFMEU into administration,” Burke said.

“The government will ensure the regulator has all the powers it needs to appoint administrators.”

The general manager of the Fair Work Commission is the independent statutory regulator of federally registered organisations.

Burke has also asked the Fair Work Ombudsman to do a “targeted review” of all enterprise agreements the Victorian branch of the CFMEU’s construction division had made applying to the state’s “Big Build” projects.

Burke said the government was seeking information on coercive behaviour. It did not intend any action that would put at risk workers’ employment conditions. “This is not their fault,” he said.

He said the government would use its procurement powers to ensure enterprise agreements on government-funded projects were genuine – free of coercion and intimidation.

He has also asked the Australian Federal Police to investigate allegations, working with state police.

The allegations, revealed in Nine media, include thuggery, kickbacks, standover tactics, and the parachuting of senior bikie figures into lucrative union delegate roles on major Victorian construction projects.

Notably, the Albanese government has decided not to appoint administrators itself.

“What I’m wanting to do is make sure this is a process under the regulator and not a political process,” Burke said.

The government’s response is in contrast to the Gillard government’s action in 2012 when then-Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten directly intervened against the scandal-ridden Health Services Union to have an administrator, former judge Michael Moore, brought in.

Under criticism for not having acted earlier against the rogue construction division, Burke argued the allegations that organised crime had infiltrated the union was new information.

He said this was something “I had not been previously briefed on”.

Pressed on whether he had never heard of the allegations he said, “Not in terms of organised crime, no. The organised crime issue – it was published as an exclusive [in Nine’s reports]. That was because this was new information.”

Furlong said in a statement he was “deeply concerned about the alleged conduct and commentary that organised crime has infiltrated several state branches of the Division, including that it appears to be embedded and ongoing.”

As well as seeking advice on the application to the federal court, “I have also commenced sharing information with other regulatory and law enforcement authorities and requesting evidence about alleged contraventions from a wide variety of participants in the building and construction industry.

”While the alleged criminal conduct reported in the media falls outside of my jurisdiction, alleged conduct involving repeated, opportunistic or deliberate contraventions of the RO (Registered Organisations) Act, including misappropriation of funds or unlawful conduct of elected officials, will be met by swift, well-resourced and significant enforcement action.” Läs mer…

Government expected to appoint administrators to clean up CFMEU, as union remains defiant

The Albanese government is expected to appoint independent administrators to clean up the CFMEU.

On Tuesday the defiant union was trying to fend off government action to deal with sweeping allegations of widespread misconduct that have been revealed by Nine media.

CFMEU national secretary Zach Smith declared, “External administration and further interference of the government isn’t necessary”.

“The union and the union movement is more than capable of dealing with allegations in our own ranks, in responding appropriately,” Smith told the ABC.

The government is under pressure to act as soon as possible against the union, as is the Labor Party nationally.

The party’s national executive will meet on Thursday to deal with requests from the Victorian and South Australian premiers and the Tasmanian Labor leader to suspend the CFMEU’s affiliations in those states.

The meeting will also discuss suspending the acceptance of political donations from the union. This has already happened in Victoria.

Smith has put the Victorian branch of the union in administration. He said as part of this “I’m in the process of standing up an investigative process” to test allegations.

“Obviously if there is any wrongdoing found, people will be removed from our ranks.” He would bring in “external eminent legal minds to help manage the investigation process, to conduct the investigation, and to make any recommendations necessary”.

But the government has made it clear the union’s internal action is not enough.

Smith also defended the former secretary of the Victorian and Tasmanian branch of the CFMEU, John Setka, who resigned suddenly on Friday, as Nine papers were set to begin publishing stories containing detailed allegations, as well as damning footage of incidents.

The allegations include thuggery, kickbacks, standover tactics, and the parachuting of senior bikie figures into lucrative union delegate roles on major Victorian construction projects.

Smith said Setka had decided to resign because he thought that was in the best interests of the union and its members.

“I think that speaks to his integrity and his credibility,” Smith said.

“One thing that no one will be able to take away from John is his legacy as an industrial leader – the conditions that he’s won for workers here in Victoria and the strength that he’s built in the Victorian-Tasmanian branch.”

Nine reported on Tuesday that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and then Victorian infrastructure minister (now premier) Jacinta Allan were sent “detailed evidence in 2022 that CFMEU officials were threatening extreme violence and unlawfully black-banning non-union-preferred companies from state and federally funded projects”.

A federal government spokesman said the email to Albanese had been sent “to an inactive email address”.

Cabinet Minister Bill Shorten, a former workplace relations minister, made it clear on Monday strong action was imperative. He said in an ABC interview: “The investigations and some of the footage and the stories which we’ve seen in very recent days show that there is a pathology of engagement by some in the construction sector with criminals and bikies. That has to stop. They have no home in the Australian trade union movement.” Shorten’s old union, the AWU, has often been at loggerheads with the CFMEU.

Albanese said on Monday, “Everything is on the table, including whether the union continues to be able to operate, whether administrators will be placed into the union. […] All of that is completely on the table.” Läs mer…

View from The Hill: If it’s serious about CFMEU, Labor should decline its money

Listening to the politicians and union leaders, one could be forgiven for thinking Nine’s Nick McKenzie and his journalist colleagues were the only ones aware of the nefarious activities in the CFMEU.

Amid the revelations from Nine’s investigation, Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke told the ABC on Sunday “all options” for action were on the table, and he had asked for departmental advice.

By Monday morning the union’s national secretary Zach Smith had put the Victorian branch into administration.

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan whipped off a request for Labor’s national executive to suspend the CFMEU’s construction division from the Victorian Labor Party. She also asked Victorian Labor “to immediately pause political donations from the CFMEU”.

Anthony Albanese declared “zero tolerance” for the union’s bad behaviour. ACTU secretary Sally McManus said there was “no place whatsoever” for criminal activities in unions: the ACTU executive will meet on Wednesday to discuss matters.

The allegations made in the Nine reports include thuggery, standover tactics, the parachuting of senior bikie figures into lucrative union delegate roles on major Victorian construction projects, kickbacks, and much else.

The series is a remarkable expose. But it is hard to credit that senior players, including the minister, his department, the national office of the union, and federal authorities were not able to find out what was happening without the assistance of McKenzie and co.

Surely, some of them would have had their ears to the ground. If they didn’t, it can only be put down to incompetence or that they didn’t seriously seek to hear (despite all those visits to construction sites in hi-vis).

After he became opposition leader, Anthony Albanese drove the union’s strong man, John Setka, out of the Labor Party, following his disparaging the work of Rosie Batty, a campaigner against domestic violence. But the union movement could not dislodge him. McManus urged him to quit his union post for the good of the movement, to no effect.

In 2020 the union’s national secretary Michael O’Connor (one of the union’s good guys and brother of federal minister Brendan O’Connor) quit his post after prolonged pressure from Setka’s construction division. His apparent sin was not defending Setka following his conviction for harassing his wife.

It was only last Friday, facing the Nine expose, that Setka (who had been due to leave his position later this year) suddenly resigned as Victorian and Tasmanian secretary of the union.

Labor in government has twice bowed to what the CFMEU – and the wider union movement – wanted: the abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the so-called cop-on-the-beat.

The Gillard government got rid of the ABCC. The Coalition restored it. Tony Burke scrapped it again. Burke was so anxious to act that he defanged the body ahead of having the legislation passed.

Burke said on Sunday the allegations reported in the Nine expose (to that point) related to when the ABCC was in operation.

“It completely failed, for the simple reason that the whole concept of it was wrong from the beginning, which was about pushing people into their corners,” Burke said.

“That’s what it was about, and that meant that you would always in those situations empower the most militant players. That’s what happens when you push people into their corners.”

This sounded like a stretch. But accepting the ABCC was ineffective, the latest revelations suggest it should have been beefed up, not scrapped.

The government recently rushed through parliament legislation to allow the manufacturing part of the CFMFU to split off.

Nine reported this followed a long campaign by CFMEU’s assistant national secretary Leo Skourdoumbis. For his trouble Skourdoumbis received what Nine described as “a menacing nighttime visit” by Setka to the family home”, where he dumped a suitcase with the words “LEO THE DOG” scrawled on it. The incident was captured by a neighbour’s CCTV.

A few years ago the Morrison government legislated to allow the mining and energy division to leave the union.

Its members were anxious to take the exit path. A resolution said: “The ruthless use of raw numbers against the smaller divisions; the disrespect and disregard shown to the views of mining and energy workers; and the public undermining of our former national secretary [Michael O’Connor] to settle a personal score, is simply intolerable.

”It is clear that there is no longer a place of equality and dignity for the mining and energy division within the amalgamated union.”

What the union and the government – that was expected to discuss the situation at Monday’s cabinet meeting – do now must be judged in terms of actions, not fighting or reassuring words.

Burke might be right in noting deregistration could be counterproductive, just reducing the regulation of the union rather than enhancing it.

The union, pledging to change its ways, will want to be left, to the greatest extent possible, to reform itself. Zach Smith is one of the up-and-comers of the union movement, with a lot to prove.

But after all that’s gone before, the union can’t be trusted to clean out its Augean stables. Burke must recognise this – he said on Monday the union’s response so far was “progress, but falls short”.

The government needs to use its powers to impose independent administrators or some other process.

Labor also should show its seriousness by putting a moratorium on political donations from the union (whose construction division donated $1 million to the federal party for the last election). When asked about this on Monday, the prime minister dodged the questions. He said such matters were for the party organisation.

Labor’s national executive will meet this week, to discuss the Allan request and, no doubt, the question of donations. We’ll see whether “everything” is really on the table, as the government says. Läs mer…

Australian army private and husband charged with allegedly spying for Russia

A 40-year-old private in the Australian army and her 62-year-old husband been arrested for allegedly spying for Russia.

Both Russian-born Australian citizens, they have been accused of obtaining Australian Defence Force material to share with Russian authorities.

The woman has been employed in the Australian Defence Force for several years as an information systems technician. Her husband is a self-employed labourer.

Each is charged with one count of preparing for an espionage offence, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years jail. They were due to appear in court on Friday. This is the first time an espionage offence charge has been laid since new laws were introduced in 2018.

At a Friday news conference, the Australian Federal Police commissioner, Reece Kershaw, and the head of ASIO, Mike Burgess, announced the Thursday arrests of the pair at their Brisbane home.

Kershaw said the AFP alleged the couple worked together to access ADF material relating to national security.

“We allege the woman was undertaking non-declared travel to Russia, whilst she was on long term leave from the Australian Defence Force [since 2023],” he said.

“We allege that whilst she was in Russia, she instructed her husband, who remained in Australia, on how to log into her official work account from their Brisbane home.

”We allege her husband would access requested material and would send it to his wife in Russia.

”We allege they sought that information with the intention of providing it to Russian authorities.”

Whether the information was handed over is still being investigated, Kershaw said. Also being investigated is whether the woman joined the ADF intending to commit espionage.

Kershaw stressed that “no significant compromise has been identified”

“Our Five Eyes partners and the Australian government can be confident that the robust partnerships within the counter foreign interference task force mean we will continue to identify and disrupt espionage and foreign interference

The pair have been in Australia more than ten years. The woman obtained Australian citizenship in 2016 and her husband became a citizen in 2020. They had Russian passports.

Burgess told the news conference the espionage threat was “real”.

“Multiple countries are seeking to steal Australia’s secrets,” he said. Läs mer…

Grattan on Friday: Don Farrell has an electoral reform blueprint, but it could be a rough road to implementation

Don Farrell usually finds his way into the news cycle in relation to some or other trade issue. But Farrell, who’s special minister of state as well as trade minister, plans a throw of the dice soon that, if he can pull it off, would give him a place in the history books for driving a major reform of Australia’s federal electoral law.

The changes, long in the pipeline, would place caps on both donations and spending for federal elections, and include more timely disclosure of money flows.

But the far-reaching reforms, which Farrell aims to bring to parliament in the fortnight sitting starting August 12, would seem unlikely to be in place for the coming election, due by May next year.

The proposals are generally in line with the majority recommendations from the parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.

It’s been a tortuous process, much longer than Farrell initially hoped. Not only have negotiations with other players dragged on, but the danger of breaching the Constitution (which could invite a successful High Court challenge over restricting the implied freedom of communication) and even a shortage of parliamentary drafters have slowed progress.

How much of the reform package can be wrangled through parliament, and how long that might take can’t be predicted.

The reforms will include a minimalist “truth in advertising” measure, based on the model operating in South Australia. But that might fall by the wayside in the parliament. The Australian Electoral Commission, which has resisted being the designated cop-on-the-beat to adjudicate on truth, will be relieved if it doesn’t eventuate.

And Farrell won’t even try to increase the number of Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory senators (current set at two each) because there is not enough support to do so.

For Farrell, the core issue is the caps to stop the explosion of spending and politicians having to devote so much energy to fund-raising.

Billionaire Clive Palmer’s massive spend on the last election has obsessed Labor, although for his $123 million outlay, his United Australia Party won only one Senate seat, secured by Ralph Babet in Victoria.

Farrell says:

Our system needs to be protected, including from billionaires who try to influence our elections. The focus of the reforms I will introduce into the parliament is to address the growing threat of big money in politics.

But his package would also protect “genuine political communications,” he insists.

All donations of $1,000 or more would have to be disclosed, and this would be a hard, non-indexed threshold. The present indexed threshold is more than $16,900.

There would be a cap on how much each donor could give, with figures still being finalised.

Farrell’s donation changes do not go nearly as far as those the South Australian Labor government has on the drawing board, which would ban all donations.

Under the three-tier proposal in the Farrell legislation, caps would be set for what parties could spend on their national campaigns, and at the state level (to cover campaigns for the Senate). There would also be caps for spending in a seat.

The key cap would be the seat one, and this is set to be somewhere under $1 million per candidate. Unsurprisingly, some the “teals”, who were elected after expensive campaigns, are concerned about new players. (Monique Ryan and Allegra Spender both ran campaigns costing more than $2 million apiece.)

One effect of the caps would be to limit the extent to which a party could pour huge sums of money into a seat where it perceived the MP was under threat.

The legislation will likely include an increase in public funding, although the intention is to keep this increase relatively modest, based on the judgment that anything too large would go down poorly with the public.

Parties, however, would also get an amount for administrative costs. This would be a new thing, although they have previously received grants for specifics such as updating cyber-security.

There will be measures to try to catch some of the spending by “significant third parties”, for example, unions, advocacy groups such as Advance, and groups such as Climate 200, which financially backed a number of community candidates in 2022. But how these will operate remains unclear. This third party spending is a crucial issue and the devil will be in the detail.

Parties, candidates and other players in an election will have to have dedicated Commonwealth campaign accounts for all donations and spending, which will be subject to auditing by the Australian Electoral Commission.

There have long been calls for “real time” disclosure of donations. Under the proposed reforms, donations outside election periods would be disclosed within weeks. During campaigns, the time would be reduced down to weekly, then daily as polling day nears.

Farrell argues voters should be able to make up their own minds about donations via real-time disclosures, rather than bans being imposed on money from certain industries (for example, fossil fuel companies).

When it comes to electoral reform, players start from a position of self-interest. So while there have been extensive discussions with the opposition parties, the Greens, the teals and others, getting agreement – or, at least, agreement from some players on some aspects – is a huge ask.

The Liberals are staying publicly mum. Some of the teals, as newcomers and minions compared to the major parties, are vocal.

Western Australian teal Kate Chaney, who has been at the forefront on electoral issues, says she wants to see real-time disclosure of donations above $1,000, a political advertising provision that protects voters from “lies”, and “a method for reducing money in politics that still allows new challengers”.

She has put forward a model to cap “mega donors” set as a proportion of public funding.

“My lens is whether the reforms prevent future competition,” she says. “I recognise people want less money in politics and people don’t want money to be influencing political decisions. But if private donations are replaced with public funding, it embeds incumbents, which is not good for a flourishing democracy.”

Goldstein teal Zoe Daniel remains “suspicious that the major parties will dress up their proposals as electoral reform when their real goal is self-interest, as has proved to be the case with recent changes in NSW and Victoria.

”In Victoria, under the guise of reform, the Andrews government built a $200 million barrier to protect the interests of the major parties and lock out independent candidates who were constrained at the last eection by a cap on individual donations of $4,210,” Daniel says.

The package is expected to have a rough parliamentary road, not helped by its arrival so late in the term. It’s likely to see bits peeled off or dropped off during its journey. Given the timing, it is hard to see that much of it could be operational in time for a 2025 election – the AEC would require a period to gear up.

Farrell, who is overseas, will return to yet more haggling over his changes. A pragmatic numbers man of Labor’s right faction, he knows if he doesn’t get as many reforms as he can through during this parliament, there is a danger a re-elected Albanese government could be in minority, when negotiating electoral changes would become even more difficult. Läs mer…

‘Real time’ donation disclosure and spending limits in Labor electoral reforms

Political donations would need to be disclosed in “real time” during elections under reform legislation that also would restrict spending on individual seat campaigns to an amount that will be less than $1 million per candidate.

The package, which Special Minister of State Don Farrell aims to introduce in the next parliamentary sitting fortnight beginning August 12, also includes a truth-in-advertising provision, and is expected to boost public funding for elections. Total election funding paid by the Australian Electoral Commission for the 2022 election was nearly $76 million.

All donations of $1000 and above would have to be disclosed, under the proposed measures. At present the disclosure threshold is more than $16,900. There would also be caps on donations.

Under the real-time disclosure provision, donations outside election periods would have to be made public within weeks. During an election campaign, they would need to be disclosed weekly, then daily as polling day approached.

Some details of the package are still being finalised. One major issue is the need to minimise the risk of a successful High Court challenge on the grounds of limiting the implied freedom of political communication.

The plan includes caps on parties’ campaign spending at a national and a state level (the latter covers campaigns for the Senate) as well as on spending at the seat level.

Parties, candidates and others involved in elections would be required to have dedicated Commonwealth campaign accounts for all donations and spending, which would be subject to audit by the Australian Electoral Commission.

Parties would receive some funding for their administration.

Farrell says his package will “address the growing threat of big money in politics”.

During Farrell’s extensive negotiations there has been blowback from some crossbenchers. Some “teal” MPs ran highly expensive campaigns which saw them elected in 2022.

Independent member for the Victorian seat of Goldstein, Zoe Daniel, one of the teals, said she supported a lower disclosure threshold for donations and real-time disclosure. “Above everything else, the priorities are transparency and accountability,” she said.

But she warned, “I remain suspicious that the major parties will dress up their proposals as electoral reform when their real goal is self interest. We must make sure they don’t collude to lock out newcomers and tilt the playing field in their own favour, in contrast to the demonstrated wishes of voters at large.”

The Coalition parties have been in negotiation with Farrell over the measures, but where they will land is unknown.

The package will have provisions covering “associated entities”, which are funding-raising arms for parties, and “significant third parties”, which spend on and raise money for elections. They include unions, advocacy groups such as Advance and organisations such as Climate 200. Details of the provisions covering them are not known.

Earlier consideration of increasing the number of senators from the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory (at present two each) has been abandoned. Läs mer…

Fatima Payman advises Muslims: ‘Don’t establish a political party’

Senator Fatima Payman, who quit Labor last week to sit as a crossbench independent, says she would advise Muslims not to form their own political party.

The Middle East conflict, which has greatly increased Muslim activism, has led to speculation of the possible formation of a Muslim party that could contest seats in western and south western Sydney and parts of Melbourne.

Payman has told The Conversation’s Politics podcast: “I can’t speculate what they plan on doing and not doing. But what I can say is, I don’t think it would be wise to have a Muslim party.

”And so if I was to advise them, I’d say, don’t establish a Muslim party because you need to look at your broader base.”

Different states had different demographics but “I just don’t think that would be conducive to the way things function in our democratic system”.

While it was the prerogative of those involved as to whether to go down that route, “if I was to advise whoever wants to start a party out there [I’d say] think about the bigger picture. Think about Australia as a whole.

”Think about how we look so different to what we did even 30 years ago. And we’re going to keep evolving into this melting pot of incredible cultures and, you know, identities and belief systems. And I think that’s just beautiful.”

Last week Prime Minister Anthony Albanese warned against faith-based parties. He said: “I […] don’t want Australia to go down the road of faith-based political parties because what that will do is undermine social cohesion”.

Payman pointed out there have been faith-based parties previously, and said a Muslim party would not challenge social cohesion.

“People are free to do what they want to do and [set up] parties they want to set up. There’s the fishers and farmers and all sorts of parties out there. So if people want to go down this route they can.

”It’s incorrect to […] not just politicise the Muslim faith, but also to make it seem like they’re a threat to social cohesion or it’s going to impact the way we politically engage.”

She said the important thing was to educate the community about their right to vote, how to use it effectively and how to understand the political system.

“A lot of multicultural communities out there have come from countries where democratic ways of governing is not established or is not a thing. And so for them, voting can be quite an alien concept. And so education is paramount to these communities.”

“They have the right to voice their concerns, to voice their opinions and if they think that their elected members or incumbent members are not doing a great job representing their voice, they can they can use the elections as a way of sending a message to their local representatives.”

Payman said if she were setting up a party – which she hasn’t ruled out – “I would not set up a Muslim-only party. I see the bigger picture of my constituency in Western Australia and know that I represent people from all walks of life.”

She said the genocide in Palestine was “not the only thing that I’m focused on. And that’s why it’s important for me to immerse myself within the broader West Australian community to understand what are the things that are important to them,”

She was not intending to play a major role in mobilising the Muslim vote at the next election.

“I don’t intend on doing that. But more power and strength to as many communities out there who want their voices heard.” Läs mer…

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Fatima Payman on the challenges and opportunities of being a crossbencher

Western Australian Senator Fatima Payman quit Labor after defying the party’s “solidarity” rule. Her action, spurred by the Gaza issue, has intensified Labor fears about the possible impact of the Muslim vote in some of its safe seats at the election.

The now-independent senator joined the podcast to discuss her decision, the challenges of regrouping as a crossbencher, and the impact of the Muslim vote.

Payman is bluntly against Muslims forming their own party:

I don’t think it would be wise to have a Muslim party. And so if I was to advise them, I’d say, don’t establish a Muslim party because you need to look at your broader base.“

In her position on Palestine, Payman insists she was following Labor’s platform:

I understood our platform to be very clear […] The advocates from Gough Whitlam to Bob Hawke to Paul Keating, all those big Labor giants who have been so outspoken on Palestinians’ right to self-determination and statehood. And knowing that the Prime minister himself has advocated for longer than I’ve been around. For me, I felt like this is the best time. Like, we’ve come from opposition, into government, we’re progressive. We’ve got our party platform in order. We know what our constituents and rank-and-file members want from us. So, I did not see it as a recipe for disaster.

On how she’ll vote on other issues, Payman styles herself as an independent voice for West Australians:

It’s going to be quite challenging and an interesting new chapter in my life because, obviously, I’ll have to go through each piece of legislation, understand how it’s going to impact West Australians. Make sure that I know what West Australians need from me as their independent voice in Canberra and then moving forward, make those big decisions. It’s no longer just following what the whip or the caucus decide as a whole.

On her identity, personal and public, she says:

I am a devout Muslim. That’s personal and private to me. I try praying five times a day. And I do rely on spiritual guidance. But that’s for me. That’s personal. When I’m serving the best interests of West Australians, I’ll be talking to people. I’ll be on the ground. I will listen to their concerns and be their voice in Canberra. And whether that’s through a party or me as an independent, [it’s] paramount for me to make it clear to everyone that, no, I will not be forming a Muslim party because I represent voices from all backgrounds, people from all walks of life, here in WA.

Asked what message she would give the local Jewish community, Payman says:

I’m very hopeful that in the time to come that there [will be] a ceasefire, to be able to see Israelis and Palestinians be able to live side by side within their own recognised borders, their own states, their own freedoms and liberties. And hopefully that will ease the tensions here in Australia because I believe that we can live in a harmonious society with our differences but focusing more on what brings us together and what the common denominator is here in Australia, and that’s that we’re all proud Australians. Läs mer…