Political Donations Inquiry Set to Give Charities and Not-For-Profits a Voice
22 August 2017 at 4:03 pm
Not-for-profit organisations are being urged to voice their concerns about the power big businesses exert on government policy, with a Senate inquiry just established to look at the influence of political donations.
The inquiry will look into a number of areas, including “the level of influence that political donations exert over the public policy decisions of political parties”, and “the motivations and reasons why entities give donations to political [figures].”
It will also report on how to “improve the integrity of political decision-making”, given the nature of political donations.
David Crosbie, the CEO of the Community Council for Australia (CCA), told Pro Bono News it was very important for charities to voice their views about how vested interests are having an undue influence on public policy.
“I think it provides a really good opportunity for charities that are involved in public policy to be able to highlight how vested economic interests can sometimes operate to prevent good public policy being implemented,” Crosbie said.
The CCA will be preparing a submission for the inquiry, focusing on how not-for-profit organisations are disadvantaged when it comes to influencing government policy.
“We’ll talk about how powerful vested economic interests often seem to have greater sway over public policy than well-reasoned, considered arguments about the benefits of adopting a particular course of action,” he said.
“We see this all the time in health policy, where groups like the Pharmacy Guild block better access to medicine because it’s not in their economic interests.
“Sometimes it seems that alcohol producers and the Food and Grocery Council have more influence over public health policies than academics, health consumers and experts who are focused on delivering the best health outcomes.”
Crosbie said there are many areas in which public policy is contested between charities fighting for public benefit, and companies that are there to achieve profits.
He also said the provisions governing charities gives them a disadvantage when it comes to influencing policy.
“Charities generally are not in a position to make political donations and if they do, they are not entitled to a tax concession like businesses are, which means charities will have to provide less services if they’re putting their money into supporting political parties,” Crosbie said.
“There are real restrictions through the Charities Act on the political activities of charities, which simply do not apply to businesses… who can give as much money as they want to political candidates.”
Overall, Crosbie would like the inquiry to result in greater transparency for political donations, to ensure public policy isn’t only driven through money.
“Political donations are clearly one of many tools employed by [big business] to advance their own interests,” he said.
“While there is nothing inherently wrong with advocating for your interests, there is a case for increased transparency to avoid the potential for national policies to reflect the interests of whoever has the deepest pockets.”
Political donations have been a hot topic of debate in Canberra recently, with a Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters currently conducting a review into political donations, as part of its inquiry into the conduct of the 2016 federal election.
The committee review will answer questions concerning transparency, political campaigning and the possible need to change legal definitions within the Electoral Act.
“The committee is determined to develop a robust and transparent political donation process, which requires bipartisan support,” committee chair Senator Linda Reynolds said.
Committee deputy chair Andrew Giles added: “Rebuilding trust in politics is absolutely vital, and a shared responsibility. Reforming political donations is at the very heart of this challenge.”
The review looks more into the implications of overseas donations, and the CCA is concerned this may mean registered charities are prevented from accepting overseas philanthropy.
In a position paper provided to Pro Bono News, the CCA outlined why charities should be allowed to receive overseas philanthropy.
“International philanthropic funding is an important part of many charities’ annual budgets and enables them to deliver their public good,” the paper said.
“We therefore propose that Australian charities registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission be exempt from any legislation that bans receiving overseas philanthropy.”
Submissions for the Electoral Matters review are due on Monday 4 September.