IPA Echoes Charity Sector Push to Redraft Foreign Donations Bill
30 January 2018 at 4:51 pm
The Institute of Public Affairs has echoed the social sector’s push to completely redraft the foreign donations bill, with the right-wing think tank labelling the legislation an “unnecessary red tape burden on charities”.
The influential policy institute – which has strong ties to the Liberal Party – has put forward a submission to the parliamentary inquiry into the bill, calling for it to “be rejected in its entirety”.
“As a matter of principle, the bill should be opposed. However, even as a matter of practicality, the expanded reach of funding and disclosure laws would impose unreasonable regulatory burdens on a substantial number of community groups with minimal involvement with the political process,” the IPA submission said.
The Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform bill is part of a federal government crackdown on foreign interests influencing Australian politics.
The legislation would require organisations with a “political expenditure” of $100,000 or more over the current or previous three years to be classified as “political campaigners”, and subject to a range of extra administrative measures and restrictions.
The IPA noted that even though the recent Sam Dastyari scandal was the apparent catalyst for the bill, Dastyari’s eventual resignation proved that “the system, such as it is, works”.
It said the most concerning aspect of the bill was the expansion of funding and disclosure laws to a wide range of “non-party political actors”.
“Currently, the Electoral Act imposes a suite of funding and disclosure obligations on candidates, political parties and their associated entities. If implemented, the bill would impose these same obligations, for the first time, on organisations whose only engagement with the political process is the expression of views. This is an unprecedented and dangerous proposal,” the submission said.
“Advocacy groups play an important role in our democracy. They monitor the actions of our elected representatives, analyse the position of political parties in relation to matters of interest to their members and provide vital information and feedback to policy-makers.
“Reforms that would reduce the proliferation of such groups in Australia would be deeply regrettable. Further, by imposing legal restrictions on such a broad suite of civic groups, the bill will inadvertently favour other participants in the public debate, which in many cases are more prominent, entrenched and well-funded.”
The submission said it was doubtful that the Coalition government intended or desired for the legislation to apply to such a wide range of civic groups, and advised that “short of withdrawing the bill outright, the government [should] substantially redraft it”.
IPA research fellow Gideon Rozner, who wrote the submission, told Pro Bono News that the potential reach of the bill was extremely concerning.
“It would effectively give the AEC [Australian Electoral Commission] authority over a whole range of community organisations with no relationship to the political process other than commenting on public policy issues,” Rozner said.
“This would impose a pointless and unnecessary red tape burden on charities, community groups, service clubs, religious organisations and other civic groups.”
The IPA’s strong stance on the bill comes just days after the head of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, Dr Gary Johns, indicated the government charities regulator did not support the legislation.
The charity sector itself has also strongly pushed to re-draft the bill, fearing it will curtail their ability to advocate on social issues.
However the Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann, defended the bill’s impact on charities in December.
“Contrary to what has been asserted by some, this does not prevent charities from receiving and using foreign donations for non-political activities in Australia,” Cormann said.
“Similarly, it does not prevent charities from engaging in political activities in Australia, as long as the political expenditure incurred to fund that political activity is raised from Australians, Australian businesses and Australian organisations.”
The parliamentary inquiry into the bill is currently underway with a report due by 2 March 2018.
To coincide with the inquiry, Pro Bono Australia has launched a new short survey to better understand how charities feel they could be affected by the proposed legislation.