Australian Philanthropists Sign Open Letter Urging Foreign Donations Bill Redraft
6 March 2018 at 8:15 am
More than 60 Australian philanthropists and foundations have signed an open letter urging the federal government to withdraw and redraft its contentious foreign donations bill.
Philanthropy Australia published the letter last Thursday, with 66 signatories including The Balnaves Foundation, The Myer Foundation and The Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation.
The letter said “contributions to public debate from charities and philanthropy around public policy [were] under serious threat” due to the proposed Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017.
“Intended or otherwise, the consequences of the bill are far reaching and will suffocate policy development and public advocacy, both of which are central to a healthy democracy,” it said.
“While we support the central purpose of the bill, which is improved regulation of foreign donations to political parties, we urge that the bill be withdrawn and redrafted.
“The bill conflates political campaigning and issue advocacy. If this bill becomes law, many charities as well as their major donors are likely to come within the scope of these new electoral laws.”
In an open letter in today’s @FinancialReview, philanthropy is calling on the Australian Government to withdraw its proposed Electoral Act changes. A full list of signatories is available here: https://t.co/V00IH51zrX pic.twitter.com/KPlE5DK5qJ
— Philanthropy Aus (@PhilanthropyAus) February 28, 2018
The letter notes that charities, philanthropists and donors will be defined as political actors under the legislation “rather than advocates for the long-term public good and health of our democracy”.
The class of political campaigner will capture organisations which have incurred more than $100,000 worth of political expenditure in any of the previous four years, or which have incurred $50,000 or more in political expenditure where that equals 50 per cent or more of their annual budget.
“In addition, the bill as it stands, will impose a massive increase in regulatory compliance and red tape on charities and philanthropy. It will simply suffocate the organisations that we all rely on to improve the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities across Australia,” the letter said.
“We must maintain the right and opportunity for the thoughtful exchange of ideas around new solutions to entrenched or emerging social, health, education and environmental challenges, free from the lens of political partisanship.
“We call on the government to withdraw and redraft the bill to focus on legitimately restricting undue foreign influence on our political parties. We must let philanthropy and charities continue their vital role which includes public advocacy on policy issues which shape our nation.”
The bill has drawn wide condemnation from civil society organisations across the political spectrum, with left-leaning lobby group GetUp and the conservative IPA united in their opposition to the legislation.
A recent Pro Bono Australia survey of the not-for-profit sector also found that more than two thirds (63 per cent) of respondents were unclear on how the draft bill would affect their charity.
Philanthropy Australia’s advocacy and insight manager Krystian Seibert, told Pro Bono News that the bill would make it harder for charities to undertake public advocacy.
“This will not be a good outcome for our community or our democracy,” Seibert said.
“That’s why we published the open letter last Thursday – it conveys the shared concerns of 66 of Australia’s leading philanthropists and philanthropic organisations.
“The message in the open letter is clear – we want the government to withdraw and redraft the bill, so it doesn’t hinder the work of charities but instead focuses on legitimately restricting undue foreign influence on our political parties.”
However Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has defended the focus of the bill, and told Pro Bono News last week that excluding charities from a foreign donations ban would “make such a ban entirely ineffective”.
“It doesn’t curtail [charities’] ability to engage in political advocacy at all, it just cannot be funded by foreign interest,” Cormann said.