Foreign Donations Report Aims to Provide ‘Greater Clarity for Charities’
9 April 2018 at 5:50 pm
The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has released its report on the Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill, making 15 recommendations which the committee hopes will “provide greater clarity for charities”.
The Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill was referred to the committee by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann on 6 December last year.
The bill – which aims to ban foreign donations and requires registration and disclosure requirements for a broader group of non-party political actors than is the case currently – has faced significant backlash from the social sector, with concerns raised it will “silence” charities and impose unnecessary red-tape on these organisations.
The committee’s report, released on Monday, made 15 recommendations for the government to consider in regards to the legislation, with a number addressing the sector’s concerns.
— David LockeACNC (@DavidLockeACNC) April 9, 2018
Committee chair Senator Linda Reynolds said while the committee unanimously agreed that foreign donations for election campaigning should be banned, they agreed that greater clarity was needed for charities.
“While most would agree that only Australians should have the power to influence our election outcomes, Australia is one of the few western democracies where foreign money can still be used to influence domestic elections,” Reynolds said.
“The committee in-principle supports passage of the bill subject to the government addressing the 15 recommendations contained in the report.
“These recommendations provide greater clarity for charities to ensure and to align definitions as closely as possible with the intent and principles of the bill, while ensuring regulatory and compliance burdens are minimised.”
The committee’s first recommendation was for the government reconsider introducing the term “political purpose” into the Electoral Act 1918, “having regard to potential confusions with the Charities Act 2013 in which the term has a divergent meaning”.
Secondly, the committee recommended the government consider amending the definition of “political expenditure” to prevent non-political issue advocacy being captured, by clearly defining the type of expenditure which constitutes expenditure that influences voters to take specific action in an election.
The committee also recommended that the government: “appropriately [resources] both the Australian Electoral Commission and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission to undertake a comprehensive education campaign for the charity sector on their obligations under the Electoral Act 1918.”
This recommendation comes after Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie admitted to the committee in January that “thousands of charities” were not complying with current reporting requirements because of a lack of understanding.
The committee also recommended the introduction of a “new and easily accessible transparency register” to provide voters with the ability to readily identify who is seeking to influence their vote.
“A transparency register would also assist all third parties, particularly those not currently compliant with legislative requirements, to better understand and comply with their legislative obligations,” Reynolds said.
She said the committee’s report was multi-partisan report and that recommendations were borne from a desire to give Australian citizens “visibility of who is seeking to influence their votes [so they could] have confidence that foreigners are not seeking to influence the outcome of their votes”.
“Therefore, Australia’s electoral laws must apply equally to all participating in the political process with the aim of influencing electors voting intentions,” Reynolds said.
“Despite consensus on the principle of banning foreign donations, over the course of the inquiry there has been significant and democratically important public debate on the bill. In particular, debate on who, and what activities should be subject to the ban.
“It is essential for the effective functioning of Australia’s democracy that the Electoral Act reflects contemporary campaigning practices – while not restricting freedom of expression. This report achieves both, thanks to the hard work and dedication of all committee members and the Secretariat staff.”