Greens Pressure Labor and Crossbench to Reject Foreign Donations Bill
Wednesday, 11th April 2018 at 9:25 am
The Greens have placed pressure on the opposition and crossbenchers to reject the foreign donations bill outright, despite indications from the Labor Party that they would be open to supporting an amended version of the legislation.
The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) released its report on the Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill on Monday, which recommended amendments that charities labelled a “step in the right direction”.
However charities said there was still a lack of clarity around the legislation, and called for the bill to be withdrawn and redrafted.
The Greens echoed these concerns and issued a minority report in response to the inquiry, to highlight the party’s differences with the JSCEM regarding “the critical issue of the role of non-government organisations and charities in engaging in issue based advocacy”.
Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon said the majority report did not support the party’s amendment to not include non-partisan issue based advocacy in the definition of political expenditure.
“The Greens recognise that it’s not possible to amend this bill to the point where it can become law. It needs to be sent back to the drawing board. The government needs to widely consult and be willing to start again,” Rhiannon said.
“The bill is a ploy by the government to use the public’s concern about foreign influence in Australian politics to crack-down on its own critics. This bill would not have prevented recent scandals involving foreign influence, but it will place serious restrictions on non-government advocacy.”
The Labor Party expressed their support for the JSCEM report, and shadow minister for charities and not-for-profits Andrew Leigh, said the ALP had protested “unnecessary constraints on vital contributions to Australian democracy”.
“But we haven’t thrown the baby out with the bath water. Labor remains committed to reforming Australian politics and rebuilding public trust, just not in a way that silences our hard-working charitable sector,” Leigh said.
“Charities and not for profits shouldn’t have to be fighting for their right to participate in public conversations about what’s best for our communities. We should be making it easier for charities and not for profits to do their work.
“Labor’s commitment to the sector is clear. We value the participation of community voices and will always take the right steps to ensure they can be heard.”
— Andrew Leigh (@ALeighMP) April 9, 2018
However when questioned by Pro Bono News, Leigh did not indicate whether or not the Labor Party would support the foreign donations bill, provided it was revised to implement the JSCEM recommendations.
“We expect the Turnbull government to address the recommendations put forward by the committee to ensure charities and not for profits will be protected from unnecessary constraints,” he said.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert placed pressure on the ALP and crossbenchers to reject the bill outright.
“The fact that a government-majority committee doesn’t endorse the bill is a win for charities and not-for-profit organisations, who have campaigned tirelessly against it, and in favour of a vibrant democracy,” Siewert said.
“But there’s more work to do. We need to make sure that the ALP and the crossbench oppose this bill outright and send it back to the drawing board, so that charities can keep doing their important work.”
Greenpeace Australia Pacific campaigner Holly Dawson also urged the ALP to reject the legislation.
“If the Labor Party is sincere in its commitment to defend the charities Australians love, then it must send this law back to be redrafted,” Dawson said.
“Does Bill Shorten support civil society’s right to use international funding to champion the causes everyday Australians care about such as providing food and shelter to the homeless, protecting the environment and undertaking life-saving medical research or not?”
The Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann – who referred the bill to the JSCEM in December last year – said he welcomed the “unanimous report and recommendations” from the committee.
“The government particularly welcomes the cross-party support for the government’s core proposition that for the ban on foreign political donations to be effective it should apply to all relevant political expenditure, including political expenditure incurred by charities,” Cormann said.
“Indeed, it has always been the government’s view that to exclude charities from any ban on foreign political donations would make such a ban entirely ineffective as it would create a significant loophole.
“It would also be inconsistent with Labor’s own bill designed to ban foreign political donations in relation to all political expenditure, including political expenditure by charities.”
Cormann said the government would be open to JSCEM recommendations on how the bill could be further improved.
“In particular, it is a matter of public record that we are open to pursue amendments to our proposed bill to ensure compliance arrangements for all political actors, including relevant charities, are as efficient as possible,” he said.
“The government very much appreciates the constructive approach and the goodwill demonstrated by all members of JSCEM in the course of this inquiry and with its considered assessment of our Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill.
“We will now give due consideration to all the recommendations of the committee and act on those as appropriate.”