Foreign Donations Bill Changes Labelled a Win For Charities
21 September 2018 at 5:44 pm
Draft amendments to the foreign donations bill have been labelled a win for the charity sector, with the government backing down on measures that threatened charitable advocacy.
The charity sector raised concerns the legislation – which broadened registration and disclosure requirements for non-party political actors – would stifle advocacy and impose unnecessary red-tape on these organisations.
The amended bill has replaced the term “political expenditure” with “electoral expenditure” – a much narrower definition focused on actual electioneering rather than other forms of public advocacy by charities.
This means non-partisan issue based advocacy will not be captured, vastly simplifying the compliance on charities and other organisations speaking publicly about policy issues.
Community Council of Australia CEO David Crosbie told Pro Bono News this amended version of the bill would have minimal impact on the vast majority of charities.
Latest on proposed Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill here: https://t.co/XYkgJF39Aj We are working through the significant changes to ensure they do mean that charity voices speaking up for their cause and their communities will not be compromised. Submissions by 27 Sep
— Com Council for Aus (@ComCouncil) September 19, 2018
Krystian Seibert, an industry fellow at the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University, said he was pleased the government replaced the “existing unworkable definition” of political expenditure with electoral expenditure.
“The government’s draft amendments to the bill are sensible and comprehensive, and go a long way towards addressing the concerns which have been raised about the bill and its impact on advocacy by charities,” Seibert told Pro Bono News.
In another win for the sector, registration processes have been simplified through a new single transparency register, while the number of entities required to register has also been reduced through higher thresholds and the removal of registration requirements for third parties.
My first impressions are positive:
1. Definition of 'political expenditure' replaced with narrower and clearer definition of 'electoral expenditure'
2. No registration requirement for third parties
3. Threshold for having to register as political campaigner considerably increased https://t.co/HcspPma0Z5
— Krystian Seibert (@KSeibertAu) September 19, 2018
Philanthropy Australia (PA) CEO Sarah Davies told Pro Bono News the organisation was currently going through the details of the latest draft before finalising its position.
But she said after PA’s latest meeting with Minister Mathias Cormann’s office on Monday, it was cautiously optimistic its members would be happy with the changes, particularly around the narrowed definition of political expenditure.
“[We want] to work towards a positive outcome which ensures transparency from foreign influence on our political system but doesn’t put at risk the critical contribution charities and philanthropy make to public debate, a cornerstone of Australian democracy,” Davies said.
The amended bill has again been presented to a parliamentary joint standing committee for inquiry, with the committee taking public submissions until 27 September.
Human Rights Law Centre executive director Hugh de Kretser said this gave the sector a chance to further strengthen the bill, and provide greater clarity on exactly what was captured by the legislation.
“The government has listened to and addressed many of the key concerns that charities had with the bill,” de Kretser said.
“[But] we are concerned that the bill still contains a rule that would require some charities and other groups to disclose the political party membership of senior staff.”