Charities Welcome Foreign Donation Bill’s Passage Through Senate
16 November 2018 at 4:32 pm
The charity sector is celebrating the passing of the foreign donations bill through the Senate, after the federal government amended the bill to protect charitable advocacy.
The Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill cleared the upper house on Thursday, almost 12 months on from the legislation’s introduction in December last year.
Charities led a long campaign to amend the bill – which broadened registration and disclosure requirements for non-party political actors – arguing it would stifle advocacy and impose unnecessary red-tape on these organisations.
After a parliamentary joint standing committee made a number of recommendations to improve the bill, the government amended it in September, to ensure it focused on actual electioneering rather than other forms of public advocacy by charities.
This meant non-partisan issue based advocacy would not be captured in the foreign donations ban, vastly simplifying the compliance on charities and other organisations speaking publicly about policy issues.
A sensible outcome which enables civil society to continue its important work. Advocacy is often the best way for charities to achieve their outcomes and must be defended. Well done all who campaigned particularly @DavidCrosbie2 @ComCouncil https://t.co/CbgOgCzDIe
— David LockeAFCA (@DavidLockeAFCA) November 15, 2018
In a statement, the Community Council for Australia praised the efforts of advocates to amend the bill to lessen the impact on charities.
“The revised bill is a good demonstration of how public policy can be improved when the concerns of charities are taken seriously,” the statement said.
“Our democracy is stronger when charities are able to actively represent their causes and ensure the least powerful in our communities are represented.”
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) also welcomed the bill’s passage through the Senate.
ACF CEO Kelly O’Shanassy said the amended bill was a significant improvement on the original proposal, and addressed many of the concerns raised by charities around silencing civil society.
Philanthropy Australia said it was pleased the government and opposition had worked to address the sector’s concerns.
“[We support] the need for a robust and transparent system for regulating elections, including third parties and those who fund them. We believe that the bill now represents this objective in a sensible and proportionate manner,” PA said in a statement.
Thrilled the EFDR Bill passed the Senate! Proud of the work @PhilanthropyAus & our members, along with many stakeholders, to secure amendments that provide transparent election regulation without hampering the #advocacy of charities. Bring on the House vote! #auspol #nfpau
— Sarah Wickham (@sarahjwickham) November 15, 2018
Krystian Seibert, an industry fellow at the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University, told Pro Bono News the passage of the amended bill was a good outcome, supporting transparency within the electoral system while making it clear issue-based advocacy was protected.
But he said charities would still need to be informed about the changes to ensure they were compliant with their legal requirements.
“It will be important that the Australian Electoral Commission, ideally in partnership with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, develops guidance tailored to charities, to help them understand their obligations under the changes,” Seibert said.
Congratulations to all those who advocated to address problems with original version of this Bill – the amended version is a good outcome. Thanks for your constructive engagement @MathiasCormann @ALeighMP and Don Farrell, and to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. https://t.co/oaFsfB99t0
— Krystian Seibert (@KSeibertAu) November 15, 2018
The legislation is yet to be cemented, and will need to pass the House of Representatives before becoming law.
Government Senate leader Mathias Cormann said it was vital these changes to electoral laws were passed before the next federal election, likely held in the first half of next year.
“[This is] a reform that seeks to ensure the electoral system in Australia is not subject to undue foreign interference,” Cormann told the Senate on Thursday.
The government will aim to pass the bill through the lower house when the final sitting fortnight for the year commences on 26 November.