Charitable advocacy comes under threat in Queensland
15 January 2020 at 3:57 pm
The Human Rights Law Centre says proposed legislation would silence charities
A Queensland government bill limiting political donations and election spending will stifle charitable advocacy, legal experts warn.
The proposed laws would limit third parties, such as charities, from receiving $4,000 per election term in donations – less than $20 a week – for election-related advocacy.
Alice Drury, a senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said this meant charities and community groups would struggle to raise funds to speak out on election issues important to their cause.
She said the bill needed to be amended in order to achieve its purpose of creating a more level playing field between big corporations and ordinary citizens.
“Limits on political donations and election spending are vital to ensure politicians are responding to those with the best ideas, not those with the biggest bank balance,” Drury said.
“This proposed law goes a long way to restoring democracy and achieving greater political equality. However changes are needed to ensure that advocacy by charities and small grassroots groups is not stifled.”
The bill is currently before the state parliament’s Economics and Governance Committee for review.
In HRLC’s submission to the committee, it noted that unlike charities, corporations would not face any restrictions on the income they can use on campaigning, and could spend up to $1 million on election advertising.
Drury called for the legislation to be amended, so that small community advocacy is not captured, and charities are exempt from the donation limits and compliance requirements.
She noted federal laws already prevented charities from promoting or opposing political parties.
“It is so critical that these laws don’t muzzle the voice of charities and ordinary Queenslanders while leaving big businesses to run large-scale election campaigns,” she said.
“If reforms aren’t made to this bill, the government could inadvertently worsen political inequality in Queensland. However if these amendments are made, these laws would be an enormous win for Queensland democracy.”
This isn’t the first time charitable advocacy has come under threat in Australia.
In 2018, charities fought against the federal government’s Electoral Funding and Reform Bill, which broadened registration and disclosure requirements for non-party political actors.
The sector raised concerns the legislation – which was designed to block donations by foreign entities attempting to influence Australian electoral outcomes – would stifle advocacy and impose unnecessary red-tape on charities.
Charities were eventually able to get the bill amended so that non-partisan issue based advocacy was not captured.