The Hands Off Our Charities alliance has released the following statement on the Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill:
Hands Off Our Charities welcomes the passing of this version of the Bill through the House of Representatives today and is pleased to see a much more sensible Bill get bipartisan support.
The willingness of all parties to work with us to improve this Bill is an important recognition of the role that charities and not-for-profit organisations play in keeping governments accountable and advocating for the public good.
This is how democracy should work – civil society speaking up, and parliament working with us cooperatively.
A vital test of any democracy is the ability of people to express views not shared by the government. That’s why the Hands Off Our Charities alliance has spent the past year campaigning for changes to the Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill.
In December 2017, the Australian Government introduced a flawed Bill which proposed sweeping new constraints and regulation of civil society advocacy. There was an outpouring of opposition to the reforms from charities, community groups, business groups, academics and more.
After conducting hearings with the civil society sector around these issues, in April 2018 the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) released a unanimous report recommending the Bill should redefine ‘political expenditure’ as spending “to influence voters to take specific action as voters, so as not to capture non-political issue advocacy”. This was a positive first step to acknowledge that there is a difference between the crucial issues based advocacy done by charities and partisan electioneering.
Following this report, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten released a statement saying that it was the Australian Labor Party’s policy to ban foreign donations but what it “won’t support is anything that punishes the charity and not-for-profit sector”.
Hands Off Our Charities continued discussions with all parties and in June 2018 we were pleased to see a motion to support our red line principles was passed through the Senate by Labor, the Greens and the cross bench.
Following a second hearing in September 2018 where several Hands Off Our Charities members outlined the critical importance of issues based advocacy to their work, JSCEM released a second series of recommendations which saw significant improvements to the Bill.
In November 2018 the Government finally introduced a version of the Bill to the Senate that addressed the majority of the charity sector’s concerns and removed the largest threats to our work.
We all know that there is more work to be done to make our democracy fairer and more transparent. Hands Off Our Charities will continue to work towards positive democratic reform that allows civil society to speak out on important issues and reinstalls a sense of trust in our political system for all Australians.
This statement is endorsed by the following:
Amnesty International Australia
Australian Conservation Foundation
Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
Australian Marine Conservation Society
Climate Council of Australia
Community Council for Australia
Digital Rights Watch
Friends of the Earth Australia
Global Health Alliance Melbourne
Greenpeace Australia Pacific
Human Rights Law Centre
Humane Society International Australia
National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC)
Pew Charitable Trusts
Public Health Association of Australia
Queensland Community Alliance
RESULTS International (Australia)
St Vincent de Paul Society National Council
Sunshine Coast Environment Council
Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania