Silencing civil society would disastrously weaken democracy in Australia.
The Australian Conservation Foundation has welcomed the passage of the Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill through the Senate.
“When first introduced this bill was a draconian proposal that redefined non-partisan, independent, issues-based advocacy as political campaigning and would have subjected Australian charities to many of the restrictions in the Electoral Act that were designed and intended for political parties,” said ACF Chief Executive Officer, Kelly O’Shanassy.
“The bill would have prevented many groups from receiving international philanthropy for important public interest work and would have had a chilling effect on charities and non-profits that hold governments to account and advocate for better policies for Australia.
“Silencing civil society would have disastrously weakened democracy in our country. Today’s bill is a significant improvement on the original proposal, addressing many of the concerns raised by charities and non-profits.
“We acknowledge the support of many parliamentarians, including Labor, the Australian Greens, the Centre Alliance and Senators Hinch and Storer, who voted to support the Hands Off Our Charities red line principles earlier this year.
“We note the constructive role of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in this process, especially committee members Larissa Waters and Andrew Giles, former Committee Chair Linda Reynolds and former member Lee Rhiannon.
“We acknowledge Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s commitment not to support a bill that harmed the charitable sector. Shadow Charities Minister Andrew Leigh and Shadow Special Minister of State Don Farrell worked to understand and address charities’ concerns.
“The change to the definition of ‘electoral matter’ in particular is a substantial improvement on current legislation and will free charities from a significant red tape burden.
“While this bill is an improvement, there is still work to do. A robust electoral finance and donations framework must do more to enhance transparency of donations to political parties and set caps on political donations and election spending.
“We thank all parliamentarians who played a constructive role in this outcome and ask our elected representatives to continue to prioritise this important area of law reform.”