Dear Mr Shorten, Opposition Leader,
Cc: Members of Shadow Cabinet
The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is conducting an inquiry into new legislation that will gag charities as they advocate for Australians in need.
The proposals put forward in the draft “Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017” plan unprecedented restrictions and controls on commentary and advocacy on public issues by Australian charities and not-for-profit organisations.
Changes would also heavily constrain or ban charities from receiving international philanthropic donations, which currently support a wide range of activities including better public health, access to education, the voice and rights of Indigenous Australians and the protection of our shared environment.
The Government has argued the proposed changes are necessary to block donations by foreign powers trying to inappropriately influence Australian electoral outcomes but I am deeply concerned that the Bill has far wider implications and tears at the heart of issues Australians care about and look to charities to speak up on.
Changes would place new constraints and regulation on public comment and advocacy by charities. Charities carrying out even a smaller amount of public commentary or advocacy work would be defined in the revised Act as “political campaigners”, or “third party campaigners”.
The activities of charities are already strictly regulated by the Charities Act 2013 and the existing Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and are overseen by the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC).
I implore you and the members of the Shadow Cabinet to recommend that the Bill be withdrawn so that it may be redrafted to remove these perhaps unintended consequences for charities and not-for-profit organisations.
Restricting advocacy by charities not only sends a deeply troubling message that government is seeking to avoid accountability, it also would have a chilling effect on informed public debates that are necessary for our democracy.
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