The Australian Parliament is currently considering legislation that has far-reaching consequences for our democracy.
The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017 and the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017 are expected to be debated in the June parliamentary sitting period.
While intended to stop foreign interference in the Australian electoral process and on national security, charities, community groups and other not-for-profit organisations have discovered the legislation will impose restrictions on them that will hamper their ability to advocate for First Australians, the poor, the homeless and the ill.
Together, these Bills will erode political freedoms and civil liberties which lie at the heart of Australia's democracy, particularly the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and the implied right to political communication.
The Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill would prevent Australian charities and not-for-profits from communicating human rights abuses or violations of environmental protections to United Nations bodies, and could treat peaceful protest as a threat to national security.
The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill could force Australian charities to register as agents of foreign governments with whom they have only tenuous links.
If passed in its current form, this legislation will put in jeopardy our ability to defend human rights, to undertake life-saving international aid and development work, to support Indigenous-led conservation and advocacy work, and to stand up for the interests of every day people and the environment.
Restricting advocacy by charities and not-for-profits 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.
I urge you to support the call from civil society to have both bills withdrawn and redrafted, with proper and widespread consultation.