Parliamentary committee report highlights major flaws in electoral law bill

Parliamentary committee report highlights major flaws in electoral law bill

Major problems in the Turnbull Government’s proposed laws that would shut charities and community groups out of public policy debates, have been highlighted by a new Parliamentary Committee report.

The Human Rights Law Centre said the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters Committee’s recommendations were a step in the right direction but would not fix all of the problems in the bill.

"The bill in its current form is incoherent, unworkable and a threat to our democracy. The Committee’s report makes key bipartisan recommendations that any foreign funding restrictions on civil society be limited to electioneering – not non-partisan issue advocacy and public comment at large as is the case in the current bill. It also recommends that the compliance regime be vastly simplified. These changes are absolutely necessary," said Dr Aruna Sathanapally, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre.

"The Committee’s recommendations are welcome but do not address all the problems with the bill. No comparable democracy imposes a foreign funding ban on those who are not running for office that operates 365 days a year, every year. But that’s exactly what this bill does.

"The Turnbull Government needs to now engage in proper consultation to get this right. If the Government responds to the threat of foreign interference in the wrong way, by clamping down on public debate and the sharing of information, it will be responsible for eroding Australia’s democracy, not China or Russia or anyone else.”

The Committee’s recommendations include:

  • narrowing and clarifying the definition of “political expenditure” that attracts the funding ban;
  • vastly simplifying the compliance on organisations, like charities, who speak publicly;
  • allowing all Australian residents to donate to charities and others that engage in advocacy;
  • obliging the donor to identify that they are not a prohibited foreign donor (instead of the recipient); and
  • scrapping the extended definition of an associated entity, because of the absurd consequences identified in evidence.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s submission on the bill is here and its explainer on the bill is here.

For interviews or further information please call:
Alycia Gawthorne, Communications Officer, Human Rights Law Centre, 0425 016 380

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