A briefing paper released last week by the St Vincent de Paul Society has condemned the Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill 2017, which will force most major charities to register as “political campaigners”.
Under the legislation proposed by the Government late last year, major charities will have to demonstrate that every donation of $250 or more was not from a foreign citizen before it can go into the general revenue of the organisation.
The minuscule number of donations that come from foreign citizens must then go into a separate account. This is so that there is no possibility that they are used for advocating for those in need, rather than being given out directly as aid.
Dr John Falzon, CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council, said: “The administrative rules associated with this Bill are burdensome and unnecessary. It is surprising to see this push coming from a government that has, in the past, expressed a desire to reduce red tape.”
“The ostensible reason for introducing this Bill is to deal with the threat of foreign powers interfering with our elections. There is no evidence that our major charities are a vehicle for foreign powers.”
“Rather, this Bill is aimed at muting the voice of charities and others who have been critical of the government. It is dangerous legislation that is not only a threat to charities, but to democracy itself. The St Vincent de Paul Society, as it continues to speak out on behalf of the vulnerable and excluded in our community, will strongly oppose this Bill,” Dr Falzon said.
The Australian government’s proposed ban on foreign donations and new disclosure requirements for political campaigners are “likely” to face a constitutional challenge, the Human Rights Law Centre has warned, the Guardian adds.
The HRLC executive director, Hugh de Kretser, told Guardian Australia it was “actively looking at the legality of the bill” and had concluded there were “serious risks that the legislation violates Australia’s constitutional protection of freedom of political communication”.
Electoral Bill will silence charities and undermine democratic debate (Vinnies’ Media Release)