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The Turnbull Government has launched an all out attack on our democratic rights. But before you jump to any conclusions, let's heard from the "victims" they're trying to protect from community advocacy...
Hint: to get the audio click the speaker icon in the bottom right hand corner.

At the exact moment people were celebrating the passage of marriage equality, the Turnbull Government quietly introduced a package of three bills to Parliament. Alone, any one of these bill threatens the fabric of our democracy. As a package, they're the stuff of nightmares.

You can read a summary and analysis of all three bills in the sections below (along with the actual draft legislation).
Attacks the funding and operations of organisations who publicly advocate, while leaving corporations free to buy political influence, as they do now. The Bill uses very broad definitions to create a legal context that forces organisations to stay silent or risk massive fines and jail time for employees.

New Classes of Organisation:
Organisations that engage in levels of public advocacy must register as either Political Campaigners or Third Party Campaigners. These definitions come with a host of burdensome administrative requirements with massive penalties for minor infractions.

Associated Entities:
Forces issue-based advocacy organisations to associate with one or more political parties, even if they only share views on a single policy issue. This will lead to absurd situations, in which organisations like GetUp would have to associate with the Coalition and the ALP.

The Bill requires organisations to keep track of donations from foreign sources that exceed $250 in a single year. In effect, organisations will be forced to ascertain the identity of every donor, because failing to comply, even accidentally, carries such heavy penalties. The only way to do this is by collecting a statutory declaration for every single donor.

Organisations will have to appoint a financial officer to administer these complicated new rules, and that person will cop the hit if anything goes wrong, with fines, and jail time for minor errors. This would be a prohibitive burden for the host of small charities and community groups that would have to comply with these new rules.

Read more about the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017.
Under the guise of "national security" this Bill redefines the crimes of 'sabotage' and 'espionage' to include activities that are essential to freedom of speech and expression, and to a functioning democracy:
  1. The ability and right of everyday citizens to organise dissent against the agenda of the government of the day.
  2. The right of whistle-blowers to report, and journalists to receive or report, classified information even if it involves government misconduct or illegal behaviour.
Making dissent illegal:
The new definitions of espionage and sabotage in this Bill are designed to make public opposition to government agendas very dangerous. Any activity deemed 'prejudicial' to the Australian Government's "political...or economic relations with another country" could get you serious jail time. You can even go to jail for causing damage to Australia's international reputation - as would happen, for example, in the completely legitimate case of pointing out that Australia's treatment of refugees breaches international law. Campaigning against the TPP, climate change, and a host of other issues would also be captured by this law.

This is hugely worrying. The essence of a democracy is that governments are accountable to the people. If the people cannot criticise the government's behaviour – by protesting, organising petitions, communicating publicly etc. – without fear of being thrown in jail, we are no longer living in a democracy.

Criminalising whistleblowers and journalists:
Reporting on classified government activity, even illegal activity, is criminalised in this Bill. In fact, coming into contact with classified material of any kind, knowingly or not, can get you a jail sentence. "Communicating" or "dealing" with "inherently harmful" information (defined here as any classified information) carry penalties ranging from 2-15 years in prison. Not only does this Bill make the work of journalists and whistleblowers impossible – it also means you could go to jail for reasons completely outside your control, like receiving an email, accidentally seeing a document, etc.

It is essential that whistleblowers and journalists are free to communicate information about government misconduct. If this Bill passes, governments will be able to do whatever they like with no repercussions.

The Attorney General has proposed a journalist carve-out, but this doesn't address all the concerns raised by journalists, and still leaves whistleblowers in the lurch.

Read more about the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017.
This Bill is supposed to provide transparency about influences on government policy from outside Australia, by establishing a register of foreign 'interests'. In other words, this Bill is supposed to clearly establish which organisations or individuals are acting on behalf of external interests.

Unsurprisingly, however, the definitions are so broad that the Bill captures even the most innocuous interactions with non-Australians – virtually any organisation or individual who has international connections, and who liaises with the government, or publicly advocates on an issue will need to register as a "foreign agent". For example, corresponding privately with a friend from another country about a political issue, and sharing that information on Facebook would require you to register.

Once registered, you have to report all activity that could influence government policy (again, this could include important, legitimate, or even just innocuous activity). Failure to comply leaves you liable to face massive fines.

In a world as interconnected as ours – and a country as proudly multicultural as Australia – where political issues, media, people's relationships and families cross borders so often, forcing people to register their international connections is ludicrous and unrealistic. And, of course, does nothing to protect our political system from actual interference.

Carve-out for corporations:
Of course, the government hasn't forgotten to include a special carve-out for its best buddies – multinational corporations. Special provisions in the bill allow for 'commercial' secrecy. So corporations – foreign or domestic – can continue to lobby government in private, buy influence in our political system, and avoid any of the scrutiny that these laws impose on everyday citizens.

Read more about the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017.
The advocacy gag-law was recently reviewed by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.

The Committee recommended a whole host of significant ammendments, including:
  • Remove the requirement to get a stat dec from anyone who donates more than $4.80 a week.
  • Remove the GetUp clause that would take away our movement's independence by forcing us to affiliate with political parties.
  • Remove the dangerous "political campaigner" category that could lead to further restrictions on advocacy and dissent.
  • ...And much, much more.
And the Committee didn't even say the Bill should pass even if all the recommendations are adopted. It's a clear rebuke to the government and the strongest signal yet that the Bill needs to be withdrawn and rewritten from scratch.

You can read the report in full here: Advisory report on the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017


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