Apr 9th 2018

Government backs down on so-called Charity Gag Bill, but threat to democracy still exists

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) has issued a report sharply critical of the Turnbull Government’s foreign donations legislation, recommending several key provisions in the Bill be amended or overturned.

GetUp National Director Paul Oosting noted the government-majority Committee's report does not include a recommendation that the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill2017 be passed by Parliament.

"This report is an acknowledgement by the Government that its Donations Bill is unworkable," Mr Oosting said.

"The Government needs to go back to the drawing board and rewrite this Bill from scratch.

"It's encouraging to see the Committee endorse the many concerns raised by civil society, including the restrictive statutory declarations requirement and the unworkable definition of 'political expenditure' that basically captured any comment on any issue.

"But even if all the Committee's recommendations were adopted by the Government, it still wouldn't fix everything that's wrong with the Bill. Even with these changes, charities and civil society groups would still face new barriers to speaking up for the communities they represent.

"The Government needs to withdraw it from Parliament and redraft it from scratch, this time in consultation with legal experts and stakeholders in civil society," Mr Oosting said.

Mr Oosting said the Donations Bill was just one of three dangerous, anti-democratic pieces of legislation before Parliament.

"The Turnbull Government has launched a broadside on democratic freedom and participation in politics. The government’s Espionage Bill and Foreign Interference Transparency Scheme Bill seek to shut down and severely punish anyone who seeks to criticise them. All three Bills are dangerous, deeply troubling and and must be withdrawn,” Mr Oosting said.

“We will continue to fight these dangerous laws, which would result in fewer people being afforded a voice in public debate, less ability for civil society to advocate for the values millions of Australians care deeply about, and a greatly reduced contest of ideas.”