Thursday, July 7, 2022

Are donors being silenced? Why a new law is scaring activists and could sabotage their election campaigns

Parliament’s final two sitting weeks this year have provided both good and bad news for Australian charities.

Last week provided good news with new government rules that would have curtailed the ability of charities to join protests disapproved by the Senate, meaning they won’t take effect.

The charity was relieved to see this, as many faced the prospect of withdrawing from certain advocacy activities.

But this week brought bad news, with changes to electoral laws passed by parliament that would impose more regulation on charities and other organizations that engage in the electoral process.

Despite intense lobbying by a coalition of charities, a last-minute deal between the Morrison government and the opposition saw the bill pass, albeit with some amendments that slightly lessened its negative impact.

what does the new law do

One of the main changes to the new law is the introduction of a lower limit for organizations registering as so-called “political campaigners”.

Previously, an organization had to register as a political campaigner if it had spent election expenditure (money spent on campaigns, advertisements and any other advocacy work to influence voters in elections) in any of the last three years. in excess of $500,000. The bill sought to reduce this limit significantly to $100,000.

This limit was changed to $250,000 in the final version of the bill that was passed, as part of a deal between the government and the opposition. This is an improvement over the original offer of $100,000, but it still means that many charities will be captured from the change.

Registering as political campaigners would require more charities and be subject to additional reporting obligations, including identifying their large donors.

Opponents of the bill fear it will act like a spending limit, with the charity holding back from campaigning not to trigger the additional requirements that come with being a political campaigner.

In addition to lowering the threshold, the bill also detailed the types of expenses that are relevant to determine whether an organization is subject to any reporting and other obligations.

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Now, any expense related to “preparing for, or participating in, an election” should count, but there is no guidance as to what this actually means. This is a significant source of uncertainty for charities, and many may be more cautious when engaging in the democratic process again.

Another problematic element of the Bill is the fact that it will apply retrospectively to money already spent by an organization. Charities will have to look back on their spending and see if it now constitutes “election expenditure,” using a more vague definition, and determine whether it classifies them as political campaigners.

Pages and pages of legal advice will be needed, but lawyers won’t have much, given the very few details provided in the bill.

One positive result, however, is that “political campaigners” would not actually be referred to by this name – the term would change to “significant third parties”.

This is a welcome change, given that the term “political campaigner” may refer to people dealing with political parties as well as charities and other associations – despite the fact that they are not seeking elected office and issues. -based promotion.

Advocacy by charity is important and is already regulated

Ultimately, the bill is a problem because it would hinder charity advocacy activities. And advocacy is one of the key ways charities can address the root causes of the social and environmental challenges they seek to improve. This often requires a change in government policy.

Charities can lobby and campaign to do so – provided they stop supporting and supporting particular parties or candidates.

However, advocacy activities can still take place in the context of elections. For example, charitable organizations may put out advertisements outlining or criticizing the positions of different political parties on issues as diverse as climate change or the amount of jobseeker payments.

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Charities are already regulated when they “incur election expenditure”, with the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 imposing various obligations on them (and similarly any other organization involved in the electoral process).

Read more: The government is cracking down on charities – and the effect it could have on peaceful protests

They may be classified as a “third party” organization or may be required to register as a political campaigner”.

A certain level of such regulation is necessary in the interest of promoting transparency and integrity in elections. The problem with the bill is that it takes things too far.

A bad process leads to a bad outcome

Otto von Bismarck is believed to have once said, “Laws are like sausages. Better not watch them being made.”

Considering the developments of this week, this statement is true. Changes to electoral laws were made through Parliament, even without referring to a committee inquiry to examine the details of the bill and its implications.

Read more: Infographic: a snapshot of charity and charity in Australia

The last-minute deal saw some problematic elements of the bill wound back, but what was passed is deeply flawed.

There will now be additional reporting and other obligations on more charities under electoral laws, and there is now more uncertainty about what counts as “election expenditure”.

This may mean that charities will be more reluctant to engage in advocacy, especially where any link can be made between their work and the election. This will lead to less debate about the various social and environmental challenges we face as a nation.

We in Australia need more engagement in our democratic process, not less, and this bill represents a setback in that regard.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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