Thursday, 7 December 2017
Questions without Notice
Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis. Attorney, your government seems determined to stifle dissent and undermine Australia's democracy with its relentless attack on civil society and the charity sector, including this week the announcement that the Turnbull government wants to stop advocacy from charities and not-for-profit groups from receiving international philanthropy.
Today these attacks have continued with the appointment of the anti-charity Gary Johns as commissioner for the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. Gary Johns has written an entire book venting his disdain for the charity sector. How does the government expect Mr Johns to carry out his duties in an impartial manner, and what are his qualifications for the job?
Government senators interjecting—
Senator Siewert, I completely reject what you've said in your question. First of all, you misunderstand the legislation which Senator Cormann will be introducing into the chamber later this afternoon. Under the Turnbull government's legislation, which will protect Australian democracy and the Australian electoral system from the corrupting influence of foreign money, there is no prohibition whatsoever on overseas donations for charitable purposes. If we're going to protect our system from foreign money interfering or being used to manipulate the political system, of course we would extend that prohibition beyond political parties, but there is no prohibition whatsoever on charities receiving foreign money for non-political purposes nor, might I say, is there any prohibition on charities receiving donations from within Australia for any purpose, political or non-political. So, Senator Siewert, you're completely wrong about that, with respect.
In relation to Dr Gary Johns, whom I know slightly, Dr Gary Johns is a former Labor member of the House of Representatives. He was a minister in the Keating government. He was the Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations, he was the Special Minister of State and he was Vice-President of the Executive Council. Dr Gary Johns is a person with extensive experience in public policy and in politics and is a most respected Australian opinion leader. He is an eminently suitable person, who doesn't come from my side of politics—he comes from the left of politics—to occupy this role. (Time expired)
Mr Johns has made appalling comments about Aboriginal women, which I will not repeat. He has argued that women on income support should be forced onto contraception and denied their right to children. He has said that advocating to cut foreign aid is arguably a public benefit. Does the government agree with these statements and, if not, will you revoke his appointment?
Senator Siewert, we certainly won't be revoking Dr Johns's appointment. We're actually very proud of Dr Johns's appointment. We regard him as an extremely suitable person to undertake this role.
Senator Siewert, you have attributed a number of views to Dr Gary Johns. I occasionally read Dr Gary Johns's opinion pieces in the newspapers. I've never read any opinion piece in which he has expressed those views and, no doubt, Senator Siewert, Dr Johns has expressed a variety of views—as all newspaper columnists or op-ed writers do—some of which people would agree with and some of which people would disagree with. But, Senator Siewert, we don't run a ruler over people's opinions in deciding whether or not they are suitable for an important public position, because the last time I looked, at least under a coalition government, this was a free country in which freedom of opinion is respected. (Time expired)
Opposition senators interjecting—
Is the Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, Mr Sukkar, continuing the government's vendetta against the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission? Is the government's intention to destroy the effectiveness and undermine the operation of our charities and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission?
Senator Siewert, the government strongly supports the Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. It is a very important part of the architecture of the regulation of various entities in this country. We have regulation of companies, we have regulation of various other financial entities and we have regulation of charities—and so we should. Senator Siewert, your entire proposition that the government is somehow seeking to undermine charities rests on the assertion that we are introducing legislation that would restrict charities through Senator Cormann's bill, which we have foreshadowed. In fact, what we are doing through Senator Cormann's bill is restricting the reception by Australian charities of foreign political donations. We are not touching, we are not going anywhere near restricting, the receipt of moneys for charitable purposes.