Tuesday, 20 March 2018
Charities play a valuable role in Australian society. From the Adelaide Fringe Artist Fund to the Australian Council of Social Services and from the Women Lawyers' Associations of South Australia to World Vision Australia, they all have a unique place here in Australia. Charities also contribute to robust public policy debate and provide significant public value in a wide range of areas such as health, housing, emergency relief, education and the environment, to name a few.
The Senate will be required to vote on an important piece of legislation that will significantly impact on the ability of not just charities but also other community organisations and businesses to comment on and advocate matters of public interest. The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017 does at least have the aim of addressing concerns around undisclosed foreign influence, but the parliament must tread carefully to avoid overreach. Not long after this legislation was introduced on 7 December 2017, my office was contacted by many concerned charities and other organisations. When I realised that GetUp! and the Institute of Public Affairs were, perhaps for the first and only time, agreeing on a matter of public policy, I knew the government was either doing something wrong or was completely off track.
On 13 February 2018, I, along with my parliamentary colleagues Senator Rachel Siewert and Mr Andrew Leigh MP, hosted a roundtable discussion with a number of representatives from charities and other organisations. The round table was attended by Caritas Australia, the Australian Council of Social Services, the Uniting Church in Australia Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, Oxfam Australia, Save the Children Australia, World Vision Australia, CARE Australia, Human Rights Law Centre, PEW Charitable Trusts, RESULTS International (Australia), the Australian Council for International Development, the Australian Conservation Foundation, Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Global Health Alliance Melbourne and the Community Council for Australia. The round table was a success, and I would like to thank everyone who participated. I would also like the thank Saffron, from the Australian Conservation Foundation, who has been persistent in her advocacy on this issue.
I do note the extensive work that has been undertaken by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. I would like to thank the committee and all those who have participated in the inquiry into this legislation. The work it has done demonstrates how important committee oversight and scrutiny of government legislation is.
Finally, I seek leave to table a document which is a communique from the round table. I understand copies of this document have been circulated in the chamber. The communique from the Hands Off Our Charities coalition reflects the views of those organisations that participated in the round table and are views that I am carefully considering. I understand the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is scheduled to report on 28 March 2018 and I look forward to reading the report and its recommendations.