Monday, 25 June 2018
I seek leave to amend general business notice of motion No. 868, standing in my name and that of Senators Rhiannon and McKim for today, relating to charities and foreign interference legislation.
I move the motion as amended:
That the Senate—
(a) notes that:
(i) on Friday 15 June, the Hands Off Our Charities Alliance released a set of “Red Line Principles” that provide guidance on the government’s proposed package of legislation relating to foreign influence, including the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017, the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017, and the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017 to Parliament in light of some recent government proposals around foreign involvement in Australian Politics, and
(ii) the Red Line Principles provide a framework to enable Parliament to get the balance right in promoting and protecting public participation in our democracy while recognising concerns over improper influence from big business and foreign entities;
(b) affirms that is it critical that the ability of charities and not-for-profits to use funding for issues-based advocacy is not restricted; that there is a clear distinction between issues-based advocacy and politically partisan electioneering, which is already regulated in the Charities Act 2013; and that organisations do not face a greater compliance burden; and
(c) calls on the government to:
(i) support the Red Line Principles, and
(ii) go back to the drawing board on its package of legislation, and instead implement legislation that puts strict limits on corporate and all other donations to political parties, along with election expenditure caps work to ensure that any bill seeking to deal with the problem of covert foreign influence in Australia does not have unintended consequences, including adverse impacts on charities and on freedom of the press.
The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, in a unanimous report, supported the government's core proposition that for the ban on foreign political donations to be effective it should apply to all relevant political expenditure, including political expenditure incurred by charities. Excluding charities from any such ban would make the ban entirely ineffective, as it would create a significant loophole. The government is considering the committee's recommendations and will act on those as appropriate.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has unanimously recommended that the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill be passed, subject to sensible amendments. The government looks forward to receiving the committee's report on the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme imminently.
Labor members and senators have been proud to stand with a broad coalition of charities and not-for-profits to defend their right to advocate and speak out on issues affecting our society. Labor has made its support for the important work of Hands off our Charities Alliance abundantly clear. The advocacy voice of charities and not-for-profits is not only the voice of the various organisations it is the voice of every Australian who donates, volunteers or is a member of a charity.
When the voice of charities and not-for-profits is threatened, so is our democracy. Labor has led the way on reforming political donations and removing foreign influence from the political process, and the opposition is committed to banning foreign donations. However, like the Hands off our Charities Alliance, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and the thousands of Australians who have given their voice to this campaign, the opposition believes we can clean up donations without silencing our community sector.