Foreign Donations and Charities Bill

Federal Labor and Bill Shorten will not let the government silence legitimate political debate.

It is clear that many charitable and not-for-profit organisations will be prevented from advocating for a more fair and just Australia if this legislation goes through in its current form. That would be bad for democracy.

Labor is committed to reforming our political donations system to ensure our democracy is protected from improper influence from overseas. Labor has had legislation in the parliament to ban foreign donations for years.

However, we are concerned that the government has overreached with its legislation.

We will continue to work with the government to find a sensible way to ban foreign donations, without selling out charitable organisations that do incredibly important work in our community.

The charity sector is among the most trusted in Australia, and the Australian public overwhelmingly supports the right of charities to advocate and express opinion on government policy.

Labor recognises there are fundamental differences between the role of charities in our political and policy debates and the roles played by political parties and their associated entities.

We believe that robust constraints on foreign influence on our political process can be achieved without unnecessarily stifling the voice of Australian charities and further marginalising the communities they speak out for.

The charitable sector faces significant challenges, as social changes decrease the share of the population who join, volunteer and donate. Our hard-working charity sector needs a government that works with them, not against them.

Of particular concern are the barriers the proposed legislation could create for some legitimate forms of public support for groups undertaking public advocacy. For example, through the overly burdensome compliance regimes the bill would impose on organisations who rely on public support in the form of financial donations.

Labor is proud to have continually fought for improved transparency and greater accountability in Australia’s political donation system. We took a policy of significant donation reform to the 2016 Federal election, and introduced legislation into the Parliament that would significantly improve our donation laws.

Labor’s reforms would;

  • Reduce the donation disclosure limit from the current level of $13,500 (indexed to inflation) to a fixed $1000.
  • Prohibit the receipt of foreign donations.
  • Ban ‘donation splitting’ where donations are spread between different branches of political parties and associated entities to avoid disclosure obligations.
  • Ban the receipt of anonymous donations above $50.
  • Link public funding to campaign expenditure.
  • Introduce new offences and increased penalties for abuses of the political donation disclosure regime.

In contrast, the Liberal party has been responsible for an increased disclosure threshold and reduced transparency and has now introduced legislation that could hinder the efforts of charitable organisations to provide a voice in our democratic discourse for many marginalised and vulnerable Australians

Labor has sought detailed briefings on the proposed legislation and the measures proposed and will continue to pursue reforms consistent with our long-standing policy objectives of improving the transparency and accountability of Australia’s political donations system.

We will not let the government silence organisations seeking to make legitimate contributions to our nation’s political debate.