Update on proposed political advocacy laws

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Last year we wrote about the government’s proposed changes to political advocacy laws in the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017.

Over 200 submissions were received by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. These submissions raised a number of serious concerns with the Bill, including the potential chilling effect it could have on advocacy by charities.

The Committee has released its report on the Bill and made 15 recommendations to government. While still supporting the introduction of a registration scheme for entities that engage in political advocacy, the Committee recommended that:

  • an entity should only need to register if it spends money on political advocacy at a level that could reasonably be expected to have a significant impact on voter behaviour;
  • an entity’s disclosure requirements should be proportionate to its expenditure;
  • there should be greater clarity around the definition of “political expenditure” so that non-political issue advocacy by charities is excluded; and
  • the proposed penalties in the Bill should be reduced.

The Committee supported the proposed ban on foreign donations being used for the purpose of election campaigning. However, it said that requiring charities to obtain statutory declarations from donors to prove they were Australian residents was inappropriate and amounted to unnecessary red tape.

It remains to be seen how the government will respond to the Committee’s recommendations.