The President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Stuart McMillan, has said the proposed new electoral funding laws will “potentially damage the democratic process”, as well as stifle advocacy by Australian religious organisations.
“Welfare and public interest advocacy should not be seen as political, and nor should funds received for this purpose be seen as ‘political donations’,” said Mr McMillan.
The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill, was introduced into parliament December 2017 with the aim to regulate foreign influence on the Australian political system.
It will impact charities that receive support or donations from foreign entities, with charities required to verify donations exceeding $250 are from Australian citizens or residents.
The bill will also broaden the definition of political expenditure to include “any views on an issue that is or likely to be, before electors in an election.”
Advocacy in areas such as homelessness, refugees, climate change and age pension would go under political expenditure meaning charities would have to register as ‘political campaigner’ under the proposed bill. Businesses however will be exempted from compliance.
President Stuart McMillan says the bill needs to be redrafted.
“Churches and other organisations advocating for the common good should not be impeded in exercising our prophetic voice.”
“These changes will make it harder to make heard the voices, issues and concerns of people in the communities we serve.”
Chief Advocate of World Vision Australia, Tim Costello told The Guardian that the bill would be an infringement on civil society’s voice.
“It’s clearly, in my view, [part] of the zeitgeist of a silencing and gagging of civil society. Hearing inconvenient views and characterising those views [as] political campaigning,” said Costello.
UnitingCare Australia and the UCA Synod of Victoria and Tasmania have both made submissions to the Federal Government taking issue with the changes.
A ProBono Australia poll of the not for profit sector found that 79% of respondents were concerned about how the draft bill will affect them.