Rules around foreign donations threaten to cripple our charities

As an update, since Philanthropy Australia’s Open Letter last week there has been a number of articles published dealing with the issue of the proposed change to the Electoral Legislative Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017. 

Some interesting articles have included:

The Age
Rules around foreign donations threaten to cripple our charities
By Martyn Myer

Australian Financial Review
Charities, wealthy families slam donations rule
Tom McIlroy
1 March 2018

Article extract:

“More than 60 of the country’s richest families and foundations have warned the Coalition’s crackdown on foreign political donations would jeopardise community advocacy by wrongly classing them as political actors.

In an open letter to the Turnbull government published on Thursday, peak body Philanthropy Australia and members including the Myer Foundation, the Ian Potter Foundation and the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation say legislation introduced to Parliament last year to ban foreign political donations and limit some activity by not-for-profits “will suffocate policy development and public advocacy”.

The legislation blocks charities and registered organisations from receiving donations from overseas over $250 for political purposes and requires any donations from barred donors be kept in separate bank accounts and not used for political activity.

Any individual or organisation receiving donations for political purposes would be required to obtain statutory declarations stating the donor is allowable under the law.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said on Monday Labor would not support any bill punishing charities and not-for-profits, while Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party has told The Australian Financial Review it is leaning towards supporting the plan.

The legislation is before a parliamentary committee. The Greens say they won’t support any plan that hurts debate in civil society.

Among signatories to the open letter are the Snow Foundation, chaired by rich-lister Terry Snow, and the Dusseldorp Forum, established by construction giant Lend Lease’s founder Dick Dusseldorp.

“Intended or otherwise, the consequences of the bill are far-reaching and will suffocate policy development and public advocacy, both of which are central to a healthy democracy,” the letter says. “While we support the central purpose of the bill, which is improved regulation of foreign donations to political parties, we urge that the bill be withdrawn and redrafted.

“[It] conflates political campaigning and issue advocacy. If this bill becomes law, many charities, as well as their major donors, are likely to come within the scope of these new electoral laws.

“Key parts of our civil society, including charities, philanthropies and donors, will be defined as political actors rather than advocates for the long-term public good and health of our democracy.”

The letter says the legislation would impose a massive increase in regulatory compliance and red tape for charities and philanthropic organisations and risk the right for “the thoughtful exchange of ideas around new solutions to entrenched or emerging social, health, education and environmental challenges” outside politics.

“It will simply suffocate the organisations that we all rely on to improve the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities across Australia.”

The government needs nine of the Senate crossbench members to pass the legislation, including One Nation’s three votes.

Senator Hanson said not-for-profit organisations should not be able to “flout laws while moonlighting as a political party when elections roll around”.

“Banning overseas donations to not-for-profit groups should be a last resort, but recent behaviours of a few have One Nation senators leaning towards supporting the government on foreign donations to charities,” she said.

Key points

Philanthropy Australia says the policy will suffocate policy development.

Labor said it would not support any bill punishing charities and not-for-profits.”