electoral legislation amendment bill 2021
In August of 2021 the Government tabled the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Political Campaigners) Bill 2021. The Bill aimed to lower the threshold for organisations registering as a Political Campaigner with the Australian Electoral Commission from $500,000 to $100,000 of electoral expenditure.
In the final sitting weeks of the year the Government introduced surprise amendments that significantly altered the Bill, meaning that the laws would be applied retroactively and changing the definition of electoral expenditure – all without any consultation with the charities that would be affected.
The Bill was strongly opposed by the HOOC alliance with over 80 charities writing a joint letter to cross bench Senators urging them to send the Bill to inquiry so that it could be properly scrutinised.
The Opposition negotiated amendments with the Government without consulting charities, and together they voted to ensure the passage of the Bill through both houses of parliament.
Why it matters
- It treats charitable advocacy in the same way as a political party or candidate trying to get elected. They are fundamentally different and should be treated as such. It is vital that organisations are able to voice concerns around government policies in relation to their core issues.
- The law is retroactive. Charities that fully complied with previous spending limits are now retroactively considered a significant third party.
- The law enables discrediting of charitable advocacy, and potentially regulating to make it even harder in the future. This law was an attempt to demonise issue-based advocacy as politically partisan, evidence of which could then be used to, for instance, amend the Charities Act to make the “disqualifying purpose” of promoting or opposing a political party much broader.
Charity sector faces new advocacy threat. Luke Michael, ProBono Australia, August 2021.
The new law threatening the future of Australia’s charities. Ben Oquist, Canberra Times, November 2021.
‘It’s really come out of nowhere’: Charities dismayed by changes to political campaigners bill. Luke Michael, ProBono Australia, November 2021.
Charities blast ‘unfair’ law changes they saw will silence dissent during elections. Christopher Knaus and Paul Karp, The Guardian, December 2021.
Are charities being silenced? Why a new law is alarming activists and could scuttle their election campaigns. Krystian Seibert, The Conversation, December 2021.
Charities shocked and angry as deal done on political campaigners bill. Wendy Williams, ProBono Australia, December 2021.
Morrison government urges MPs to dob in climate and ‘Voices for’ groups under new donor rules. Paul Karp, Guardian Australia, December 2021.