Work for a Fair Democracy #OurDemocracy
The Human Rights Law Centre, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Democracy Network are building a broad coalition for a better democracy, where our elected representatives put Australians’ interests first, not those of their wealthy donors and mates. ARRCC has joined this coalition.
We have joined because there seems no other reasonable explanation for the fact that our current federal government refuses to legislate sensible policies to keep us – and life on this precious planet – safe from climate change. It is not convinced by increasingly verified scientific warnings, clear ethical guidance, the availability of ever-cheaper clean technologies, not even shifts in popular opinion. What has become clear is that a major block to legislated national climate action is that the major political parties are captured by corporate interests.
Please sign this petition (started 25 Aug, 2022). We’re calling on the Albanese Government to pass legislation to fix political donations, election spending, and lobbying in their first term. Join us in demanding the Albanese government end cash for access by:
- Banning big political donations and ending donation secrecy
- Stopping ministers moving into industry jobs
- Limiting electoral spending by parties and corporations
- Making lobbying transparent
Background to the campaign
Much has been written now on the influence of corporate donors and the “revolving door” between politics and corporate power brokers. Examples are Big Coal: Australia’s Dirtiest Habit, by Guy Pearse, David McKnight and Bob Burton, and Games of Mates: How Favours Bleed the Nation, by Cameron K. Murray and Paul Frijters. Instances of unethical behaviour are frequently exposed by journalists.
The ABC’s two-part factual series released in October 2021, Big Deal, communicates the basic issues to everyday Australians in an effective and entertaining way; and is readily available on iview: https://iview.abc.net.au/show/big-deal
This issue affects other matters of social justice too. Whether community organisations are working to combat climate change, to stand up for workers’ rights, to minimise gambling harm or to keep our gun control laws strong, we are facing the same problem: powerful and harmful industries are resisting regulation for the common good.
Weak laws allow powerful industries and lobby groups to exploit democratic processes for their own financial gain. Even when exposed, there are rarely consequences for morally corrupt behaviour.
Australia lags far behind other jurisdictions when it comes to regulating political donations, election spending, lobbying and the spread of disinformation in elections.
The proposal for a legislated Federal Integrity Commission has been part of the response, which the current government has delayed and attempted to weaken by proposing its own legislation - a toothless, opaque version of the original.
After a long period of research and consultation across civil society, from grassroots organisations to academic experts, the Fair Democracy Network has created this Framework for a Fair Democracy. The Framework can be endorsed by individuals as well as organisations. Of course, ARRCC has of endorsed it: https://www.ourdemocracy.com.au/the-framework/
1. Stamp out corruption
Create a strong federal integrity commission
Introduce an enforceable code of conduct for politicians
Strengthen the institutions that keep the federal government in check
Introduce a merit-based process for appointing government advisors
2. End cash for access
Make lobbying transparent
Stop ministers moving into industry jobs
Ban corrupting political donations
Shine a light on secret donations
3. Level the playing field in election debates
Stop corporations from spending millions on campaigning against regulation
Limit political party spending on election ads
Introduce standards of honesty in election campaigns
ARRCC Is very grateful to our colleagues in ACF, the Human Rights Law Centre and the Australian Democracy Network for taking the lead in this important work.
Up-date 16 February, 2022 #OurDemocracy
The Australian Democracy Network launched a report Confronting State Capture: how corporations have eroded our democracy, and what we can do about it.
It breaks down six modes of influence used in state capture, and explores two case studies in detail. It sets out four recommendations on how to confront state capture. It explains what's stopping progress on the biggest issues of our time.
You can download the full report at our website, as well as a 2 page summary: https://australiandemocracy.org.au/statecapture
If you'd like to view the joint briefing with Human Rights Law Centre, you can find watch a recording here.
Protecting advocacy by Charities 2021 #HandsOffOurCharities
Up-date early December 2021
Why is this law so bad?
- Organisations will understandably want to avoid the additional red tape of becoming a significant third party, and as a result may treat the $250,000 as a spending cap.
- The laws are retroactive. The Government has deliberately drafted the laws to target a group of environmental charities that were holding the Government to account for their inaction on the climate crisis.
- They treat 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.
- The laws are preparation for discrediting charity 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.
We have mitigated some of the worst aspects of the Government’s attempts to achieve this, but not all of them.
Why ARRCC supported this campaigning (August 2021)
Although the Morrison Government has opposed measures to ensure more fairness and accountability in government processes, they have pushed for reforms that increase the burdens on charities and other organisations that advocate for the common good. This is the second time charities have had to organise to defend themselves in the last few years.
While claiming to be “too busy” to address the issues of a Federal Integrity Commission or Zali Steggall’s Climate Change Bill during the pandemic, the Coalition Government has nonetheless found time to draft and push for:
(a) tighter regulations on the advocacy work of charities, to be enforced by the Australian Charites and No-for-profit Commission (ACNC) and
(b) legislation that would lower the “political campaigner” threshold for spending on advocacy during periods leading up to an election.
Throughout much of 2021, HOOC has been fighting these threats.
Proposed changes to ACNC regulations
ACNC regulations are not subject to legislation but are put forward by the Minister, in this case the Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matter, Senator Zed Seselja. They can potentially be blocked by a successful disallowance motion in the Senate.
Essentially, the Government’s proposed new regulations would create a much broader range of pretexts on which charities could be deregistered.
The effect would be to discourage charities from promoting and having a presence at common peaceful protests. It would also make it much harder for charities to share their resources with community groups to support their advocacy. The regulations could introduce unnecessary red tape for virtually every one of Australia’s 59,000 charities, and again, threaten them with deregistration if they fail to comply.
The proposal is disproportionate and punitive, and could see charities shut down by the regulator because of very minor and inadvertent breaches of the law, or for failing to keep documentation proving their compliance. It also exposes them to pre-emptive punishment if the ACNC Commissioner believes they are likely to breach the regulation in the future.
This treatment is unprecedented. Neither for-profit corporations nor political parties can be deregistered because a staff member commits — or is deemed “likely” to commit — a minor offence.
See here for further detail provided by the Human Rights Law Centre.
ARRCC is very grateful for others taking the lead in protecting the charities sector.