Amnesty International has lodged a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters Inquiry into the draft Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017.
Amnesty is concerned at the likely negative impacts on the work of various civil society organisations by virtue of the proposed definitions of “political expenditure” and “political purpose”. These definitions are too broad and can create uncertainty around their application.
Consequently, organisations whose work entails advocating for the vulnerable in our society, protection of our environment or the promotion of human rights may be unsure as to whether their advocacy activities are captured by the Bill.
If activities are captured, an extra layer of administrative compliance will be added to already stretched resources of the sector. Alternatively, organisations may choose to abandon their important work in bringing evidence and other insights to assist governments in making policy determinations.
This year is the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote, and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Article 13 of the Declaration stresses the right of associations to solicit, receive and utilize financial resources. This Bill will operate in a manner that is contrary to this Article. Amnesty has further concerns that the rights to freedom of expression and of association as set out in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, to which Australia is a party, are being impacted.
Also of concern is the precedent this Bill sets for the international community. It has the potential to help justify such measures being introduced – as has already happened in several states – in other countries in order to stifle the voices of human rights defenders. Amnesty is very concerned that this Bill is example of Government overreach impacting on the vibrancy of Australia’s civil society and the capacity for human rights organisation in Australia to effectively advocate for their cause.