The Heavy Bill For Less Advocacy

An interesting analysis from Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Sydney, in today’s The Conversation, looking at the foreign donations bill currently before the Australian Parliament and its stated purpose of controlling or limiting the influence of foreign donors on the political landscape of Australia. As has been noted, the consequence of the passage of the bill, which the pessimistic part of me says is entirely foreseeable by the present Federal government, on charities and other groups might be significant and, in the worse case scenario, would mean that some charities and other groups that rely on public donations to fund their work might choose to discontinue any public advocacy or stop accepting donations (which would amount to the same thing anyway) because of the administrative burden imposed by the new law.

As Twomey suggests, the purpose of the bill seems to be confused:

If the purpose of this bill is to prevent foreign donations from influencing elections, it manifestly does not achieve that outcome. Foreign citizens can still donate as much as they like to Australian political parties by donating through a company they have incorporated in Australia.

But if the purpose of the bill is to deter charities and other third parties (regardless of whether they have received a single cent of foreign money) from spending money on the public expression of views that might entail criticism of government policies, then it would very effectively achieve that outcome.

Perhaps it might be best to return to the drawing board, or the drafting table, to make sure the bill is designed to achieve its stated purpose…and nothing else.