The charity sector is breathing a sigh of relief at the passing of a new electoral law after the Federal Government amended a Bill which would have required many charities to report themselves as third parties in elections.
An amended version of the Electoral Disclosure Reform Bill (EFDR) passed through the House of Representatives on 27 November, after passing through the Senate on 15 November.
The original Bill introduced in December last year broadened registration and disclosure requirements for non-party political actors and would have tied charities up in red tape and prevented their advocacy work.
More than 30 Australian charities including Caritas Australia, Jesuit Social Services and the Society of St Vincent de Paul National Council formed an alliance called Hands Off Our Charities to protest the Bill.
The Bill was amended in September after a parliamentary joint standing committee made recommendations to ensure it focused on electioneering rather than advocacy by charities.
Caritas Australia commended the decision by all political parties to pass the amended version of the Bill through both houses of parliament.
“In its original form, this Bill would have silenced the voices of tens of thousands of non-partisan Australian charities and other not-for profit agencies and thereby reduced the quality of public policy debate significantly,” said CEO of Caritas Australia Paul O’Callaghan in a statement.
“Since Australian Federation in 1901, advocacy by civil society organisations has been a pillar of how Australian democracy thrived.
“It was this unconstrained civic voice that provided a necessary balance in public policy formulation and helped to keep federal and State governments accountable for the public good.
“Since early 2018 the concerted effort of the Hands Off Our Charities Coalition has enabled many Australians to appreciate the dangers posed by the original Bill.
“Due to the Coalition’s work, the final Bill has been greatly improved and now reflects the charity sector’s Red Line Principles on law reform.
“The supporters of Caritas Australia are relieved to see that the voice of non-partisan contributors to public policy debate will not now be curbed.”