Government’s ‘Electoral Reform Bill’ Threatens Freedom of Speech for NGOs

Misguided legislation introduced by the Turnbull Government will place an undue burden upon community groups and activist organisations, severely limiting freedom of speech and public discourse.

The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017 was introduced with the stated aim of cleaning up Australia’s political donations system. However, the bill in its current form will give the Australian Electoral Commission authority over a wide range of community organisations with no connection to the political process other than occasionally commenting on public policy issues. These includes churches, charities, service clubs and the like.

The bill also gives limited exemptions that will favour groups that are more entrenched in public debate, such as academia and media organisations, while leaving community organisations out to dry in a shocking double standard. The compliance burdens imposed by the bill will disproportionately hurt smaller organisations and risks depriving less represented interests of the right to be heard while favouring those that are already prominent and well-funded.  

The proposed moves will also greatly increase the burden on the AEC’s resources and finance to enforce compliance, thereby placing a higher burden on taxpayer funds while diminishing our ability to protest or advocate on the issues that matter.

The ATA stands in solidarity with a host of concerned organisations on this issue, including but not limited to Get Up and the Institute of Public Affairs. We call on the government to redraft the bill as it egregiously goes beyond its stated aims of addressing electoral donations in Australia by harming community organisations and activist groups. By doing so, it diminishes free speech and discourse which is a cornerstone of our society that transcends political divides.

Kyle Williams is a Research Associate with the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance  

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