In March 2017 the Committee issued a report on how to manage the influence of foreign donations on Australian politics as part of its review of the 2016 federal election, recommending that donations from foreign citizens and foreign entities to Australian registered political parties, associated entities and third parties be banned.
In response, in December 2017 the Government introduced the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017 (the Bill).
The Bill was immediately referred to the Committee for inquiry and report and consequently the Committee undertook a detailed inquiry into the Bill, receiving over 200 submissions from a range of stakeholders.
The Committee issued a detailed report on the Bill in April 2018. The Government has now responded to the Committee’s recommendations by proposing amendments to the Bill. The Ministers for Finance and the Public Service and the Special Minister of State wrote to the Chair, asking the committee to consider whether those draft amendments satisfactorily addressed the JSCEM’s previous recommendations by 5 October 2018 to facilitate timely parliamentary passage of amendments.
The Department of Finance indicated that the supplementary parliamentary inquiry was seen as the process by which the revised amendments should be exposed for public scrutiny and by which public comment should be gathered.
This report considers the proposed amendments against the Committee’s previous recommendations.
As well as considering the proposed amendments against its previous recommendations, the Committee has also considered the proposals against its established principles of:
transparency via visible and timely disclosure of donations and donors;
clarity about what is required and by whom;
consistency of regulations, so that they capture all participants and support a level playing field (having particular regard to applying obligations a manner that is proportionate to the risks associated with different actors); and
compliance through enforceable regulations with minimal, practicable compliance burdens (again having regard to the proportionality of obligations).
Conduct of inquiry and structure of this report
The referral specifically asked the Committee to consider whether the proposed amendments to the Bill met the Committee’s previous recommendations.
All submitters to the Committee’s first inquiry on the Bill were invited to make comment on the proposed amendments.
This report just considers the amendments to the Bill and evidence received on the amendments. It is structured along the same lines as the Committee’s first advisory report on the Bill and should be read in conjunction with that report.
The Bill amendments address the recommendations made by the Committee in its April 2018 Advisory Report on the Electoral Finance and Disclosure Bill 2017. A number of recommendations are made in this report aimed at further strengthening the Bill.
However, there are some provisions in the amendment bill that go beyond what was anticipated by the Committee in its recommendations on the 2017 Bill presented to the Senate, for instance statutory forgiveness of past compliance failures and clarification of interaction of laws between jurisdictions to address avoidance issues. Entirely new provisions are addressed in Chapter 4.
Two recommendations have not been responded to as part of this Bill. The Government has advised that Recommendation 5–seeking that political parties reaffirm their registration prior to each election or be deregistered–will be responded to as part of the Government’s response to the Committee’s final 2016 election inquiry report. This is discussed further in Chapter 2.
The Government further advised that it is considering Recommendation 14– seeking a legislative mechanism to regulate the movement of funds by organisations with deductible gift recipient (DGR) status–as ‘part of wider reforms to deductible gift rules.’
The Committee looks forward to the Government’s response to this recommendation.