The Institute of Public Affairs has cautiously welcomed the recommendations of Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, in its report on the Turnbull Government’s Electoral Legislation (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017.
IPA Research Fellow Gideon Rozner noted that the Committee had addressed widespread concerns about the consequences of the bill as currently drafted.
”The Electoral Matters Committee has clearly acknowledged the groundswell of concern about the drastic effect that the current bill would have on free speech, and the red tape burden it would impose on legitimate voices involved in public policy debate.
”While it would be preferable to see the bill withdrawn altogether, the Committee’s recommendations represent a step in the right direction. In effect, they address the worst aspect of the bill: The regulation of entities with no relationship to the political process other than mere speech.”
Mr Rozner reiterated the IPA’s deep concerns about the government’s bill, namely that it would require groups to register as ‘political campaigners’ or ‘third party campaigners’ with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) for ‘the public expression of views by any means on an issue that is, or is likely to be, before electors in an election (whether or not a writ has been issued for the election)’.
“The registration requirement currently before Parliament would set a shocking precedent for freedom of speech in Australia. It would see the AEC – a government commission – regulate entities simply for speaking out on public policy matters,” Mr Rozner said.
”The compliance burden imposed by the bill would have a ‘chilling effect’ on a range of charities, community groups, religious bodies, service clubs and other organisations.
”If the Committee’s recommendations were adopted, this particularly pernicious element of the bill would be addressed.”
The IPA urged the Turnbull Government to adopt the Committee’s recommendations in full, or otherwise withdraw the bill altogether.
”The IPA is inherently concerned about any proposal that seeks to ‘manage’ political debate by limiting freedom of speech. At the very least, the Turnbull Government must implement the Committee’s recommendations in full to spare civil society from this deeply flawed bill,” said Mr Rozner.