Submission to the Senate Select Committee into the Influence of Political Donations
CCA believes the current system of influence and power in national politics often favours the most economically powerful who benefit economically from certain policies. These policies may or may not be in the broader public interest. This bias towards the most powerful having more input into public policy is partly facilitated through political donations, but mostly operates outside of the disclosure regimes.
Charities that try and advocate for the benefit of community are often at a major disadvantage against very strong and powerful economic interests.
CCA supports increased transparency and moves to ensure public policy is primarily informed by public rather than private interest.
CCA would be very concerned if any new measures had the unintended consequence of strangling charities in more red tape, further diminishing the capacity of charities to be active participants in the formation of public policy. Given the limitations already applying to charities through regulations and the work of the ACNC,
CCA believes charities should be treated separately from vested interest groups that currently operate without any restrictions and apply considerable economic and political pressure on the public policy process.
Charities would like to see:
• a fairer playing field for political advocacy where money, direct donations, in kind and other benefits to politicians were not only more transparent, but also more accountable
• acknowledgement that charities are already regulated in terms of political advocacy
• no new accountabilities or reporting requirements that may have negative consequences
• the creation of less expensive and more accessible options for community and charity input into national policy making
• greater recognition that governments and political parties are elected to serve collective benefit rather than vested interests
• greater recognition of the importance of engaging charities in policy development to deliver better community outcomes.
Whether public funding of election campaigns will deliver these outcomes is not an area CCA feels able to argue on behalf of our members. Public election funding certainly appears to offer some benefits over the current system where political parties spend considerable effort building their election war chests. Perhaps the major concern across he charities sector about the focus on the influence of political donations is the possibility of imposing new accountability measures. Experience overseas has found that auditing the advocacy activities of charities has had a chilling effect on the voice of civil society. Given the current context in which there appears to be moves to restrict the advocacy activities of charities, the imposition of any new requirements, including the auditing or documentation of activities and funding, would be seen as furthering an agenda that seeks to diminish the public voice of all charities.
CCA has consulted with members (see listing in appendix 1) in framing this submission, however, it is important to note that this submission does not override the policy positions outlined in any individual submissions from CCA members. The content of this submission includes: a brief background to CCA; an overview of the current context for the NFP sector; a broad discussion about charities and advocacy; a listing of five key issues associated with influencing public policy, a brief listing of what charities would like to see in this area and a conclusion.
CCA welcomes this opportunity to provide input into this Inquiry and is keen to engage in detailed discussion about any proposals arising from the Inquiry.
CCA provided evidence to the Inquiry's public hearing on 6 November 2017. Transcript available here, on the Parliament House website.
CCA provided a supplementary submission at the invitation of the Senate Select Committee, April 2018. Available here.