Submission to PJCIS - Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017

CCA’s submission should be read in conjunction with the verbal evidence given by the Community Council for Australia (CCA) in relation to the negative impact of the proposed Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017 (the Bill) on many Australian charities. (See transcript of public hearing, 30 January 2018, Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security - Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017 National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017).

CCA is particularly concerned about the breadth of key terms like; ‘foreign principal’, ‘on behalf of’, and ‘political and governmental influence’.  These terms are written as catch all terms in the Bill.  As a consequence, the Bill ensnares many charities that are going about their normal activities in support of their charitable purpose.

The content of CCA’s 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 key issues associated with transparency and foreign influence over public policy, a summary of impact on charities, and a conclusion. (Read full submission).

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 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.  This includes ensuring Foreign Powers do not overtly influence Australian electoral outcomes.

CCA is very concerned that the new measures in the proposed Bill will strangle 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.

In summary, CCA calls for an exemption for charities registered with the ACNC, as does the Law Council of Australia, and draws attention to the transcript of evidence from Mr Crosbie before the Committee on 30th January 2018, in particular:

Committee Hansard 30th of January 2018 (Proof copy)

Mr DREYFUS:  I just want to see if I can distil what you have said. Your position is that charities engaging in advocacy is an entirely legitimate activity, provided it is within the scope of the purposes of that charity. Is that right?

Mr Crosbie:  Yes.

Mr DREYFUS:  Your further proposition, as I understand it, is that the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission is an adequate, or perhaps more than adequate, regulator of the charities sector in relation to that aspect of charitable work—namely, charities keeping within their purposes.

Mr Crosbie:  Yes.

Mr DREYFUS:  Further, as I understand your submission to the committee, you're suggesting that, because of the ACNC's regulation, there is no need to subject charities in Australia to this transparency scheme and all of the obligations that it carries with it.

Mr Crosbie:  Yes.

Mr DREYFUS:  Perhaps as a final point, you've drawn attention to the fact that individuals directly employed by foreign businesses are entirely exempt from all of the requirements of this legislation, no matter what political activities they choose to engage in.

Mr Crosbie:  Yes.

Mr DREYFUS:  Thank you.

Read CCA's full submission.