QLD civil society groups critical of proposed law that would shut down advocacy

PRESS RELEASE -

The Palaszczuk Government’s Bill to limit political donations and election spending will have the unintended consequence of silencing charities and community groups unless it is amended, legal, human rights and civil society groups will tell a parliamentary committee today. 

The Human Rights Law Centre last week released expert advice by a team of Queensland barristers led by Stephen Keim SC that warns that the Palaszczuk Government’s proposed changes to Queensland electoral laws could face a High Court challenge.

Alice Drury, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said the proposed law is well-intentioned, but contains serious flaws in the way it would lock out community groups, charities and other not-for-profits from election debates.

“It’s critical that charities and local community groups are able to engage in election debates on the work they do, whether it’s about women’s rights, stopping gambling harm or protecting the environment. We’ve been warning that this proposed legislation will muzzle those vital voices. Now there are expert Queensland barristers concluding that the proposed laws could breach the Australian Constitution and be invalid,” said Ms Drury.

Louise Matthiesson, Director of the Queensland Conservation Council, said that the Bill would constrict the ability of conservation groups across the State to speak up for Queensland’s unique and beautiful environment.

“We strongly support the intentions behind the proposed legislation to bring greater accountability and integrity to Queensland’s electoral system, however this Bill will unintentionally silence community organisations doing important advocacy work to protect our state’s beautiful animals, plants, reefs and forests.”

Rev David Baker, Moderator of the Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod, raised profound concerns about the proposed law and the process the government has used.

“This Bill was released in late November, limiting the capacity of the general public to make a fulsome response. I also view the Bill, in its current form, as a constraint on freedom of speech, a cornerstone of our Australian society.”

Mark Henley, QCOSS CEO, said there could be serious consequences for community organisations and their ability to take part in public advocacy.

“Social service and community organisations play a critical role in public policy debate in Australia, and their contributions are essential to the robust functioning of democracy. Community based organisations are in a unique position to hear and represent the voices of Queenslanders who experience the most disadvantage. This is important to a strong democracy.”

DETAILS

The proposed laws will impose onerous compliance obligations on any community group or charity that spends more than $1,000 on election advocacy with criminal penalties for non-compliance. The proposed laws will also stop someone from donating more than $4,000 per four-year term (or less than $20 per week) to a charity or community group for election-related advocacy. As a result, charities and community groups will struggle to raise funds to speak out in elections on the matters they work on. 

In contrast, corporations will not face any restrictions on the income they can use on campaigning, and will be able to spend up to $1 million each on election advertising.

Media contact:

Jolene Elberth, 0400 675 310, jolene.elberth@acf.org.au