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Federal Foreign Influence Bill(s) heading for Senate this week – 27th June !

The Federal Bills to limit the foreign interference with Australian politics head for the Senate this week.

The original Bill – hand crafted from vague Press Releases late last year was found to be totally unworkable and had to be revised before even presented to the Parliaments Joint Intelligence Committee. The parliamentary website devoted to the Committees work on the Bill is HERE.

After the Joint Committees recommendations ‘final amendments’ were posted on Thursday 14th June – which were to allow public comment on the revised, revised Bill. However, the revised Bill still didn’t actually deal with the most pertinent complaints about the bill which are –

  • poor acknowledgement of treaty and trade arrangements and how they bind organizations and the Australian Government
  • poor understanding and definition of the terms influence and interference
  • continual use of political and bureaucratic run decision making over what is in the ‘public interest’ and what is offensive to the intent of the Bill i.e. not judicial in nature

Now it appears that the Government and the ALP have agreed to a THIRD set of amendments which will appear in the House on Tuesday, and the Senate on Wednesday, to be voted for on the voices as the ALP and Coalition have agreed in a smoke filled room what is Good and Proper.

What is in the THIRD set of amendments is not for the long suffering public to know as yet.

These Bills will criminalize the membership of most medical organizations in Australia ! That is how poorly worded they are.

To explain. the Closer Economic Relations Treaty with New Zealand has made the professional organizations of both countries unified. Most Medical Colleges – which supervise the training and certification of Surgeons, Optometrists, Anesthetists, Gynecologists, Psychiatrists, Dermatologists – each is either called Australasian or the Australian and New Zealand College. BUT any person who wishes to speak to an MP, or make a public comment on policy must register as a foreign agent if they receive anything – including training and information from an organization which is part or whole of another countries system of government. To speak to an MP without registration becomes a criminal offense.

It becomes even more murky when Universities and Civil Society groups (Patient groups like AIDS/HIV, or Environmental groups) have internships and conferences between countries – these will be also subject to registration with the new foreign influence guardians.

Newspaper reporting of items which may embarrass the Government now will be made much more challenging when the Minister gets to decide what is in the Public Interest and what is not. The Guardian has a very good article devoted to that topic.

>> A new Petition has started to get the Bill turned back to Committee so all the new Amendments can be fully scrutinized and offered for public comment and hearings. <<

The Government says it must have these changes in place to keep the 5 By-elections on track. Hence the undue haste in ramming through the final changes. But these changes will be the bed rock on which journalism and political campaigning operate indefinitely. They should not be rushed or anything less than transparency.

 

Victorian Electoral Bill stalled until July 24th

After a mad day in Parliament – the Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2018  has been adjourned until Tuesday July 24th.

The day started with hopes the Bill would be voted down, as ALL the cross bench bar the Greens had made public statements during the week that the Bill was fatally flawed – for various reason. On top of this the Liberal Party and then the Coalition had announced that they now opposed the Bill after their Party Room meetings on Monday.

But Mr Jennings – the Special Minister of State , had been hard at work finding ways to amend the Bill to satisfy the cross benches. Plus the Sydney hierarchy of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party had told the Victorian wing that they agreed with the idea of publicly funded elections.

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Proposed Amendment – join the Petition

Today (Mon 18th) Mario Panopoulos – the originator of the Change dot org petition (520 signatories and growing) has proposed a great amendment to the horrid Bill.

I propose that only individuals who are on the electoral roll be permitted to donate to political parties.

this implies that:

a) That all the reporting and registration requirements for organizations be lifted as they no longer apply.

b) The ‘sugar daddy’ entities can no longer give donations and are no longer exempt from corruption and police monitoring.

The benefits are that:

a) Allows the public and private funding of campaigns.

b) Allows electoral reform that is popular and understandable.

c) Done the interest of the State as a whole and not in the interests of special interests.

D) Defends free speech and freedom of association, concerns that have come from a number of community groups and organisations.

 

There are many other issues with the Bill – but by ensuring that only enrolled Australian citizens can donate – not foreigners, not corporations – a key goal is achieved.

If you haven’t signed the Petition please do so – https://chn.ge/2soneEg

Ring your Legislative Council members now. Everyone has 5! – click ‘Continue Reading’ to see all the Legislative Councillors

 

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Sugar Daddy Update – Cormack and Kroger sense common ground

The ‘Nominated Entity’ clause of the Bill was meant to be balanced – the Labor Party would use the Trades Hall Council and the Liberal Party would use the Cormack Foundation (a trust created by the sale of 3XY in 1987).

The ‘Nominated Entity’ was allowed to donate unlimited amounts to their Party. The ‘Nominated Entity’ had to have a constitution stating that it would only support one Party, and sign a legal form to that effect for the Victorian Electoral Commission. OK for Trades Hall, not so good for Cormack Foundation.

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Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 – hits speed bump

Friday 8th June – Legislative Council Update

On Thursday 7th a number of differing issues led to the Government putting the Bill onto hold – at least until Tuesday 19th June.

First, the Cross Bench had begun asking serious questions about the impact of the ‘Third Party campaigner’ clauses, which had the unfortunate effect of capturing small but concerned citizens in a mire of paperwork – with some really nasty penalties for not having t’s crossed and i’s dotted.

The ALP has suggested some solutions to the Cross Bench and these are being considered.

Second, the Liberal Party – which has given some bi-partisan support – decided that the speed of moving from Final Draft on Friday 11th May to wishing an amended Bill be passed on June 7th was too fast.

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Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 – Part 3

Sugar Daddy’s and Foreign Influence

The much disliked Bill has another deeply disturbing aspect. Every Party can appoint a ‘Nominated Entity’ – aka ‘Sugar Daddy’. This group is included in the aggregation of donations – so $4,000 between both Party and Sugar Daddy is the limit for a person or business. The Sugar Daddy must-

* be constitutionally required to support only the Party which has appointed it as ‘Nominated Entity’,
* cannot have any voting power over the Party, but must be able to be voted or controlled by the Party,

Unlike normal donors external to the Party unlimited funds can be transferred between the Party and the ‘Nominated Entity’.

What this does is drive two very large trucks through the stated intention of the Bill – to have a transparent Donation Process and to invite large scale rorting to hide campaign influence.

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Member for Ripon deserves three cheers

On 24th May – the Victorian Legislative Assembly was debating the Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 – and one member pulled no punches – We post here an excerpt from Hansard (all rights belonging to the Crown).

ELECTORAL LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL
(2018)
p.1656
ASSEMBLY
Thursday, 24 May 2018

Ms STALEY (Ripon) (15:45)

I rise to speak on the Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2018. I plan to make a shortI hopecontribution, focusing on campaign finance caps and campaign disclosure. The main elements of this bill that I will be talking about are the introduction of $4000 per term limits on donations; bans on foreign donations; caps on small donations that are not counted, so that we can still run raffles; and the fact that the bill allows union affiliation fees and captures third party campaigners in the scheme and limits their political expenditure.

I am going to start, and probably this will set the scene for what I will say later, by quoting article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that says that:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

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Today’s Saturday Age (2nd June) has an article on the consequences for Political Party’s of the centralization demanded by the Bill.

     

“Liberal insiders fear hard right’s tightning grip on election finances” by Noel Towell & Benjamin Preiss

 

Unfortunately it does make some errors re the structure of the Liberal Party, and who is against the Bill and who is in favour. But good to see some interest in a major piece of legislation that is swanning through Parliament.

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Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 – Part 2

Saturdays Topic – The Paperwork

Every Party, every support group, every Third Party campaigner will have to follow the same form filling regime.

There must be ONE official in (called the Agent) charge of noting donations, authorizing expenditure and ensuring all Forms and Annual Returns are lodge and correct. In organizations with branch or disseminated power this will mean tearing up the structure to conform with Victorian Government demands.

There must be ONE bank account which receives and expends any money which is for Victorian electoral spending. The authorized official  must be the controller of this bank account.

Every donation over $50 must be accompanied by a name of an Australian citizen and their electoral address, or an Australian Business with their ABN (Australian Business Number – used for GST).

The Party/group receiving the donations must track the individual donors so if they break $1,000 in a financial year that a Notification Form be sent to the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) within 21 days. The VEC will publish the name of each large donor on their website.

The Party/group must also remind the donor that they have broken the $1,000 a financial year limit and that the donor must now fill in a Notification Form to the VEC, again within 21 days of the breaking of the limit.

If any donation from a donor breaks a total of $4,000 to the Party/group within the period between any two State Elections the Agent must immediately inform the donor and the VEC and attempt to return the money to the donor. Monies not returned are forfeited to the Victorian Government.

Every donation above the $1,000 in a year requires a separate declaration and Form to be filed by both the Party/group and the donor.

CASE A – Joe Blog is a farmer , he regularly attends a business briefing run by the Deadly Serious Party (DSP), they charge $210 for the monthly breakfast and seminar, these seminars let him know about the laws that are proposed in Parliament that will regulate his business.

He starts attending in July 2019, after attending the October 2019 meeting the DSP informs Joe that he has donated $1,050 and must now lodge a Form as a large donor, the Party also must lodge a Form. The Party and Joe have to each send in a new Form after each months briefing for the rest of the financial year -Dec, Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun.

The same routine happens a year later. Forms in Dec 2019, Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun 2020.

In  January 2021 The DSP inform Joe he has breached the donation limit of $4,000 and they return $200 to Joe and inform the VEC of a breach. He cannot attend the briefings until December 2022 after an election which resets the donation limits.

 

CASE B – Elise Jones adores horses, she has always donated a monthly $100 to her favourite ‘Save the Horses’ (StH) campaign. But StH stated before the 2018 election that the ‘Slightly Serious Party’ didn’t like horses – no horse lover should support them. StH is now defined as  a ‘Third Party campaigner’ under the newly enforced Act.

In April 2020 StH inform Elise that she has donated $1,000 in a financial year and must now lodge a Form and must do so for May, June of 2020.

The same routine in 2021. Forms for April, May, June of 2021.

In March 2022 StH email Elise that she has reached the $4,000 for an Electoral cycle and she must not attempt to donate to her favourite cause until December 2022, after the upcoming election.

 

Will having to endlessly fill forms make donation less likely ? Is it just a penalty for caring about what happens to your personal interests and causes ?

To break any of the above rules makes the donor and or the Agent and or the Party liable  200 penalty points (as of June 2018 200 points is [$158.57 x 200] $ 31,714 )


NOTES

"Part 5—Amendments relating to political donations disclosure and reporting scheme

218A Offences in relation to disclosure returns and annual returns
(1) A person who fails to provide a disclosure return or an annual return as required under this Part is guilty of an offence.
Penalty: 200 penalty units.

(2) A person who provides a disclosure return or an annual return as required under this Part that contains particulars that are, to the knowledge of the person, false or misleading in a material particular is guilty of an offence.
Penalty: 300 penalty units or 2 years imprisonment or both.

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