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Civil Rights in a Straight Jacket

Open Letter: Opposition to The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017

Dear Susan Templeman and the ALP,

As a constituent in your electorate and an Australian citizen I wish to draw your attention and the whole of the Australian Labor Party, Australian Greens and Independents to vote against and block this forthcoming anti-democratic bill in its entirety by the LNP. Here are my reasons and concerns:

The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017 is sponsored by the LNP far-right. It seeks to put civil rights and the people’s voice along with many civil and human rights organisations, charities and NGOs in a ‘straight jacket’, while ignoring the excessive, secret and corrupt sponsorship of the Liberal party by the corporate sector:

1) It will decimate the impact of civil society — forcing charities and grassroots organisations to join a government register, follow complex new rules or face 10 years in prison. Such restrictions and penalties are undemocratic and plainly punitive, excessive and absurd. Australia is already over governed and over regulated compared to other countries and registration and regulation of freely organised groups such as these is not only unwarranted but a clear indication of further solidification of a paranoid police state, which Peter Dutton and his megalomaniac Department of Home Affairs will relish in abusing and exceeding an already heavily over appointed portfolio and concentration of ungovernable powers.

2) It seeks to coerce ordinary people and independent grass roots organisations by forcing them to affiliate with one or more political parties. This is clearly undemocratic, forcing partisan politics on people and their right to voice their concerns collectively, when many are not aligned to parties and more concerned about individual policies and their impact on the daily lives and civil rights of ordinary Australians. It is undemocratic and unconstitutional to force any non-partisan organisation, whether professional, charitable or democratically organised to affiliate with a political party. In fact it is unethical and unconscionable when many such organisations are required to be non-partisan and non-aligned representing the professional, civil, legal, social, cultural, ethnic, religious and personal beliefs of its members however appointed. It is simply unacceptable to force such independence and freedoms which serve the interests of democracy, liberty and freedom of speech to align with a political party. In fact it is a very dangerous precedent to the intent and formation of a totalitarian state.

3) This will choke many charitable, civil and human rights organisations, voluntary associations, social groups, NGO sector and the democratically organised civil rights movement, such as GetUp!, CHANGE, Amnesty International, Greenpeace and hundreds of other organisations by forcing anyone who donates more than $4.80 a week to get a formal document signed and witnessed by a Justice of the Peace – This is a serious infringement on civil freedom, it is unjustified, intrusive, unconstitutional, and clearly an attack on people’s right to organise, meet essential costs and exercise free speech and peaceful opposition to increasingly draconian legislation, partisan bias and corporate policy. There is no question that the organisations targeted are the very organisations that seek to protect civil rights and freedoms, democracy, social justice and the environment, often contributing far more than the government itself to the stability and maintenance of civil society, sensible and informed democracy. Indeed without these organisations we would be at the mercy of corporate greed and profit and the continued abuse of people’s freedom, exploitation of hard working Australians, our country and the planet. The people of whatever persuasion have a lawful right to organise, the means to organise and voice their concerns amicably and peacefully, free of unnecessary intrusion, political coercion, restriction and intimidation – it is a basic human right under UN declaration.

4) The LNP and hard-right (if indeed there is any difference between them today) have devised this Bill to only apply to civil society — for massive corporations and the fossil fuel lobby, it’ll be business as usual. Now where is the equity, the fairness, the democracy, the liberty, the sensibility, the justice in that? If any legislation should be brought into being it ought to be to make transparent, to cap and declare all sponsorship and financial support to political parties especially from corporations, big business and from overseas, to ensure the independence and health of our democracy and democratically elected institutions; to safe guard our constitution and civil society, the public good, safety and interest.

I cannot accept and nor will I accept under any circumstances such a gross and undemocratic attack on our constitutional rights and freedoms. If Labor let this legislation through unopposed, Labor will be actively contributing to the dissolution of what the people of Australia have fought for over many years enshrined in Federation over 100 years ago. It will allow the LNP to assume unfettered control of the electoral agenda and process; the continuance of secret and well financed political and electoral agendas including the propagation of fear and misinformation campaigns at time of major general elections. This has gone too far and it must stop.

I urge you as our sitting elected Member of Parliament and representative, the ALP in conjunction with the Greens and independents to adopt a non-partisan approach and vote against this bill in its entirety. Please block this bill, we cannot afford to let this legislation see the light of day for the sake of our democracy and our children.

The people of Australia are relying on you. Can you please advise me/us of yours and the ALP’s intentions before this Bill receives any further direction or is voted on?

Kind regards,

Jon Chesterson

 

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25 comments

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  1. babyjewels10

    I wrote a simpler email to Senator Claire Moore and Antony Chisholm. Claire Moore has already replied, non committal of course. I am astounded they are even considering this. Labor should know there are hundreds of thousands of voters out there whose vote depends on their treatment of this Bill. Make no mistake. If this Bill goes through, we’ve lost democracy, thanks to both sides of Parliament.

  2. Jon Chesterson

    Good work babyjewels, the voice of one becomes the voice of hundreds of thousands when we all take up our pen and write.

  3. auntyuta

    Yes, we should all take up our pen and write!

  4. Adrianne Haddow

    Great letter, Jon.
    I sent a similar letter to my local minister, but nowhere near as succinct and capable of articulating the dangers of this cynical piece of legislation, as yours.
    I urge all AIMN readers to get behind the resistance to this bill, which is another nail in the coffin of political resistance to the far right of the LNP government.

  5. Glenn Barry

    Brilliant letter, unfortunately my local member is a n LNP stooge who is keeping his head down to avoid dual citizenship scrutiny

    I assume that this legislation does not require the IPA to disclose the identities of their donors and the amounts of their donations.

    Curious that we should have a clandestine organisation like the IPA influencing the LNP politicians

    This country is so far off course, and with the death or our democracy the second stage of grief should come quite soon

  6. Christina Heath

    Great letter Jon. I have sent a submission to Senator Cameron (not my local member which is unfortunately, Michael McCormack). I have not received a response but cannot believe Labor would even think of supporting this dreadful legislation.

  7. jimhaz

    I tried to find out by googling what the ALPs stance on this is.

    Nothing. Zippo apart from a basic tweet from Andrew Leigh.

    God the ALP is pathetic. Shorten and Plibersek really deserve zero respect. That they just don’t care is evident to me they are totally apathetic and this shows clearly in Shortens very low approval rating.

    I think it is time to REDUCE politicians salaries to below 100k. Plibersek and her hubby combined are on at least 650k and he works for the NSW Libs.

    Pauline Hanson for example would not be a pollie if the pay was 80k or less and it would cut out a lot of the greed seekers for mthe major parties.

  8. Freethinker

    jimhaz, here is and article about the ALP position on it:
    https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/mar/10/coalition-report-recommends-ban-on-foreign-donations-to-environment-activists

    The interesting thing is that IPA also it is opposed, quote for their site: Our new research brief explains why the Turnbull Government’s proposed changes to funding and disclosure provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act would threaten freedom of speech and civil society.

  9. Andreas Bimba

    A really good letter Jon. I posted my more basic effort to ALP Senator Kim Carr who has always been responsive and reasonable as well as to the SMH/Age and the Sun/Herald.

    I can’t see how the proposed bill could possibly be compliant with our constitution?

    The Liberals and Nationals are trying to further implement corporate oligarchy. They are traitors to democracy and the Australian people. This is not going to end peacefully.

  10. Jack Russell

    GetUp! have a template that will be converted to an email, a fax, and a paper letter and will send all three after you’ve written your comment to your local member. I’ve done mine. If you’re not already a member, just google GetUp! and register. Go for it folks … create an avalanche! 👍

  11. Andrew Smith

    Just goes to show how our ‘Canberra elites’ have become so out of touch with normalcy, that they are being nudged into passively going down a cul de sac, like one can see in liberal democracies like Turkey and Hungary (whom are at least transparent in what they are up to in related exercises)?

  12. Glenn Barry

    Question for everyone, do we know for certain that the ALP is effectively silent on this?

    Only reason I am asking is because the amount of opposition (Labor and Greens) press conferences which actually make it to air is obviously significantly less then the entire event.

    The same suffocation happens to the NSW Labor leader Luke Foley

  13. Christopher

    Thanks Jon, donations (cough bribes) should be banned. Bring back the brown paper bags, force the elites to go and get some cash out. We are truly family blogged in this country

  14. diannaart

    Jack Russell

    I consider Getup a vital part of democracy and I must be correct because the unctuous Cory Bernardi and repugnant George Christensen want a “get-up” for their far-right segment of the political spectrum.

  15. Jon Chesterson

    Freethinker – Thanks for sharing the Guardian article, lets hope Labor’s position hasn’t changed in the past 12 months and becomes loud and clear. But there is another trouble in the wings of parliament – Whilst the electorate was distracted with the Bonking Beetroot saga, another bill, the APRA Crisis Resolution Bill passed unopposed through the senate. This Bill which enables banks to seize people’s deposits in the event of a fiscal crisis was apparently sneakily slipped through on 14 Feb, Valentine’s Day… Why? I suggest because Malcolm Turnbull (a merchant banker), the Liberals and the Nationals are hell bent on pulling one big corporate f#ck after another over the Australian people. This is all a game of smoke and mirrors to destroy democracy and establish a long lasting Liberal government by lies and deception. Dumb did it and dumber didn’t see it coming. The point I raise here is, just one week ago there were so few opposition senators in the house, the Bill passed through under the radar, perhaps Labor had failed to read the small print. Out of 76 senators only 7 were present to vote on it, clearly most if not all of those present were LNP. Such antisocial bills pass through parliament when the opposition is absent and I propose it was deliberately presented at a time when everyone was distracted by bonking beetroots, after all there is more entertainment value and wow factor in politics these days than news worthy, fact and public interest. Perhaps we need to define what we mean by public interest.

    Still back to the issue at hand, the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill. The deceit of the Liberals is clearly evident in the small print and the gun is still smoking:

    The Guardian reported the intentions behind this bill nearly a year ago on 10 March warning that, “There is no reason to believe regulation will achieve anything of benefit to Australian democracy, while there are grounds to believe it will have unintended consequences and harm democracy.”

    In all the examples quoted in the Guardian article there were no donations from these charities or third parties directly to political parties, rather it was their actions being seen as political or politically aligned. Well hello, isn’t being involved in our democracy a political act! Isn’t that precisely what we do when we all vote?

    Two big problems here are the Liberals want to force charities and non-aligned groups to affiliate with a political party so they can be captured by the electoral requirements. This is the deception! Any organisation or individual has the right to freedom of speech and to advocate a cause. It is a fundamental democratic right. So if they choose to load up a truck or pay for an advertisement, no problem, the mining and minerals lobby do this without fetter as do many other corporate entities. But by forcing charities, association, third party groups – civil society to affiliate with a political party could in effect silence them. And all the time the corporate sector can continue with both its declared and undeclared donations free of the scope of this bill and its intentions. Most of the third party organisations we are talking about do not make donations to any party any way. So why force them to affiliate with a political party which would compromise their independence and right to advocacy and free speech?

    This is not about creating a level and transparent playing field for elections, this is about stacking the odds in the corporate Liberal camp. It is about silencing opposition, freedom of speech and starving these pro public interest organisations of their income and legitimate opposition, debate or conversation in civil society.

    Source cited: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/mar/10/coalition-report-recommends-ban-on-foreign-donations-to-environment-activists

  16. Jon Chesterson

    Good work Adrianne, Christina, Andreas and any others in sending your letters, everyone (of them) counts! And yes Jack GetUp! have made it really easy to do this, here is the link: https://www.getup.org.au/campaigns/democracy/mission-2-triple-your-impact/mission-triple-your-impact?t=KObbjksW77 – If you haven’t dispatched a protest letter, do it, takes just two minutes, copy and paste anything here, you are more than welcome, even if it is only a few words.

    Here is the GetUp! video: https://www.facebook.com/GetUpAustralia/videos/10155014388236455/ – But remember it is many organisations and the voice of the Australian people that will be silenced not just GetUp! which as Diannaart says has become a vital part of our democracy, more so than our own government. You can’t sniff at one million without losing a heartbeat or two!

    Perhaps as Christopher says all donations should be banned, my only concern would be that the wealthy would have an unfair advantage particularly on a zero donation playing field, suffice to say that a properly regulated, fair and transparent process is vital to the health of our nation. But right now we are spluttering and reeling. Turnbull would happily choke us and Dutton would be putting his vast multi-dimensional army out to patrol the streets in operation ‘citizen watch’ especially at election time. We must stop this.

  17. Glenn Barry

    I wonder how much of this discussion would actually be happening if we had a bill of rights?
    Something which the current LNP Government is vehemently opposes

  18. Matters Not

    Re: the APRA Crisis Resolution Bill and:

    passed unopposed through the senate. This Bill which enables banks to seize people’s deposits in the event of a fiscal crisis was apparently sneakily slipped through on 14 Feb, Valentine’s Day

    Sounds ominous. Particularly the sneakily slipped through on 14 Feb, Valentine’s Day.

    Then again:

    The Bill passed both houses without amendment … the government consulted in August 2017 … implements a recommendation from the 2014 Financial System Inquiry (Murray Inquiry)

    Here’s my link.

    https://www.minterellison.com/articles/apra-crisis-powers-and-credit-card-reform-bills-passed

    But back to the sneaky allegation – do you have a link?

  19. Andreas Bimba

    “the APRA Crisis Resolution Bill passed unopposed through the senate. This Bill which enables banks to seize people’s deposits in the event of a fiscal crisis”

    Any links for this? The above link from Matters Not doesn’t discuss this point specifically.

    The banksters and their agents like Turnbull appear to be preparing to profit from the next market crash that they created in accordance with the Goldman Sachs hymn book?

    Our nation is in deep economic trouble because of excessive private debt, the property speculation bubble in our major cities, our over dependence on resource exports to China, stagnant wage growth and increased costs for necessities, inadequate fiscal net spending and the associated high levels of unemployment and underemployment and a flat lining economy.

    Federal Government debt IS NOT THE PROBLEM – it is the main solution in the form of currency issuence to fund federal government deficits.

    China has an even larger private debt property/share speculation bubble crisis since the GFC and also faces a recession at some point which could push our new LNG export sectors as well as coal, iron ore and many other export sectors into bankruptcy along with our major banks when combined with a property price collapse here. Note also our property bubble is currently being inflated in the main by Chinese investors and ethnic Chinese using Australian bank mortgages. Have a listen to economics Professor Steve Keen.

  20. Jon Chesterson

    Matters Not and Andreas too – Re: the APRA Crisis Resolution Bill (may be a little off topic but it is all about civil rights isn’t it, just another link in the chain): Take a look at this: 16 February 2018 – ‘The CEC Report – Canberra capitulates to the ‘Money Power’, passes bail-in’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8uzKfDAdko

    The bubble is here and the APRA Crisis Resolution Bill is the mechanism and this is very much about civil rights and prospective theft the government has set up to conduct when the bubble bursts, and they would dearly love to silence those third party organisations who will expose the truth when the time comes and the government blames someone else – Prelude to the biggest transfer and re-distribution of wealth in Australian history, from Australian citizens to the banks and wealthy elite. Turnbull is a merchant banker and this is his game plan.

    Remember the day Turnbull orchestrated this… 14 February. Just a smidging more than sneaky! And remember this bill too – The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017, the one that silenced the independent free thinking opposition, the people.

  21. Matters Not

    Jon Chesterson – not sure that the CEC, like Zero Hedge (mentioned in the presentation), are the most reliable sources. You will note that the only responders to their concerns was PHON, and needless to say they didn’t front the Senate at the appropriate time. The PHONs don’t spend too much time on parliamentary business.

    I read some of their info and I did find out Who killed Diana and why . (Shakes head.)

    Re the CEC – from Wiki:

    The original CEC was established in 1988 by local residents of the Kingaroy region of Queensland; members of the Australian League of Rights, an extreme right-wing group led by Eric Butler, were unsuccessful in taking over the new party. Its purpose was to lobby for binding voter-initiated referenda.[CEC candidate Trevor Perrett won the 1988 Barambah state by-election in Queensland, held after former Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen resigned from State Parliament in 1987. However, Perrett soon switched to the National Party. By 1989, the CEC leadership was under the influence of the Lyndon LaRouche movement. By 1992, the CEC identified itself as the Australian branch of the broad international movement associated with LaRouche; National Secretary Craig Isherwood renamed the organisational newsletter and moved the headquarters from rural Queensland to a Melbourne suburb, with direct communications links to LaRouche’s US headquarters established.

    Now they are described thus:

    The Citizens Electoral Council of Australia (CEC) is a minor far-right political party in Australia affiliated with the international LaRouche Movement, led by American political activist Lyndon LaRouche. For the purpose of federal registration with the Australian Electoral Commission it reported having 549 members in 2007. They have been described as “far right”, “fascist” and “lunar right”, as well as “ideologues on the economic Left

  22. Jon Chesterson

    Matters Not – CEC doesn’t sound that reliable does it. So why would a fringe right wing group like this be exposing Turnbull’s APRA Crisis Resolution Bill? Maybe they are not members of the right wing wealthy elite but ideologs or would like to be. Hmm.. still a little off topic here methinks. Need to sink the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill and if we can get an amendment to the APRA Crisis Resolution Bill to re-instate personal bank deposits as an exclusion to the provisions like every other country (we appear to be the only country that has removed it), that would be a must. Aside our Super is not looking safe either with Turnbull in the US promoting it as a funding source for Trump’s US infrastructure.

  23. Jon Chesterson

    FOLLOW UP LETTER – MONDAY 26 FEBRUARY

    RE: THREE BILLS THAT THREATEN CIVIL SOCIETY AND OUR EVER GROWING FRAGILE DEMOCRACY – PLEASE OPPOSE

    Dear Ms Templeman,

    I wrote to you last week and I am writing again because this is such a serious threat to civil rights in Australia. It doesn’t just affect GetUp, it affects every charity, NGO, professional organisation and the right of Australians to donate to charities, freedom of speech, political freedom, voice and advocacy without discrimination or intimidation, and certainly without legal sanction and threat. This is utterly unconstitutional!

    I also thank you for your response on Friday 23 February making clear you would, as I understand oppose one of these bills as it stands and any of its clauses that impede the valuable work, advocacy and donations to charities and associations, focusing only on the abuses of large donations and abuses commonly received by political parties from wealthy corporate organisations, individuals, and from overseas (foreign influence).

    I wish to draw your attention to all three bills below, as in my previous correspondence I only mentioned one bill, the Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2017.

    As you can see I am utterly shocked by the federal government’s proposed legislation that, if passed, would dramatically restrict the ability of Australian civil society, and indeed our democracy, to function properly.

    The three draft laws, about to go to Parliament next Monday, would create an impossibly complex set of new rules – with penalties including prison time for charities that fail to comply. The rules would tie these organisations up in red tape, and stop them representing the interests of people like me.
    The bills in question are these:

    National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2017
    Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017
    Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2017

    If these bills are passed, corporations would still be able to advocate, but as an Australian and a voter, would have my voice restricted.

    This agenda is being driven by the hard-right and the rich and powerful, who are determined to stamp out inconvenient protest and challenges to their power.

    I believe Australia should be an example of a rich and diverse democracy, not the kind of country that makes it harder and harder for ordinary people to be heard while clearing the path for the 1%.

    Please, on behalf of our community, take a stand against these dangerous attacks on our democracy.

    Kind regards

    You can copy and paste any of this too and suggest you post it at the Greenpeace link here: https://act.greenpeace.org/page/20432/action/1?ea.url.id=1267902

  24. Jon Chesterson

    Since several commentators asked for Labor’s position on this, I am posting Susan Templeman’s reply on behalf of the ALP received on Friday 23 February:

    ‘Dear Jon,

    Thanks for your email regarding the Turnbull Government’s proposed donation legislation affecting charities and advocacy groups.
    It is clear that many charitable and not-for-profit organisations will be prevented from advocating for a fairer and more just Australia if this legislation goes through in its current form. That would be bad for democracy. Labor will not let the government silence legitimate political debate.

    Labor is committed to reforming our political donations system to ensure our democracy is protected from improper influence from overseas. Labor has had legislation in the Parliament to ban foreign donations for years.

    We are very concerned that the Government has overreached with this legislation.

    We will continue to work with the Government to attempt to find a sensible way to ban foreign donations, without selling out charitable organisations that do incredibly important work in our community. We believe that robust constraints on foreign influence on our political process can be achieved without unnecessarily stifling the voice of Australian charities and further marginalising the communities they speak out for.

    The charity sector is among the most trusted in Australia, and the Australian public overwhelmingly supports the right of charities to advocate and express opinion on government policy.

    Labor recognises there are fundamental differences between the role of charities in our political and policy debates and the roles played by political parties and their associated entities.

    Of particular concern are the barriers the proposed legislation could create for some legitimate forms of public support for groups undertaking public advocacy. For example, through the overly burdensome compliance regimes the bill would impose on organisations relying on public support in the form of financial donations.

    Labor is proud to have continually fought for improved transparency and greater accountability in Australia’s political donation system. We took a policy of significant donation reform to the 2016 Federal election, and introduced legislation into the Parliament that would significantly improve our donation laws.

    Labor’s reforms would:
    · Reduce the donation disclosure limit from the current level of $13,500 (indexed to inflation) to a fixed $1000,
    · Prohibit the receipt of foreign donations,
    · Ban ‘donation splitting’ where donations are spread between different branches of political parties and associated entities to avoid disclosure obligations,
    · Ban the receipt of anonymous donations above $50,
    · Link public funding to campaign expenditure,
    · Introduce new offences and increased penalties for abuses of the political donation disclosure regime.

    In contrast, the Liberal party has been responsible for an increased disclosure threshold and reduced transparency and has now introduced legislation that could hinder the efforts of charitable organisations to provide a voice in our democratic discourse for many marginalised and vulnerable Australians.

    Labor has sought detailed briefings on the proposed legislation and the measures proposed and will continue to pursue reforms consistent with our long-standing policy objectives of improving the transparency and accountability of Australia’s political donations system.
    We will not let the Government silence organisations seeking to make legitimate contributions to our nation’s political debate.

    Yours Sincerely
    Susan Templeman
    Federal Member for Macquarie’

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