AMPAG is concerned about the negative effects that the draft Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill and the draft Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill will have on the arts, should they go ahead as they stand.
AMPAG is calling for the Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill to be put on hold pending further investigation.
The purpose of the bill is to ensure the integrity — real and perceived — of Australia’s electoral system by better regulating those involved in political finance. However, in its current form, the bill overreaches this aim, threatening artistic freedom in the process.
There are two causes for concern. The first is that the overly broad definition of the term ‘political purpose’ combined with the very narrow exemption for arts activities that are ‘genuine’ and ‘solely’ for ‘artistic purpose’ will curtail artistic expression. The second is the effect that the bill will have on charities whose advocacy work may involve their opposing current or planned government practice.
To increase transparency, the draft bill establishes public registers for key non–party political actors.Compulsory registration and disclosure obligations are introduced on individuals or organisations that meet the newly defined categories of political campaigners, third party campaigners and associated entities. The definitions of these three categories rely partly on the level of expenditure an individual or entity incurs in support of apolitical purpose.
The wide definition of what constitutes political purpose and the very narrow exemption allowed for artistic or satirical purposes have the serious potential intimidate artistic expression and burden arts organisations with significant new compliance red tape. Failure to disclose carries hefty penalties.
AMPAG believes that the legislative definition of what constitutes political purpose must be amended to ensure no artist or arts organisations are, or are perceived to be third party campaigners or any other category that requires registration under this legislation.
Arts Law shares AMPAG’s concerns and has recommended to government that the draft bill should be urgently amended to remove its operation from the arts sector.
‘Arts Law is strongly opposed to this Bill in view of the potential negative impact it could have on freedom of artistic expression and on the right of arts and cultural organisations to legitimately advocate on behalf of the arts and cultural communities, including the provision of expert advice to Government through submissions on Government policy and legislative changes.’
It is essential that no artist or arts or cultural organisation should be perceived to be third party campaigners or any other category that requires registration under this legislation. A failure to address this issue would most certainly reduce freedom of artistic and political expression having a significant impact on Australian society more broadly.’
AMPAG is also concerned about the administrative uncertainty and burden that the bill will put on the many different organisations. The draft legislation risks requiring charitable arts organisations to register as third-party campaigners (or of causing them to pre-emptively register to avoid noncompliance). This may affect the public understanding of the primary nature of the work, and have an impact their charitable reputation and status, while increasing the burden of compliance.
AMPAG has recommended and Arts Law supports a third exemption to the definition ofpolitical purpose be introduced to ensure that allowable advocacy as defined in the Charities Act will not be considered apolitical purpose, and expenditure incurred in undertaking this type of advocacy is not included when determining if an organisation has reached the expenditure disclosurethreshold.
While the government has not prepared a regulatory impact statement that considers the impact this legislation will have on the charitable sector, the ACNC Commissioner supports AMPAG’s concerns, stating that impact on the charities sector will be significant.
AMPAG has recommended that the legislation be put on hold until there has been appropriate research on the regulatory impact on charities, and the research findings fully considered.
AMPAG is also reviewing the draft of the proposed Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017. In its current form, it also appears to introduce serious implications for not-for-profit federal funded arts organisations collaborating within anyone overseas.
The provisions in this Bill are extremely broad and have major implications for arts organisations that communicate with federal government representatives or associated bodies, and that receive donations, support or have any kind of agreement (written or unwritten) with anyone (individual, organisation, etc.) overseas.
Under the provisions of this Bill, anyone in any kind of arrangement with anyone outside of Australia (including donors and supporters) will be required under quite strong laws (goal penalties, etc.) to register in accordance with this Bill. Ignorance of the scheme is explicitly not a defence. The registration process seems quite onerous and includes details of communications and copies of materials produced. There are exemptions for humanitarian aid (relief after disasters, etc.), diplomats, religious organisations and for commercial companies, but none for not-for-profit arts organisations or charities.