Civil society support JSCEM recommendations to cap donations and spending in elections, but warn the devil is in the detail


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A suite of proposed reforms to strengthen the integrity of Australian federal elections have been welcomed today by #OurDemocracy, a broad civil society coalition advocating to end excessive corporate influence in federal politics.

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) has recommended capping donations and campaign spending to tackle the influence of big money in the political system, overdue reforms long advocated for by civil society. 

#OurDemocracy also supports Labor’s long-standing commitment to significantly lower the donation disclosure threshold and introduce real-time disclosure which has been recommended by the Committee.

Civil society has long advocated for reforms to limit the financial influence of harmful industries like tobacco, alcohol, gambling, fossil fuels and weapons manufacturers in our political system, to prevent corporate interests overwhelming the public interest.

However, further and careful consultation is needed to ensure that these reforms are appropriately applied to charities and other non-political organisations, which play a critical role in election debates. If these reforms are rushed and poorly consulted, the result will be a closing of civic space and weakening of our democracy, outcomes which nobody wants. 

Australian Democracy Network Executive Director Saffron Zomer spoke on behalf of civil society alliance #OurDemocracy, comprised of 56 organisations united in campaigning for significant reforms to enhance democratic integrity:

“In this term of Parliament, we have a pivotal opportunity to improve the transparency and integrity of our electoral system, reduce the undue influence of big corporate lobbies, and put people and planet at the centre of government decision making. However, as the Government moves forward with these important reforms, thorough consultation with experts, community leaders and stakeholders is essential, to avoid adverse outcomes.”

“Reforms must protect crucial advocacy work and parliamentary pluralism if our elections are to truly be fair, informed and open.”

Public Health Association of Australia Senior Policy Adviser Malcolm Baalman says, “If these reforms are implemented properly, people’s health, livelihoods, and lives will speak louder than money at election time. That’s obviously how it should be.”

Transparency International Australia CEO Clancy Moore says, “The millions of dollars in ‘dark money’ that lines the pockets of political parties has eroded people’s trust in our politics and left voters blindfolded as to who funds our politics. The commitments to lower thresholds and real-time disclosure of political donations will help shine a bright line on our politics and lead to a healthier democracy”.

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s Corporate Program Manager, Jolene Elberth said that, ‘The robustness of the interim report shows that the Committee has given serious thought as to how to limit the influence of harmful industries in our democracy, like coal and gas giants that have used our weak integrity laws to slow and block progress on climate action for decades. The devil will be in the details and where the government lands on key settings with these reforms will determine whether they will succeed in making our democracy more fair and open.

Further JSCEM hearings are planned to investigate expenditure and donations caps, and #OurDemocracy will continue to engage fair and open federal elections. 

You can read #OurDemocracy’s detailed scorecard at www.ourdemocracy.com.au/electoral-reform-scorecard

Journalists with enquiries should contact Isabella Morand.