An overseas donation to activist group GetUp was declared just days before new federal laws banning foreign political donations went into effect. This has attracted criticism from Special Minister of State Alex Hawke who calls the donation “deeply concerning.”
The left-leaning group had received an AU$95,000 ($68,600) donation from the European Climate Foundation (ECF) in December, just weeks before a law banning foreign political donations came into force on Jan. 1.
Hawke, who oversees political donations, told The Australian, “Reports that certain political actors in Australia have sought to source foreign funds just days before the start date of this legislation taking effect, are deeply concerning.”
“It is essential that foreign donors do not influence our elections and that organizations in Australia comply with the law. The Morrison government will ensure compliance with this important legislation, both in practice and in spirit, as the Australian public expect,” he continued.
GetUp said that the donation is intended for research and has denied that the funds would be used for campaigning activities ahead of Australia’s federal election expected in May.
Law Introduced Due to Influence Concerns
The foreign donations laws, The Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill, was first introduced to the Senate in December 2017 after former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the government was acting on concerns about external interference in Australian politics, citing media reports about interference from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
It was passed by Parliament on Nov. 27 and signed by Governor-General Peter Cosgrove on Dec. 13.
Hawke said the new laws will help support the integrity and sovereignty of Australia’s electoral system. He told the Australian, “We have legislated to ensure that foreign donors can no longer influence Australian politics and the way elections are conducted in Australia. Foreign governments, foreign billionaires and foreign companies have no legitimate role in funding any activities that influence Australian politics, and that’s why we’ve banned foreign donations.”
Under the new law, GetUp would need to register as a “political campaigner” if it spends more than $500,000 on “electoral expenditure” in a given year. It also would not be allowed to receive any foreign donations for “electoral expenditure” or above $1,000 for other purposes.
“Many people do talk about GetUp, that’s because GetUp is intrinsically involved in elections, almost every election cycle,” Hawke told Sky News.
A Questionable Donation
In December 2018, GetUp received a donation from Australian-based Sunrise Project in the amount of AU$495,000 ($357,200) intended to fund campaigning leading up to the federal election. According to The Australian, GetUp plans to campaign against the Liberal Morrison government and distribute how-to-vote cards for the Labor or the Greens.
Sunrise refused to disclose the sources of its donation when approached by The Australian on Dec. 20, 2018, but told the paper that all the funds came from Australian sources even though it refrained from naming them.
Documents released by WikiLeaks showed that the group has received funding from U.S.-based Sandler and Tides foundations, which were then directed at a campaign against the Adani coal mine.
A ‘Problem With Transparency’
“What we have seen in recent years is the rise of third-party organizations—sometimes on the basis of being charitable or having an environmental purpose—actually spending a lot of money to influence the outcomes of elections,” Hawke told Sky News.
“There’s nothing wrong with that inherently where they’re transparent, where they’re upfront with what they’re doing, where they tell people honestly ‘Hey look we’re working for a political party or for a political outcome.’ But when they’re under a guise of a charity or a charitable purpose and then they’re trying to influence an election, there’s been a problem with the transparency about how money is spent. What this law will do is—organisations that spend over $500,000 will be required to comply with all sections of the act,” He continued.
“That is, they’ll have to report, they’ll have to be transparent about where their funding comes from, they won’t be able to take foreign political donations for the purposes of political expenditure in elections, and therefore they’ll have to account for every dollar if they say it’s for a charitable purpose, for the environment, it’ll have to be spent on the environment and not in the Australian political system.”
From NTD News