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A submission was made to this inquiry by the councils for civil liberties across Australia (New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, Liberty Victoria, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, South Australia Council for Civil Liberties and the Australian Council for Civil Liberties).
This Bill is part of a major package of proposed legislation relating to national security and foreign intervention. Foreign interference in democratic and electoral processes is a serious issue that threatens some of the most precious civil liberties: the right to vote and to representational democracy. The CCLs accept that Australia has been, and will be increasingly subject to foreign intervention - some of which will be covet, unfriendly and hostile.
The CCLs have concerns about the potential harm to Australia’s national interests that could emerge from increased foreign interference in Australia’s political life-including elections. We also have concerns about the disproportionate influence that local corporations and business/industry advocacy bodies visibly exercise in our national political life and particularly during elections. Mining, media and financial corporations spring to mind.
The CCLs concern in relation to these bills is that while there are clear grounds for concerns about foreign intervention in Australia on a number of fronts, the current controversies around apparent Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential elections, the UK Brexit referendum and the 2017 French Presidential election are being exploited to allow the Government to pursue other agendas. In this case, the ‘other’ agenda appears to be the Government’s long term attempt to deter major charities from public - and inextricably political - advocacy and to damage GetUp as an effective independent, progressive political player.
While there are aspects of this Bill that the CCLs can support, our main response is alarm at the overreach and the likely impact of key elements of the Bill on the nature of Australian democracy, on much of civil society and on freedom of political communication.
It would be a pity and a lost opportunity if the widespread alarm caused by aspects of this Bill were to derail the building impetus for needed reform to address the real accountability and transparency problems undermining the integrity of the national electoral system.