How does our government want us to imagine the distinction between the public and the private? What kinds of public discussions would they like to foster? What kinds would they prefer to prevent? And what is their expectation of those organisations whose very purpose is to champion the public good?
The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is currently welcoming submissions on the proposed Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017. The proposed legislation significantly curtails the public advocacy permitted of registered charities, politicising all attempts to advocate for policy reform using normal public processes, and requiring such “Political Campaigners and Third Party Campaigners” to register with the Electoral Commission and subject themselves to stringent requirements and penalties.
While the proposed Bill seeks to exempt “genuine satirical, academic or artistic purposes,” it also holds that “political purpose” means “the public expression by any means of views on an issue that is, or is likely to be, before electors in an election” (my emphasis). This requires great discretion on the part of a minister, or senior or junior public servant, in determining whether a matter is “likely” to become an issue at a yet-to-be-determined future election, and also, in determining how “artistic purposes” might compare with “the public expression by any means.”
This is not the act of a healthy, confident, transparent democracy. It’s the act of a political class who fear their own people – the people who elect them, pay their salaries, and to whom they are ultimately responsible…
IMAGE: The Gesture Project by Nathan Gray as part of the St Arnaud Street Museum. Photograph by Esther Anatolitis.