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Foreign donation ban a “dirty deal” to attack charities

Labor and the Greens have warned the changes to foreign donation spending legislation will only harm charities

Labor and the Greens have hit back at electoral funding legislation aimed at addressing charity concerns, warning it would only attack the sector further.

The parties have warned that two sections in the Coalition-backed amendments to the foreign donation bill would allow certain donors to make financial contributions and avoid stricter disclosure caps if there is a connection to political spending.

Greens Senator, Larissa Waters, said the new legislation failed to tackle the issue of corporate donations and accused the major parties of striking a “dirty deal” that would keep money flowing into their coffers, rather than addressing charity concerns.

“This is a fig leaf of a bill that’s actually just designed to keep attacking the charity sector,” Waters told parliament, reflecting on the Greens outright dismissal of the bill and demands for introducing sweeping new restrictions on money in politics.

In a separate dissenting report, Waters added: “What hypocrisy that a bill that purports (yet fails) to restrict the influence of money in politics facilitates donors avoiding state restrictions on political donations.”

The Coalition has dismissed these concerns with Committee Chairman of the electoral matters, James McGrath, saying the amendments would go a long way in addressing charities and not-for-profits fear of being caught in the crossfires of the law.

“Protection against foreign interference cannot be done by stifling lively, good-natured debate or viral charitable efforts,” the Liberal National Party Senator said.

“We have heard from a broad cross-section of societal organisations and have made recommendations which we believe will strengthen our democracy without silencing these crucial voices,” McGrath said, referring to the “huge threat” concern.

Among these recommendations was making a new “transparency register” easily searchable, removing the need for entity staff to state their political affiliation on the register and setting a $100 minimum threshold for foreign donation disclosure.

In the dissenting report, Labor Deputy Chair, MP Andrew Giles, said there had not been enough time to scrutinise the sections and urged the government to reconsider measures that risked “unduly interfering with state arrangements”.

“This is a really important matter which goes to the heart of trust and integrity in politics. It’s not a matter upon which the Commonwealth Parliament should lightly, if ever, seek to override state jurisdictions who have considered these matters and made laws. It is deeply concerning that such provisions is proposed here,” Giles said.

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