Proposed legislation threatens public awareness on health issues

Proposed legislation threatens public awareness on health issues

25th January, 2018

Proposed legislation threatens public awareness on health issues

The proposed amendments to Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth) which were introduced to Parliament late last year have the potential to threaten the ability of charities – including medical research institutes – to provide information to the public on important health issues. The extent of the changes proposed in the Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill 2017 (Cth) (the Bill) are now becoming apparent and are causing concern within the medical research and health promotion sector.

In its submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquiry into the Bill, the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI) is urging the Government to consult further and consider amendments to the legislation to avoid unintended consequences that have far-reaching implications for charity groups, the medical research sector and community health promotion organisations.

President of AAMRI, Professor Tony Cunningham AO, said that the intention of the Bill is to provide better oversight for those involved in political finance, but the way the Bill has been drafted will lead to many charities being labelled as ‘political campaigners’, hindering their abilities to receive donations – the lifeblood of charity organisations – and adding unnecessary red tape that will get in the way of health promotion activities, undertaken in the national interest.

“Specifically, AAMRI is calling on the Federal Government to consider changes to the Bill which will exempt ‘health promotion activities’ and ‘public expressions of views by registered charities’ from the list of activities defined as having ‘political purpose’,” he said.

In addition, AAMRI is asking for a tightening of definitions for three key terms used in the Bill, ‘political expenditure’, ‘political purpose’ and ‘public expression’ which unreasonably define a wide range of apolitical policy development activity as ‘political campaigning’.

“The work of AAMRI, and other charity organisations, crosses into the public discourse about important policy issues. AAMRI and our members play a vital role in educating the public to make informed decisions about their health, backed by medical research. This work is not about which political party Australians should vote for. That is what this Bill inadvertently implies and that is a slippery slope,” said Professor Cunningham.

“AAMRI wants all registered charities to be aware of the potential issues this Bill may cause them. If health promotion charities, such as medical research institutes, get unintentionally caught up in this net, there will be a significant regulatory burden placed on them, hampering their ability to provide information to the public on a wide range of issues such as tobacco use and immunisation, to the effects of alcohol consumption and obesity,” he said.

The amendments AAMRI has recommended to the Government will ensure the Bill does not lead to reduced community involvement in policy development processes, or unintentionally impact on health promotion activities through added red tape.

“AAMRI supports efforts to improve transparency in the political process, but amendments are needed to this Bill so that charities can continue to undertake health promotion activities without fear of being labelled as political campaigners.”

Media Contact: Peter Thomas, 0411 600 992, peter.thomas@aamri.org.au

A copy of AAMRI’s submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is available at: https://aamri.org.au/category/policy-advocacy/submissions/