Celeste Barber’s story shows us the power of celebrity fundraising … and the importance of reading the fine print



Joel Carrett/AAP

Krystian Seibert, Swinburne University of Technology

Comedian Celeste Barber’s whopping $51 million bushfire fundraiser showed us just how generous people can be in times of trouble.

But the need to seek the NSW Supreme Court’s advice about how to spend the funds also demonstrates how tricky things can become when large amounts of money are involved.

As someone who researches the regulation of philanthropy and the not-for-profit sector, the episode is both a lesson in reading the fine print and the need for simpler donations laws.

But it should not deter public-spirited celebrities from fundraising in the future.

Celeste Barber’s big fundraising win

The summer bushfires saw an outpouring of generosity, with Australians donating vast sums towards various charities and causes.

Barber has family on the NSW South Coast, which was badly hit by the fires. The well-known comedian responded by setting up a Facebook fundraiser.

Comedian Celeste Barber raised more than $51 million through her fundraising campaign.
Joel Carrett/AAP

The beneficiary was the Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) and Brigades Donation Fund and the target was to raise $30,000.

The fundraiser went viral and saw millions of dollars pour in from around the world. As donations skyrocketed, Barber told her fans via Instagram she planned to spread the money raised around:

I’m going to make sure that Victoria gets some, that South Australia gets some, also families of people who have died in these fires, the wildlife.

Ultimately, Barber raised more than $51 million from about 1.3 million donors. Facebook’s fundraising partner, PayPal Giving Fund, then passed the money on to the NSW RFS donation fund.

The $51 million question

But spending the money was not straightforward.

The RFS donation fund is governed by a “trust deed,” which limits what it can use donations for. This means it can only spend funds received on equipment, training and resources or administrative costs for RFS brigades.

It does not allow donations to be passed on to fire services in other states or to other charities.

Given Barber’s comments about how the donations should be distributed and the intense attention on the issue, the RFS sought the advice of the NSW Supreme Court.

The NSW Supreme Court’s advice

On Monday, the court handed down its decision, and depending on your perspective, it’s a mix of good and bad news.

On the one hand, the court confirmed that donations can’t be passed on to fire services in other states or to other charities.

The funds raised can’t be passed on to other charities.
James Gourley/AAP

But it found funds can be spent to support rural firefighters injured while firefighting and the families of rural firefighters killed while firefighting. The funds can also be spent on physical and mental health training, as well as trauma counselling.

Where to from here?

The effect of the court’s decision is that the funds will stay with the RFS, where they will no doubt be used for important purposes.

But the decision may disappoint some donors, who thought the money would be able to be used to help the broader response to the bushfires. That includes supporting relief and rebuilding efforts in communities devastated by the fires, or helping injured wildlife.




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The decision did flag that individual donors could bring their own court case if they believed the funds they donated where not being used for the purposes they were donated for. But this is unlikely – if you’ve donated $25, then you may not want to spend lots of time and expense pursuing a court case.

The NSW Parliament could pass legislation to broaden the purposes for which the donation fund can spend donations. And NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge has proposed a bill to do just that.

But NSW’s Coalition government is unlikely to back a Greens-sponsored bill.

What lessons can we learn?

The main lesson is that if you’re setting up a fundraiser, or looking to donate to a particular charity, do some due diligence first.

For example, the national charities regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission has a free public register where you can look up information about individual charities.

To be fair to Barber, she did only intend to raise $30,000 for the RFS, and only expressed a desire to broaden the beneficiaries of her fundraiser when it took off.




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But it’s important to read the fine print and to understand what you can and can’t do as part of a fundraiser.

The episode also shows us that the laws governing charities and philanthropy in Australia are complex.

If the federal government introduced simpler laws to regulate “deductible gift recipients” (organisations that can receive tax deductible donations), then it’s likely the problem with Barber’s fundraising would have been easier to resolve.

This is because the activities of organisations wouldn’t need to as tightly confined as they are currently required to be.

We don’t need to leave fundraising to the professionals

In a short statement on Monday, Barber noted: “turns out that studying acting at university does not make me a lawmaker”.

Some people may think the court’s involvement means we should leave fundraising to the professionals, and that celebrity fundraisers do more harm than good. I disagree.

One of the powerful aspects of philanthropy is that anybody can see an area of need, donate money and rally others to do so.




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That is something we should encourage. Whilst it’s important to do due diligence, celebrities can play an important role by using their platform to promote giving.

Barber’s bushfire fundraiser was a powerful example of this, and we shouldn’t let the legal issues detract from it.The Conversation

Krystian Seibert, Industry Fellow, Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

In the time of coronavirus, donating blood is more essential than ever



Shutterstock

David Irving, University of Technology Sydney

Blood is like milk, not toilet paper. You can’t just buy a lot of it and save it for later – you need to have a regular, fresh supply for patients who need it.

At the moment, fewer Australians are donating blood than usual. To a degree, we can understand why.

But blood donation is an essential health service, even during the coronavirus pandemic.




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Donor centres have implemented new measures to ensure the safety of staff, donors and patients receiving transfusions during this time.

If you’re healthy, there’s a good chance you’ll be eligible to donate.

Why do we need more donors now?

We need blood and plasma products every day to support cancer patients, new mums and babies, people with immune deficiencies or blood diseases, and people who need surgery or have suffered trauma.

We’re currently seeing an increase in cancellations and people rescheduling their appointments. Around 900 donors are cancelling appointments each day, up from 800 earlier this month.

There are a number of reasons fewer people are giving blood than usual.

At the start of 2020, we saw a strong response from donors who came forward as a way to help with the nation’s bushfire response. We’ve seen this response to major events before and we know it can affect the supply chain down the track. Because these donors need to wait 12 weeks before they can donate blood again, there are fewer people available to give blood right now.




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Relating to coronavirus specifically, as people follow advice to stay home except for essential activities, they may be less inclined to donate blood.

And if the virus spreads to more people, fewer people may be eligible to donate because of new restrictions to keep our patients, staff, and donor centres safe.

A person having surgery might need a blood transfusion.
Shutterstock

Based on our forecasts for demand from Australian health providers, Australian Red Cross Lifeblood needs an additional 7,000 donors to make appointments to donate blood through to Easter Monday to prevent a shortage.

Who can donate?

Australia currently has around 500,000 blood donors, but millions of others may be eligible to donate.

Normally, if you’re aged between 18 and 76, weigh over 50kg and are healthy and well, you may be eligible. However, in keeping with government advice we encourage those aged 70 and over to postpone their donation during this period. There are other eligibility criteria which remain in place to ensure our patients and donors are safe from the risks we already understand.

Notably, there’s no evidence coronavirus or other respiratory viruses can be transmitted by blood transfusion.

But to be on the safe side, Lifeblood’s strict screening process means people who are unwell can’t donate.




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During the pandemic, Lifeblood has introduced new rules to protect the safety of staff, donors and patients, in line with recent recommendations from the World Health Organisation:

  • anyone who has returned from overseas is unable to donate for 28 days after their return

  • people who have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 will have to wait 28 days before donating

  • people who have been confirmed as having COVID-19 will not be able to donate until they are cleared by their doctor plus undergo an additional recovery period.

  • people with mild cold-like symptoms will be unable to donate until they are fully recovered.

Am I allowed to travel to a donor centre, and is it safe?

As many states in Australia have limited non-essential activities, it’s important to understand blood and plasma donation is vital, and travel and venue restrictions don’t prevent people from giving blood.

Donor centres are strictly regulated spaces, monitored regularly by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. There’s a specific code that sets out requirements for staff, premises, collection procedures, quality control and testing, among other things.

Staff adhere to strict sanitation protocols including wearing gloves, wiping down surfaces after every donation and using single use sterile collection kits for every donation.

In addition to the usual hygiene practices and new restrictions to who can donate, Lifeblood is implementing further measures to help protect donors and staff, including:

  • increased disinfecting of frequently used items

  • providing additional hand sanitiser for donors to use

  • additional daily disinfection of all areas in our centres including the donation floor, refreshment areas, reception and more

  • restricting non-donating visitors to our centres (so only staff and donors are allowed in)

  • providing public health information consistent with the latest official coronavirus advice in every centre

  • implementing social distancing in our centres wherever possible, ensuring all donors are at least 1.5 metres away from all other donors.




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We’re appealing to anyone who has an appointment booked and who feels well to keep it.

If you’re a blood donor and haven’t made your next appointment, you can help by booking one in the next few weeks.

If you’re a blood donor who gave more than month ago, you may be able to donate plasma now.

And if you’ve never donated before, now is a great time to become a donor and help us maintain the nation’s blood supplies.

You can make an appointment online or call 13 14 95.The Conversation

David Irving, Adjunct Professor, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Next time, we’ve got to handle emergency donations better


Debbie Wills, University of Tasmania

As Australia burned over summer, many of us gave generously, donating an extraordinary A$500 million by mid-January.

Charities had to scramble, as did organisations directing us to charities. For its new year’s eve fundraiser the ABC chose the Red Cross.

Weeks later, the New South Wales state MP for Bega, Andrew Constance, a local whose electorate was in the heart of the fires, attacked the Red Cross, and also the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul, arguing not all of the money was getting through:

The money is needed now, not sitting in a Red Cross bank account earning interest so they can map out their next three years and do their marketing.

The Red Cross responded, conceding it was using 10% of donations for administration but noting that it was handing out A$1 million every day.

The confusion and negativity continued, with comedian Celeste Barber seeking legal advice over the fate of A$50 million she raised for the NSW Rural Fire Service.




Read more:
Celebrity concern about bushfires could do more harm than good. To help they need to put boots on the ground


It was too much for the fire service to spend quickly on running expenses and buying and maintaining equipment. And it was prevented by its trust deed from passing it on to other charities.

The fallout suggests we want to be sure our money is being used to help, but we’re not sure that it is.

What can charities and donors do?

My research into the role played by reputation in donations indicates that it is important for charities to define their role clearly.

This includes stating plainly how they are meeting the reporting and other requirements imposed on them by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and educating the public about those requirements.

We need to do our research, think carefully before donating, and watch out for scammers.

It is important to be comfortable with each charity’s mission and objectives. They cannot act outside them without running the risk of being deregistered.

We can search for information on all charities using the commission’s charity search tool www.acnc.gov.au/charity, or for smaller sets of charities using charity ranking sites such as:

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission already does a lot, but given the power, there’s more it could do.

What can Australia’s regulator do?

It could require funds raised for emergencies to be kept in trust, and reported on in more detail at regular intervals through a running statement of distribution of funds.

It could require further standardised reporting, although this would be expensive and charities are already heavily criticised for the percentage of funds used for administration.

It could also set up a one-stop shop for disaster relief.

Brian May and Adam Lambert of Queen perform at the Fire Fight Australia relief concert in Sydney, Sunday February 16, 2020.
Joel Carrett/AAP

The department of foreign affairs set up one for foreign disasters that was first used for the Bangladesh-Myanmar appeal in 2017, bringing together eight Australian charities to create a single website and a single phone number that could be used to direct calls to each individual charity.

There are understandable calls to do the same thing for domestic disasters.

Some charities might not welcome combined appeals, fearing they would reduce their own visibility and impose more hurdles. But the hurdles shouldn’t be impossible to leap. A global organisation has been set up to ensure best practice.




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The Advance Global Australian Bushfire Appeal set up by five charities during the bushfires shows what can be done, as does February’s Fire Fight Australia concert.

A government-certified single point of contact, backed up with specific reporting requirements, could provide a level of certainty that the public feel more comfortable with in times of emergency in the future.The Conversation

Debbie Wills, Lecturer in Accounting, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How big money influenced the 2019 federal election – and what we can do to fix the system


Kate Griffiths, Grattan Institute; Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute, and Tony Chen, Grattan Institute

Amid the ongoing bushfire and coronavirus crises – and the political kerfuffle surrounding the Nationals and Greens – you’d be forgiven for missing the annual release of the federal political donations data this week.

Nine months after the 2019 federal election, voters finally get a look at who funded the political parties’ campaigns.

The data reveals that big money matters in Australian elections more than ever, and donations are highly concentrated among a small number of powerful individuals, businesses and unions.

These are significant vulnerabilities in Australia’s democracy and reinforce why substantial reforms are needed to prevent wealthy interests from exercising too much influence in Australian politics.

Largest donations in Australian political history

The big story of the 2019 election was Clive Palmer, who donated A$84 million via his mining company Mineralogy to his own campaign – a figure that dwarfs all other donations as far back as the records go. The previous record – also held by Palmer – was A$15 million at the 2013 election.

While Palmer failed to win any seats last year, he ran a substantial anti-Labor advertising campaign, and claimed credit for the Coalition’s victory.




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There are obviously many factors in an election win, but this raises a serious question: how much influence should we allow any single interest to hold over the national debate, especially during the critically important election period?


Grattan Institute

Several other large donors also emerged at this election. A A$4 million donation to the Liberal Party from the company Sugolena, owned by a private investor and philanthropist, takes the prize for the largest-ever non-Palmer donation.

Businessman Anthony Pratt donated about A$1.5 million to each of the major parties through his paper and packaging company Pratt Holdings. The hotels lobby, which has been influential in preventing pokies reforms in past state and federal elections, also donated about A$500,000 to the Coalition and A$800,000 to Labor.

Money buys access and sometimes influence

A 2018 Grattan Institute report, Who’s in the room? Access and influence in Australian politics, showed how money can buy relationships and political connections. The political parties rely heavily on major donors, and as a result, major donors get significant access to ministers.

While explicit quid pro quo is probably rare, the risk is in more subtle influences – that donors get more access to policymakers and their views are given more weight. These risks are exacerbated by a lack of transparency in dealings between policymakers and special interests.

Big money improves the chances of influence. But it also matters to election outcomes.




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Looking back at the past five federal elections, an interesting correlation is evident: the party with the biggest war chest tends to form government.

It’s only a sample of five, and it’s unclear whether higher spending drives the election result or donors simply get behind the party most likely to win.

But in 2019, Labor was widely expected to win, so its smaller war chest supports the proposition that money assists in delivering power.



Grattan Institute

What policymakers should do to protect Australia’s democracy

Money in politics needs to be better regulated to reduce the risk of interest groups “buying” influence – and elections.

Real transparency is the first step. Half of private funding remains hidden from public view due to Australia’s high disclosure threshold and loopholes in the federal donations rules.

Only donations of more than A$14,000 need to be on the public record, and political parties don’t have to aggregate multiple donations below the threshold from the same donor – meaning major donors can simply split their donations to hide their identity.



Grattan Institute

Parliament should improve the transparency of political donations by

  • lowering the federal donations disclosure threshold to A$5,000, so all donations big enough to matter are on the public record;

  • requiring political parties to aggregate multiple donations from the same donor, so big donors can’t hide

  • requiring quicker release of donations data, so voters have information on who funds elections during the campaign – not nine months later.

These simple rule changes would bring Australia’s federal political donations regime in line with most states and OECD nations. The current regime leaves voters in the dark.

But the donations data shows transparency is not enough to protect Australia’s democracy from the influence of a handful of wealthy individuals. Ultimately, to reduce the influence of money in politics, parliament should introduce an expenditure cap during election campaigns.




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Parties and candidates can currently spend as much money as they can raise, so big money means greater capacity to sell your message to voters.

Capping political expenditure by political parties – and third parties – would reduce the influence of wealthy individuals. And it would reduce the donations “arms race” between the major parties, giving senior politicians more time to do their job instead of chasing dollars.The Conversation

Kate Griffiths, Fellow, Grattan Institute; Danielle Wood, Program Director, Budget Policy and Institutional Reform, Grattan Institute, and Tony Chen, Researcher, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia: Bushfire Crisis Update


Celebrity concern about bushfires could do more harm than good. To help they need to put boots on the ground


Gabrielle Walters, The University of Queensland; Judith Mair, The University of Queensland, and Monica Chien, The University of Queensland

From Australian superstars such as Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe, Chris Hemsworth and Nicole Kidman to Hollywood heavyweights including Ellen DeGeneres and Bette Midler, a lengthening list of celebrities are helping to shine a spotlight on Australia’s bushfires.

Some have donated large sums of money and used social media to publicise their donations, encouraging fans to follow suit. Some have used their profile and platforms such as the Golden Globes awards to draw attention to the fires. Others are donating items for auction or appearing in charity events.




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For attracting attention and money to a cause, celebrity-driven attention is hard to beat. But there’s also a downside. If that interest is superficial and fleeting, it may actually hinder recovery efforts in disaster-ravaged regions.

Our research into disaster recovery efforts for Victoria’s Gippsland region after the deadly “Black Saturday” fires in 2009 suggests celebrities’ best contribution needs to be in the weeks and months to come – and requires them putting “boots on the ground”.

Negative implications

Studies confirm the influence of messages from celebrities, be it brand choice, political opinion or charitable giving.

It’s great that celebrities want to use their influence for good causes. Not all celebrity advocacy, though, should be applauded uncritically. One study has suggested it is less effective than sometimes supposed for development causes, and can simplify a complex issue to a single outcome – usually giving money. This fails to address how people can make an ongoing difference in other ways.

In terms of natural disasters, a very practical way to help communities recover is the resumption of tourism. Perceptions play a big part in this, and celebrities can play a big part in forming images. It’s why they have long featured in tourism campaigns, from Paul Hogan in the 1980s to Kylie Minogue and others in the humorously idealised imagery presented by Tourism Australia to Britons a few weeks ago.

Tourism Australia’s ‘Matesong’ campaign fronted by Kyle Minogue has now been suspended.

Now these images are being replaced by the message globally that Australia is “on fire, literally”, and that much of the country is an “apocalyptic nightmare”.

Tourism effects

Even if celebrities have the best of intentions, their emotional appeals and shared of images of red skies and smoke-filled cities along with heartbreaking images of devastation and loss can contribute to fans cancelling holidays plans, even while they’re donating to bushfire appeals.

There are already reports, for example, of tourists aborting plans for visits months away. The Australian Tourism Industry Council says cancelled bookings in towns unaffected by the bushfires are up to 60%. The Australian Tourism Export Council estimates the loss of international bookings will cost the nation at least A$4.5 billion in 2020, hurting regional areas the most.

US singer Rihanna shared this graphic representation of the Australian bushfires, which was widely mistaken to be an image taken by a satellite.
Twitter

It doesn’t help when misleading information is spread, as the American singer Rihanna inadvertently did when she shared an image on Twitter that exaggerated the size of the bushfires. This image suggested huge swathes of Australia were no-go zones.

Ellen Degeneres did something similar in telling her audience “nearly a third of their habitat has been destroyed”. This was an exaggerated misstatement of Australia’s environment minister saying a third of koala habitat in New South Wales had been destroyed.

Our research confirms the further someone is from a destination in crisis, the more likely they are to be confused about the location and think a greater area is affected.




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Fires in the Blue Mountains area of New South Wales, for example, were called “the “Sydney fires” elsewhere in Australia. Overseas they were referred to as the “Australian bushfires”, confusing domestic and international tourists.

Where celebrities can really help

So while celebrities might have the very best of motivations, their contribution in generating donations in the short term might be offset by the longer-term effect of amplifying the misconception that Australia is not safe for tourists.

Affected areas and number of casualties from the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. Gippsland covers all of Victoria east of Melbourne.
Nick Carson/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

This is demonstrated by past experience. After Victoria’s 2009 Black Saturday fires, the the Gippsland region experienced a major tourism downturn, despite just 5% of the region being directly affected.

But celebrites can also use their mass-pull to aid tourism recovery.

Our research suggests their star power is unmatched as a means to encourage tourists back to regions recovering from disaster.

In the case of Gippsland, we surveyed 691 people with nine different advertising messages. Themes included solidarity, community readiness and even short-term discounts. We found celebrity endorsement made the greatest impression, with test subjects indicating it made them more likely to visit the region.

In the months after the Black Saturday bushfires, former Miss Universe Jennifer Hawkins and legendary cricketer Shane Warne visited affected towns. These highly publicised events sent the message these towns were ready to welcome visitors again.

So celebrities can definitely help in the coming weeks and months.

They can share positive stories about local communities’ resilience, and maybe even visit.

This is likely to do more for recovery efforts in the long term than helping to spruik for donations.The Conversation

Gabrielle Walters, Associate Professor, School of Business, The University of Queensland; Judith Mair, Associate professor, The University of Queensland, and Monica Chien, Senior lecturer, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As fires rage, we must use social media for long-term change, not just short-term fundraising



Comedian Celeste Barber’s fundraising efforts have gained monumental support. But we need to think of long-term engagement in climate action too.
Facebook

Emma Hutchison, The University of Queensland

With 26 fatalities, half a billion animals impacted and 10.7 million hectares of land burnt, Australia faces a record-breaking bushfire season.

Yet, amid the despondency, moving stories have emerged of phenomenal fundraising conducted through social media.

At the forefront is Australian comedian Celeste Barber, whose Facebook fundraiser has raised more than AUD$45 million – the largest amount in the platform’s history.

Presenting shocking visuals, sites such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook have been monumental in communicating the severity of the fires.

But at a time when experts predict worsening climate conditions and longer fire seasons, short bursts of compassion and donations aren’t enough.

For truly effective action against current and future fires, we need to use social media to implement lasting transformations, to our attitudes, and our ability to address climate change.

Get out of your echo-chamber

Links between social media and public engagement are complex. Their combination can be helpful, as we’re witnessing, but doesn’t necessarily help solve problems requiring long-term attention.




Read more:
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Online spaces can cultivate polarising, and sometimes harmful, debate.

Past research indicates the presence of online echo chambers, and users’ tendency to seek interaction with others holding the same beliefs as them.

If you’re stuck in an echo chamber, Harvard Law School lecturer Erica Ariel Fox suggests breaking the mould by going out of your way to understand diverse opinions.

Before gearing up to disagree with others, she recommends acknowledging the contradictions and biases you yourself hold, and embracing the opposing sides of yourself.

In tough times, many start to assign blame – often with political or personal agendas.

In the crisis engulfing Australia, we’ve seen this with repeated accusations from conservatives claiming the Greens party have made fire hazard reduction more difficult.

In such conversations, larger injustices and the underlying political challenges are often forgotten. The structural conditions underpinning the crisis remain unchallenged.

Slow and steady

We need to rethink our approach to dealing with climate change, and its harmful effects.

First, we should acknowledge there is no quick way to resolve the issue, despite the immediacy of the threats it poses.

Political change is slow, and needs steady growth. This is particularly true for climate politics, an issue which challenges the social and economic structures we rely on.

Our values and aspirations must also change, and be reflected in our online conversations. Our dialogue should shift from blame to a culture of appreciation, and growing concern for the impact of climate degradation.

Users should continue to explore and learn online, but need to do so in an informed way.

Reading Facebook and Twitter content is fine, but this must be complemented with reliable news sources. Follow authorised user accounts providing fact-based articles and guidance.

Before you join an online debate, it’s important you can back your claims. This helps prevent the spread of misinformation online, which is unfortunately rampant.

A 2018 Reuters Institute report found people’s interaction (sharing, commenting and reacting) with false news from a small number of Facebook outlets “generated more or as many interactions as established news brands”.

Also, avoid regressive discussions with dead-ends. Social media algorithms dictate that the posts you engage with set the tone for future posts targeted at you, and more engagement with posts will make them more visible to other users too. Spend your time and effort wisely.

And lastly, the internet has made it easier than ever to contact political leaders, whether it’s tweeting at your prime minister, or reaching out to the relevant minister on Facebook.




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Tangible change-making

History has proven meaningful social and political progress requires sustained public awareness and engagement.

Australian comedian Celeste Barber started fundraising with a goal of $30,000.
Celeste Barber/Facebook

Consider Australia’s recent legislation on marriage equality, or the historical transformation of women’s rights.

These issues affect people constantly, but fixing them required debate over long periods.

We should draw on the awareness raised over the past weeks, and not let dialogue about the heightened threat of bushfires fizzle out.

We must not return to our practices of do-nothingism as soon as the immediate disaster subsides.

Although bushfire fundraisers have collected millions, a European Social Survey of 44,387 respondents from 23 countries found that – while most participants were worried about climate change – less than one-third were willing to pay higher taxes on fossil fuels.

If we want climate action, we must expect more from our governments but also from ourselves.

Social media should be used to consistently pressure government to take principled stances on key issues, not short-sighted policies geared towards the next election.

Opening the public’s eyes

There’s no denying social media has successfully driven home the extent of devastation caused by the fires.

A clip from Fire and Rescue NSW, viewed 7.8 million times on Twitter alone, gives audiences a view of what it’s like fighting on the frontlines.

Images of burnt, suffering animals and destroyed homes, resorts, farms and forests have signalled the horror of what has passed and what may come.

Social media can be a formidable source of inspiration and action. It’s expected to become even more pervasive in our lives, and this is why it must be used carefully.

While showings of solidarity are incredibly helpful, what happens in the coming weeks and months, after the fires pass, is what will matter most.The Conversation

Emma Hutchison, Associate Professor and ARC DECRA Fellow, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to donate to Australian bushfire relief: give money, watch for scams and think long term


Krystian Seibert, Swinburne University of Technology

The devastation of the Australian bushfires has generated an outpouring of generosity amongst Australians.

We have been giving directly to charities such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and others working on the ground to support survivors. Many of us have contributed to appeals such as Celeste Barber’s, which, at the time of writing, has raised A$42 million for the NSW Rural Fire Service.

At the time of writing, celebrity Celeste Barber had raised $42 million.
Facebook

Wealthy Australians, like the Packer, Gandel and Minogue families, have also made large commitments, as have many businesses.

The fact that so many of us have been reaching into our pockets during this difficult time is not surprising. Australia is the fourth most generous nation in the world, according to the most recent edition of the World Giving Index and emergency relief is a common cause to which we give.

But it’s worth thinking carefully about how to give, to ensure you’re not wasting your contribution or inadvertently making things worse.

Watch out for scammers

One thing to be mindful of during times like these, is that unfortunately some people may seek to prey on the generosity of others. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has issued a warning about fundraising scams associated with the bushfires.

If you aren’t sure about an organisation that you’ve been approached by, you can always check whether they’re a registered charity using the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission’s online register.

It lists all charities registered in Australia, and details their operations, finance and governance.

Money usually trumps everything else

Generally, it’s best to give money. The organisations you give it to can then decide how to use it best.

We may be tempted to give goods like blankets or clothes, but organisations often get overwhelmed by donations of goods.

The idea of donating while also clearing out unused items at home may seem tempting but many organisations don’t have the resources to sort through donations. Often, the goods donated just aren’t fit for use.

Research by the federal and South Australian governments examined this problem, saying of the 2009 Victorian bushfires:

The Victorian Bushfires resulted in the donation of in excess of 40,000 pallets of goods from across Australia that took up more than 50,000 square metres of storage space. The costs for managing these donations i.e. three central warehouses, five regional distribution points, approximately 35 paid staff, material handling equipment and transport costs to distribute the material aid, has amounted to over 8 million dollars.

In addition, volunteer numbers reached 1,500 during the first three months provided through over 40 store fronts. Resources in the fire affected areas immediately after the event were severely stretched as a result of material aid arriving without warning and without adequate resources to sort, store, handle
and distribute.

The report highlighted how this is a consistent problem during disasters, leading to the development of the National Guidelines for Managing Donated Goods. These guidelines reinforce the point that donating money is the preferred way to help out during a disaster.

If specific requests are made for certain goods, however, then you can respond by donating accordingly. The charity Givit acts as a broker that facilitates the donations of goods that meet the needs of charities and those they are seeking to help.

Always make sure that what you donate is of reasonable quality. It’s important not to use donation appeals an excuse to clean out items that probably should go in the rubbish or recycling bin.

Donations after the bushfires are also important

We’re facing a long and hot summer, with the prospect of ongoing bushfires. At some stage, they will subside and with them the appeals for donations will also end.

But it’s important to remember that even once the immediate crisis has passed, rebuilding after a disaster takes a long time and requires considerable resources.

Governments play an important part but there is also a role for philanthropy both large and small. For example, the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal has a Disaster Resilience and Recovery Fund which makes grants to local not-for-profit groups for community-led projects that address the most pressing needs that emerge 12-18 months after a disaster.

The bigger picture

Supporting the immediate response and rebuilding efforts is vital, but it’s also important to consider how as a nation we collectively address the factors which are increasing bushfire risk.

Climate change is increasing the risk that we will see more frequent and intense bushfires.

Charities provide vital support to those in need during times of crisis. But they also have an important advocacy role putting pressure on governments and businesses to change policies and practices.




Read more:
Explainer: what are the limits to charities advancing political causes?


There are many environmental charities doing exactly this, to push Australia toward a more comprehensive response to climate change.

So it’s also worth thinking about how your donation can help support the policy change needed to address climate change and to mitigate the risks associated with it – including more bushfires.The Conversation

Krystian Seibert, Industry Fellow, Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Time for the federal government to catch up on political donations reform


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The states have pulled far ahead of the Commonwealth on improving transparency around political donations.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Carmela Chivers, Grattan Institute; Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute, and Kate Griffiths, Grattan Institute

Australians should be able to see who donates to political parties, but our political donations laws fall far short of this ideal. Recent reforms in New South Wales and Victoria mean that voters will have much better information about who is donating. But when it comes to donations at the federal level, voters remain largely in the dark.

Money in politics is regulated to reduce the risk of interest groups “buying” influence. Explicit quid pro quo is probably rare: as the saying goes, “you never bribe someone when you need them”. But the risk is in more subtle influence: that donors get more access to policymakers, or their views are given more weight.




Read more:
The truth about political donations: there is so much we don’t know


Publishing information about larger donors creates a public check on this behaviour. Voters are able to see who political parties rely on for funding, and MPs are more accountable for their subsequent decisions.

States are improving transparency

The trend in the states is promising. Victoria and NSW both increased the transparency of political donations last month.

In Victoria, donations of $1,000 or more will have to be disclosed to the Victorian Electoral Commission within 21 days. Anonymous donations of $1,000 or more are banned. Victoria even capped donations at $4,000 and increased public funding for election campaigns, which might help reduce the reliance of parties on larger contributions (but also comes with other risks).

NSW’s already extensive donations regime was tightened from July 1 this year. NSW political parties are now required to disclose donations of $1,000 or more within 21 days during election campaigns (as in Victoria), and within six months otherwise.

When it comes to transparency, Queensland does one better: the 2017 state election was Australia’s first with “real time” disclosure. Donations of $1,000 or more are lodged through an online portal and are made public within seven working days. The Queensland Electoral Commission even provides interactive maps of donations by electorate.

Most other states also have decent disclosure requirements. In South Australia, parties are required to disclose donations of $5,310 or more every seven days during an election period (and every six months otherwise). The disclosure threshold in Western Australia is $2,300.

Tasmania is the only state with disclosure laws as weak as the Commonwealth’s.

These laws mean voters can know, before they go to the ballot box, who is funding parties’ election campaigns.

The Commonwealth has a long way to go

The states are taking political donations reform seriously – and that’s a good thing. But state reforms are limited by state boundaries. Until the Commonwealth catches up, we won’t be able to “follow the money” across all jurisdictions.

Under Commonwealth regulations, it can take up to 19 months for donations to be made public. That’s why Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s $1.75 million donation to the Liberal Party in the lead-up to the 2016 election was not officially made public until the start of this year.

Only donations of more than $13,800 are required to be disclosed. And there is no requirement to aggregate donations, which means an individual donor can make a series of donations below $13,800 without disclosure.

The result is a huge amount of money in the federal system that we know nothing about. Parties received more than $100 million from undisclosed sources in the two financial years spanning the 2016 federal election. Without this information, it is difficult for public scrutiny to provide a “check” on the possibility of donor influence.

Some of this money no doubt came from “mum and dad” donors contributing $100 to their preferred party. But some is probably the result of “donations splitting”, where people or organisations make multiple donations below the threshold. Some might also be income from fundraising dinners and business forums, for which attendees pay thousands for an opportunity to “bend the ear” of elected representatives.

Donations can also be filtered through associated entities of the parties. This makes money (and influence) even more difficult to track. These entities – unions, investment funds, or fundraising organisations – occasionally frustrate donations restrictions by taking money on behalf of “their” party.

In a particularly egregious case, investigations uncovered that hundreds of thousands of dollars in unlawful donations had filtered into NSW Liberal Party accounts through a federal associated entity.




Read more:
Ban on foreign political donations is both too broad and too narrow, and won’t fix our system


Let the sun shine in

Growing public cynicism about special interest influence is partly born of secrecy. Simple changes could vastly improve what we know about money flowing to Commonwealth political parties.

The disclosure threshold should be lowered as the states have done. The current threshold of $13,800 is well above the amount that a regular voter could afford to contribute to a political cause. A lower threshold of around $5,000 would still protect the privacy of small donors while improving transparency and accountability.

Disclosure of donations should be much quicker. Queensland and South Australia now have “real time” disclosure during elections; the Commonwealth can clearly do better than a 19-month turn-around. Disclosure within three weeks – as in NSW and Victoria – would be far superior to the current system.

The ConversationThe states’ political donations laws aren’t perfect, but they are heading in the right direction. It’s time for Canberra to catch up.

Carmela Chivers, Associate, Grattan Institute; Danielle Wood, Program Director, Budget Policy and Institutions, Grattan Institute, and Kate Griffiths, Senior Associate, Grattan Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Federal government’s foreign donations bill is flawed and needs to be redrafted



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The only effective way of destroying the undue influence of large foreign donations is by placing a cap on all donations.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

Preventing foreign influence over Australian elections is important. It is also important that legislation designed to achieve this is effective and does not impose collateral damage or leave itself open to constitutional challenge.

How well does the Turnbull government’s foreign donations bill stack up? Does it achieve its aim of preventing foreign donations from affecting Australian elections?

Not at all. It permits foreign citizens to make as many political donations in as large amounts as they wish, if it is done by a permanent resident or a foreign-owned company that is incorporated in Australia.

To be fair, there are constitutional reasons for this. It is unlikely that a ban on donations from permanent residents or companies incorporated in Australia would survive a constitutional challenge. But it also means any foreign government seeking to influence Australian elections can still easily do so.

The only effective way of destroying the undue influence of large foreign donations is by placing a cap on all donations, as occurs in New South Wales. But the federal government has chosen not to go down this path.




Read more:
Ban on foreign political donations is both too broad and too narrow, and won’t fix our system


It is ironic, then, that Special Minister of State Mathias Cormann says exempting charities from the bill would render the ban on foreign donations “entirely ineffective”. It is ineffective at preventing foreign influence anyway, so excluding charities could hardly make any difference to achieving that aim.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull argues that only seven out of 55,500 registered charities reported political expenditure last financial year, and that the bill “has no effect on foreign funding for charities’ non-political activity or charities’ political campaigning where it is funded by Australians”.

This is misleading for two reasons.

First, the bill relies on a greatly broadened definition of political expenditure. It now includes any expenditure on the expression of public views on an issue that is “likely to be before electors in an election”, regardless of when the election is held. This could include anything from expenditure on ads supporting same-sex marriage to books on climate change and websites supporting Indigenous constitutional recognition. Given the wide range of issues that may be before electors in an election, the bill is likely to catch a large number of charities, along with universities, corporations and others.

Second, it does not matter whether a charity actually receives any foreign donations or not. It may only receive donations from Australian sources and still be seriously affected by the bill. This is because onerous reporting obligations attach to bodies deemed to be either a “political campaigner” or “third party campaigner”.

For example, spending as little as A$14,000 on the public expression of views on an issue that is likely to be before electors is sufficient to be categorised as a third party campaigner, regardless of whether or not the person or body receives any foreign donations.

A third party campaigner must lodge annual reports detailing:

  • its political expenditure
  • its senior staff and any membership by them of political parties
  • any grants, contracts or payments from Commonwealth, State or Territory governments
  • a signed statement by its financial controller that it has complied with the rules about receiving gifts, such as charitable donations.

If a third party campaigner has received gifts that allowed it to engage in political expenditure, and the amount of at least one such gift (or cumulative gifts from the same donor) was above A$13,500, then it also has to provide an annual return that sets out the amounts of such donations, the date they were made and the name and address of each donor.

Most burdensome of all is the requirement to identify the source of every gift it receives. This includes very small donations, as it has to be able to identify whether the gifts from any single donor cumulatively exceed A$250. It then has to obtain a statutory declaration from each donor of more than A$250 that they are an “allowable donor”, such as a citizen, a permanent resident or a body incorporated in Australia. The penalty for breaching these requirements is up to 10 years imprisonment for the financial controller of the third party campaigner.

If you were a charity, which only collected donations from within Australia, and you wished to spend money on advocacy about government policies on homelessness, what would you do? Would you send lawyers out to accompany every door-knocker when you collect donations? Would you risk insulting your donors by requiring them to sign a legal document declaring that they are citizens or permanent residents?

Would you spend a considerable portion of the donations you receive on administering a complex reporting system, with the risk of imprisonment if you breach the rules? Or would you decide that the only rational solution is not to spend any money on advocacy about homelessness?




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Green groups and charities could be collateral damage in government’s foreign donation ban


If the purpose of this bill is to prevent foreign donations from influencing elections, it manifestly does not achieve that outcome. Foreign citizens can still donate as much as they like to Australian political parties by donating through a company they have incorporated in Australia.

But if the purpose of the bill is to deter charities and other third parties (regardless of whether they have received a single cent of foreign money) from spending money on the public expression of views that might entail criticism of government policies, then it would very effectively achieve that outcome.

This disconnect between the bill’s claimed purpose and likely effect may cause problems for the government if the legislation is passed and then challenged before the High Court. The Court has already held that limiting the sources of political donations imposes a burden on the constitutionally implied freedom of political communication.

Such a law will only be valid if it passes a proportionality test. That is, the law must be reasonably appropriate and adapted to achieve its claimed legitimate purpose. If its effects go far beyond that purpose, are unnecessary to achieve that purpose and disproportionately damage political communication, then the law will be held invalid.

The ConversationOn that basis, this bill is highly vulnerable to a constitutional challenge and needs to be redrafted so that it achieves its aim but does not impose unnecessary collateral damage on charities and other bodies.

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.