Fundraising questions have interrupted the Queensland LNP’s election campaign. What does the law say?



Dan Peled/ AAP

Graeme Orr, The University of Queensland

The Liberal National Party has referred some of its own fundraising activities to the Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ).

As the ABC reported on Tuesday, this implicates its own parliamentary leader, Deb Frecklington.

Why would a party administration raise concerns with the electoral authorities? The timing of these revelations — in the midst of a tight election campaign — is a problem in itself.

To understand the law behind this, we need to think about two things. The first is the strict rules against electoral donations by property developers. The second is the investigatory power and processes that can be brought to bear.

Yet in many ways, the politics behind all this are at least as curious as any legal implications.

What is the story?

The ABC reported the LNP leader attended private events earlier this year, where property developers were also present.

Frecklington, for her part, denies any wrongdoing. And an LNP spokesperson said

the ABC’s allegation that the LNP has referred Deb Frecklington to the ECQ is false. It has not. The LNP regularly communicates with the ECQ to ensure that we comply with the act.

Inquiries, to date, have not exposed evidence of forbidden developer money in the mix, just of developers attending small gatherings at which Frecklington was a guest and which were treated by others as political fundraisers.

There is also an allegation that, behind the scenes, people may have considered trying to give money indirectly.

What is the ban on property developers?

Why would this be a problem?

Property developers are “prohibited donors” in Queensland. There is a ban on registered political parties, candidates and electoral groups receiving donations (whether gifts of money, or unpaid-for-resources) from any company that makes property development applications, their directors or close associates.




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Property industry organisations are also prohibited donors.

A developer who makes such a donation — directly or through a conduit — commits an offence, punishable by up to two years in jail. So too do party agents, if they solicit such donations. The party must disgorge twice the amount of the donation if they know the donor is prohibited.

Above all, if people connive to try to get around the ban on developer donations, each may be guilty of a serious crime, punishable by up to ten years in jail.

Why is there a ban?

In 2018, the Palaszczuk government introduced the ban on property developer donations. So these offences are not long established in Queensland. Nor did they originate in the state.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk in parliament.
The Palaszczuk Government introduced a ban on donations from developers in 2018.
Dan Peled/AAP

NSW has had such a ban on property developers donating since 2010. In 2014, an anti-corruption commission inquiry “Operation Spicer” brought down numerous state MPs over donations from developers.

The High Court has upheld such bans twice. It reasons the bans are compatible with freedom of political communication. It also argues they are a rational anti-corruption measure and developers are still free to join parties and to campaign in their own name.

Above all, liberty needs to be tempered by an idea of fairness, which the High Court calls the “equality of opportunity to participate politically”.

Wealth buys a lot of things, but it’s not meant to buy political influence, let alone power.

What happens if property developers donate anyway?

Political finance affairs often involve an intricate money trail and take many months to plumb.




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The Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission does not have a broad remit over electoral law. It may only lawfully investigate a matter if there is a suspicion of wrongdoing affecting public officials.

For its coercive powers, or public hearings, to be brought to bear, there has to be more than electoral donations at stake.

The Electoral Commission of Queensland, however, has wide new powers. These include entering premises with a warrant and the ability to demand records and to obtain statements. That said, it cannot require someone to give a statement incriminating themselves.

What’s the politics?

Beyond the law, what is the politics behind all this?

The macro politics is simple. The LNP strongly opposes bans on developer donations. They see them as illiberal and unfairly aimed at an industry that happens to be tight with the party and its ideology.




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Queensland Labor and the Greens support the law, pointing to a 2017 Crime and Corruption Commission report recommending such a ban for local government politics.

The Palaszczuk government extended that recommendation to all of state politics. Its rationale was development projects and Crown land use are often matters of state policy, just as zoning issues and particular development applications are matters for local government.

Internal politics also at play

What of the micro, or internal party, politics? Why would the administrative wing of a party refer its own messy linen to an electoral commission?

One explanation is due diligence. The LNP says the laws are complex and it relies on the commission for advice. Another aspect is parties have two sides to them, which generate different ethical pressures.

LNP leader Deb Frecklington
Queensland opposition leader Deb Frecklington has been in the job since 2017.
Dave Hunt/AAP

Current politicians want to build networks of support and to win the next election. Party machines have a longer-term view and concern for their own reputation.

In this case, the ABC reports the LNP’s administrative wing advised its MPs and leaders to avoid property developers including at “private” events. Frecklington either missed the memo, or didn’t care for that advice.

Shadowing all this is a history of tension between the LNP’s parliamentary leadership and its machine. Earlier this year, this erupted through public fissures, burning the administrative wing.

The conflict has been massaged and suppressed, in the lead up to the election. But as we have seen this week, it has not been fully resolved.The Conversation

Graeme Orr, Professor of Law, The University of Queensland

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

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.