Victoria gets serious on its political donations rules – now it’s the federal government’s turn



File 20170919 22691 1bdcijx
The Andrews government’s proposed reforms will significantly improve Victoria’s donations system.
AAP/Mal Fairclough

Yee-Fui Ng, RMIT University

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced a suite of reforms to the state’s political donations system. It includes:

  • a cap on donations by individuals, unions and corporations of A$4,000 over a four-year parliamentary term;

  • public disclosure of donations above $1,000;

  • a ban on foreign donations; and

  • real-time disclosure of donations.

Harsh penalties will be imposed on those who breach the rules, with fines of up to $44,000 and two years in jail.

These proposals follow several dubious events, including Liberal Party fundraiser Barrie Macmillan allegedly seeking to funnel donations from a mafia boss to the party after Opposition Leader Matthew Guy enjoyed a lobster dinner with the mafia leader.

According to Andrews, these changes are intended to:

… help put an end to individuals and corporations attempting to buy influence in Victorian politics.

Are these reforms good?

The proposed reforms will significantly improve Victoria’s donations system.

The caps on donations will level the playing field and reduce the risk of corruption in the state’s political system. It will prevent rich donors from exerting greater influence over politicians than those who lack the means to do so. Parties will no longer be able to rely on these wealthy donors to fund their election campaigns.

The caps equally target individuals, unions and corporations, meaning that money cannot be channelled through shady corporate structures to evade the rules. However, donations can still be channelled through the federal level, where there are no caps.

Real-time disclosures, which have already been introduced in Queensland, will improve the timeliness of disclosures. Combined with the lower disclosure threshold of $1,000, these are commendable steps towards enhancing transparency.

The move to ban foreign donations may face constitutional issues.

The tough penalties may deter people from breaching the rules. But proper enforcement by the Victorian Electoral Commission is still essential for the laws to be effective.


Further reading: Banning foreign political donations won’t fix all that ails our system


How will elections be funded?

Election campaigns are currently funded by a mix of public funding and private donations. As there will be caps on private donations, public funding of Victorian elections from taxpayers’ pockets will need to increase.

There will be debate as to the level of public funding that should be given. Public funding should adequately compensate parties, but not be overly generous or allow them to rort the system.

Detractors may argue that, in the age of social media, there may be cheaper ways for political parties to get their messages across, so less public funding would be needed.

It is tricky to work out how to allocate public funding between established political parties, minor parties and new parties. There is also a question of whether public funding should cover activities such as policy development and party administration.

But public funding is already part of Australia’s system. In the 2016 federal election, $62.8 million of public funding was provided, which is about half of federal campaign costs.

Victoria’s move toward more public funding is not unprecedented. New South Wales already has caps on political donations of $5,800 per party and $2,500 for candidates, as well as a ban on donations from property developers and those in the tobacco, liquor and gambling industries. This was accompanied by an increase in public funding of elections, amounting to about 80% of campaign costs.


Further reading: NSW is introducing full public funding of major political parties – by stealth


In Europe and Canada, there are high levels of public funding: between 50% and 90% of costs.

Another worry is that enterprising people and businesses might still circumvent the rules through creative means.

In the US, super PACs (political action committees) are special interest groups involved in fundraising and campaigning that are not officially affiliated with political parties. These groups can raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, and then spend this money to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.

If this possibility is not regulated in Australian jurisdictions, then our system will remain broken.

How can we improve our national system?

Australia’s political donations system remains fragmented. Ideally, we would have a uniform system with tough rules at both the federal and state levels, so that donors cannot easily evade the rules by channelling their money through more lax jurisdictions.


Further reading: Explainer: how does our political donations system work – and is it any good?


The time is ripe for reform. A federal parliamentary committee is looking into how to improve the federal donations rules. The committee will issue its report by December 2017.

The ConversationVictoria has thrown down the gauntlet – and it’s now time for the federal government to take heed.

Yee-Fui Ng, Lecturer, Graduate School of Business and Law, RMIT University

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

Advertisements

Minister to get unprecedented power if Australia’s new citizenship bill is passed



File 20170615 24963 1y8da97
It’s not clear how proposed extensive powers for the immigration minister strengthen the integrity of Australian citizenship.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Sangeetha Pillai, UNSW

The government has introduced legislation to reform Australia’s citizenship regime, under the guise of strengthening the integrity of citizenship. The bill, if passed in its current form, confers sweeping new powers on the immigration minister.

Access to Australian citizenship has always involved some executive discretion. But if the bill is passed, the minister will gain unprecedented control over the criteria governing citizenship acquisition, the time it takes for a person to gain citizenship after their application has been approved, and even the circumstances in which citizenship can be revoked.

The minister will also be able to override certain citizenship decisions made by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).

Powers to control citizenship acquisition

The bill gives the minister a range of new powers that relate to various aspects of the citizenship acquisition process.

As the government’s discussion paper on the proposed changes indicated, the bill creates several new requirements for citizenship applicants. Aspiring citizens will be required to demonstrate “competent English”, and show they have “integrated into the Australian community”.

The bill gives the minister the power to create regulations determining what these requirements mean. It also allows the minister to determine an Australian Values Statement, which applicants will be required to sign and lodge with their citizenship application.

Where a person’s application for citizenship has been approved, the bill gives the minister a new power to cancel this approval, if he or she determines it should no longer be granted – for any reason.

While determining whether to exercise this cancellation power, the minister may block a person from acquiring citizenship for up to two years by barring them from making the mandatory citizenship pledge.

Power to override AAT decisions

As foreshadowed, the bill also seeks to give the minister the power to override certain citizenship decisions made by the AAT.

The AAT is an independent administrative tribunal that reviews executive decisions on their merits. A person whose application for citizenship is rejected may apply to the AAT to have this decision reviewed.

The bill enables the minister to personally override AAT decisions in particular circumstances. This power applies where it has reviewed a departmental decision to refuse citizenship, provided a ground for refusal was that the applicant was not of good character, or that their identity could not be determined. The minister must also be satisfied that overriding the AAT is in the public interest.

Additionally, the bill removes the right for an applicant to appeal to the AAT where the minister decides to refuse them citizenship, and states that this is in the public interest.

The bill’s explanatory memorandum stresses that ministerial decisions to override the AAT can be reviewed by the courts. However, this is likely to be of limited utility. This is because courts typically regard the “public interest” as a matter for ministerial determination.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has said the proposed power to override AAT decisions merely aligns the minister’s citizenship powers with powers that exist in relation to visa cancellations.

Current law allows the minister to override certain AAT visa decisions where this is in the national interest, and where the character of the visa holder is at issue. However, these existing override powers weaken – rather than strengthen – the case for the new powers the bill proposes.

To apply for citizenship, a person must have held a visa for several years. Throughout this time, the minister has extensive power to revoke that visa and remove the holder from Australia if they fail to meet character requirements.

Given this, the need for sweeping new powers is unclear.

Power to revoke citizenship

One of the bill’s most insidious features is a proposal to allow the minister to revoke a person’s citizenship, provided they are satisfied the person obtained ministerial approval for citizenship as a result of fraud or misrepresentation. The minister must also be satisfied it would be contrary to the public interest for the person to remain an Australian citizen.

Current citizenship laws allow the minister to revoke citizenship where it is acquired by fraud. However, before this can be done, the person or a third party must be convicted by a court of migration fraud.

If the bill is passed, such a conviction will no longer be necessary. The minister will have the power to determine when fraud or misrepresentation has occurred.

The bill does not spell out the criteria that will be used to make such decisions. But, it does specify that misrepresentation includes “concealing material circumstances”. This absence of criteria creates uncertainty about how the minister will make decisions. It also decreases the prospect of meaningful judicial review.

In particular, it is not clear how the expanded revocation powers interact with the bill’s other provisions.

For example, take a situation where the minister believes a person who has been granted citizenship is not demonstrating the values or integration they were assessed for during the application process. Could the minister revoke citizenship on the basis that the person, when applying for citizenship, misrepresented their values or commitment to integration?

If so, this would create a dangerous back-door route to citizenship revocation for people whose conduct falls far short of the current thresholds that parliament has set.

What’s next?

It is not clear how these extensive ministerial powers strengthen the integrity of Australian citizenship.

The ConversationQuite the contrary, creating broad executive powers with minimal review undermines the rule of law. This, ironically, is said to be one of the fundamental values underpinning Australian citizenship.

Sangeetha Pillai, Senior Research Associate, Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW Law School, UNSW

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

The new data retention law seriously invades our privacy – and it’s time we took action



File 20170615 24976 1y7ipnc
Then government’s new law enabling the collection of metadata raises serious privacy concerns.
shutterstock

Uri Gal, University of Sydney

Over the past few months, Australians’ civil rights have come under attack.

In April, the government’s data retention law came into effect. The law requires telecommunications companies to store customer metadata for at least two years. Metadata from our phone calls, text messages, emails, and internet activity is now tracked by the government and accessible by intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Ironically, the law came into effect only a few weeks before Australia marked Privacy Awareness Week. Alarmingly, it is part of a broad trend of eroding civil rights in Western democracies, most noticeably evident by the passage of the Investigatory Powers Act in the UK, and the decision to repeal the Internet Privacy Law in the US.

Why does it matter?

Australia’s data retention law is one of the most comprehensive and intrusive data collection schemes in the western world. There are several reasons why Australians should challenge this law.

First, it undermines the democratic principles on which Australia was founded. It gravely harms individuals’ right to privacy, anonymity, and protection from having their personal information collected.

The Australian Privacy Principles define limited conditions under which the collection of personal information is permissible. It says personal information must be collected by “fair” means.

Despite a recent ruling by the Federal Court, which determined that our metadata does not constitute “personal information”, we should consider whether sweeping collection of all of Australian citizenry’s metadata is consistent with our right to privacy.

Second, metadata – data about data – can be highly revealing and provide a comprehensive depiction of our daily activities, communications and movements.

As detailed here, metadata is broad in scope and can tell more about us than the actual content of our communications. Therefore, claims that the data retention law does not seriously compromise our privacy should be considered as naïve, ill-informed, or dishonest.

Third, the law is justified by the need to protect Australians from terrorist acts. However, despite the government’s warnings, the risk of getting hurt in a terrorist attack in Australia has been historically, and is today, extremely low.

To date, the government has not presented any concrete empirical evidence to indicate that this risk has substantially changed. Democracies such as France, Germany and Israel – which face more severe terrorist threats than Australia – have not legalised mass data collection and instead rely on more targeted means to combat terrorism that do not jeopardise their democratic foundations.

Fourth, the data retention law is unlikely to achieve its stated objective and thwart serious terrorist activities. There are a range of widely-accessible technologies that can be used to circumvent the government’s surveillance regime. Some of them have previously been outlined by the now-prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

Therefore, in addition to damaging our civil rights, the law’s second lasting legacy is likely to be its contribution to increasing the budgetary debt by approximately A$740 million over the next ten years.

How can the law be challenged?

There are several things we can do to challenge the law. For example, there are technologies that we can start using today to increase our online privacy.

A full review of all available options is beyond the scope of this article, but here are three effective ones.

  1. Virtual private networks (VPNs) can hide browsing information from internet service providers. Aptly, April 13, the day the data retention law came into effect, has been declared the Australian “get a VPN day”.

  2. Tor – The Onion Router is free software that can help protect the anonymity of its users and conceal their internet activity from surveillance and analysis.

  3. Encrypted messaging applications – unprotected applications can be easily tracked. Consequently, applications such as Signal and Telegram that offer data encryption solutions have been growing in popularity.

Australian citizens have the privilege of electing their representatives. An effective way to oppose continuing state surveillance is to vote for candidates whose views truly reflect the democratic principles that underpin modern Australian society.

The Australian public needs to have an honest, critical and open debate about the law and its social and ethical ramifications. The absence of such a debate is dangerous. The institutional accumulation of power is a slippery slope – once gained, power is not easily given up by institutions.

And the political climate in Australia is ripe for further deterioration of civil rights, as evident in the government’s continued efforts to increase its regulation of the internet. Therefore, it is important to sound a clear and public voice that opposes such steps.

Finally, we need to call out our elected representatives when they make logically muddled claims. In a speech to parliament this week Tuesday, Turnbull said:

The rights and protections of the vast overwhelming majority of Australians must outweigh the rights of those who will do them harm.

The ConversationThe data retention law is a distortion of the logic embedded in this statement because it indiscriminately targets all Australians. We must not allow the pernicious intent of a handful of terrorists to be used as an excuse to harm the rights of all Australians and change the fabric of our society.

Uri Gal, Associate Professor in Business Information Systems, University of Sydney

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

How the law allows governments to publish your private information



Image 20170310 10926 1lptfki
Controversy has recently surrounded Centrelink and its handling of ‘overpayments’ and personal information.
AAP/Dave Hunt

Bruce Baer Arnold, University of Canberra

Recent controversy over the government’s use of information provided to Human Services and Veterans’ Affairs demonstrates there are major holes in Australia’s privacy regime that we need to fix. The Conversation

Australians are accustomed to providing personal information to federal and state governments. We do it repeatedly throughout our lives. We do so to claim entitlements. We also do so as the basis of public administration – the contemporary “information state”.

In making that state possible we trust we will not be treated as a file number or an incident. We will not be doxed.

A key aspect of that trust, consistent with international rights law since the 1940s, is that our privacy will be protected. We assume officials – and private sector entities they use as their agents – will not be negligent in safeguarding personal information.

We also assume they will not share personal information with other agencies unless there is a substantive need for that sharing – for example, for national security or to prevent harm to an individual. And we expect they will not disclose personal information to the media or directly to the community at large as a way of silencing criticism or resolving disputes.

Australia has a sophisticated body of administrative law and ombudsmen. So, there is no need for public shaming of people who disagree with ministers, officials or databases.

The complicated and inconsistent body of privacy law highlighted by law reform commissions over the past two decades attempts to provide legal protection for personal information. It is overseen by under-resourced watchdogs that – amid threats of termination – are inclined to lick the ministerial hand that feeds them.

That law has major weaknesses, illustrated by the Centrelink controversy and the furore over the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Digital Readiness and Other Measures) Bill. The Commonwealth is able to ignore ostensible protections under the Privacy Act and other statutes. That is quite lawful. It has been so for many years, evident in the watchdog’s finding in L v Commonwealth Agency.

The watchdog’s guidelines state that where someone:

… makes adverse comments in the media about the way [a body] has treated them … it may be reasonable to expect that the entity may respond publicly to these comments in a way that reveals personal information specifically relevant to the issues that the individual has raised.

Put simply, if you complain publicly about a Commonwealth agency that holds personal information relating to you, that agency can lawfully give the information to the media or publish it directly. It can do so to correct what the minister deems to be “misinformation”.

There is no requirement that your complaint be malicious, fraudulent, vexatious or otherwise wrong. Disclosure is at the minister’s discretion, not subject to independent review. You have no legal remedies unless it could be proved that the official was malicious or corrupt.

We have seen such a disclosure. The Department of Human Services gave personal information to a journalist for publication about a person who disagreed with action by Centrelink to recover an alleged overpayment of an entitlement.

There has been much discussion in the media and the national parliament about the vigour with which the government is seeking to recover overpayments. Worryingly, it remains uncertain whether many of the alleged overpayments actually exist.

Ongoing changes to entitlements policy, the hollowing out of key agencies by the annual “efficiency dividend” (that is, ongoing cuts to budgets) and problematical design and management of very large information technology projects mean overpayments might not have occurred.

Public disclosure of someone’s personal information thus looks very much like bullying, if not a deliberate effort to chill legitimate criticism and discussion of publicly funded programs.

The veterans’ affairs minister and the shadow minister have apparently not done their homework. The new Digital Readiness Bill – passed in the House of Representatives but not in the Senate – allows the minister to publicly disclose medical and other personal information about veterans. The rationale for that disclosure is to correct misinformation.

Understandably, veterans are unhappy. Legal practitioners and academics wonder about the scope for public shaming through release of department information that might not be correct.

The national Privacy Commissioner has been complacent. Labor’s veterans’ affairs spokeswoman, Amanda Rishworth, has belatedly expressed concern. The minister has simply referred to the establishment of an independent review by the Australian Government Solicitor and his department. It is difficult to understand why privacy wasn’t properly considered before the bill went into parliament.

There are too many loopholes in Australia’s privacy regime. Government agencies also need to toughen up in the face of criticism – legitimate or otherwise – and not respond by bullying people through publication of personal information.

Bruce Baer Arnold, Assistant Professor, School of Law, University of Canberra

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

India: Latest News on ‘Anti-Conversion’ Law in Madhya Pradesh


The link below is to an article reporting on the latest news concerning the ‘anti-conversion’ law in Madhya Pradesh, India.

For more visit:
http://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/2013/07/2631774/

‘Happy Birthday To You’ is Copyrighted?


This one takes the cake (poor pun I guess) – apparently ‘big music’ claims to own the copyright for ‘Happy Birthday To You,’ which means every time we sing it we are potentially breaking the law – unless we have an arrangement for paying royalties. However, this all seems very dubious and someone is finally challenging the ‘copyright.’

For more visit the article linked to below:
http://www.teleread.com/copy-right/is-happy-birthday-still-under-copyright/

New York: Soda/Soft Drink Ban Banned


The link below is to an article about commonsense – talk about a potential nanny state law. The great soda/soft drink size ban for New York has itself been, well – banned.

For more visit:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/11/us-sodaban-lawsuit-idUSBRE92A0YR20130311

South China Sea: Trouble is Brewing in Territorial Disputes


  1. Is war brewing in the South China Sea? Territorial disputes are raging between China and Vietnam and also between China and the Philippines over a number of island groups in the South China Sea. A recent law passed by Vietnam has added fuel to the fire. The articles and videos below look into the disputes.