Tim Costello welcomes move to allow charities to lobby for political change | Charities
A court ruling that found benevolent institutions are allowed to advocate for political change will free charities to “always look over their shoulders,” Reverend Tim Costello said.
Earlier this month, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) delivered a landmark ruling in the Global Citizen case, a global charity that was initially denied public charitable status in Australia in because of his political advocacy.
The charities regulator had taken the position that charities that try to lobby politically or advocate with governments for change should not be granted charitable status, which helps organizations to securing essential tax-deductible donations and grants from ancillary funds.
But the AAT found that the decision to deny Global Citizen – a highly successful New York-based international education and advocacy group – the crucial status of PBI was flawed and that such organizations were engaged in the political process by as a “regular and indispensable part of their work”.
The decision will have far-reaching ramifications for the charitable sector. This will likely encourage charities to directly pursue political change without fear that their benevolent status – and the benefits associated with fundraising – will be threatened.
The move came at a time when the industry feels increasingly targeted by the Morrison government. Last month, the industry united in protesting new laws that allow charities to be deregistered if their staff commit even the most minor of offenses, even if no charges are laid.
Costello, chairman of the Community Council for Australia and former chief executive of World Vision Australia, said the AAT decision would bring Australia into line with agreements in other Western countries.
“Charities have always understood that they are really about two things: practical love and change,” he said.
“Advocacy is fundamental for change and this decision which recognizes that this is part of what PBIs do is really in line with what is happening in other free democracies in the West.
“I think it frees charities to always look over their shoulders and be anxious. We can be honest about our mission with our donors.
Costello, who backed Global Citizen’s bid, also led the fight against regulations that expand the types of offenses that can cause the charity regulator to deregister an organization.
The regulations allow the Australian Charities and Nonprofit Commission (ACNC) to investigate charities if they encourage or engage in trespassing, threatening behavior, vandalism, theft or assault .
An alliance of dozens of charities, called Hands Off Our Charities, say the regulations will allow delisting if a staff member blocks a trail during a vigil, for example, or refuses to leave a deputy’s office.
The group says the charities regulator would be able to launch an investigation if it believed such an offense might have been committed, whether or not charges were laid.
Speaking last month, Angliare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers said the rules were designed to prevent charities from speaking out.
“They are not just an attack on charities,” she said. “They are an attack on democracy. We ask the Senate to reject these changes – and we ask the Morrison government to end these attacks for good. “
The ACNC said it was reviewing the court’s decision on Global Citizen.
“ACNC welcomes decisions that help clarify the law regarding eligibility for registration as a public charitable institution. We are currently reviewing the implications of the decision. “