Free Kick for Charities

By Johns, Gary | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Free Kick for Charities

Johns, Gary, Review - Institute of Public Affairs

ARNOLD Block Liebler recently made a submission to tbe Board Of Taxation on trie Charities BiM 2001 on behalf of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Wilderness Society and a host of other 'environmental charities'. It is consistent with that of the Australian Council of Social Services. They could be summed up thus-charities are good, leave them alone, and do not ask them to account for their taxsupported activities.

The IPA, which also made a submission, begs to differ. Charities have changed the way they do business. The work of charities is more political than was once the case, indeed the very notion of a charity is problematic. None of this would matter if charity status did not carry certain tax-assisted privileges. As it does, there is a need to scrutinize, if not delimit, the activities of charities. The combination of public assistance and a liberal attitude to the nature of charity work is best balanced by disclosure by charities to donors of two key concepts: the efficiency of the charity and the nature of the work undertaken in the name of the charity.

As it stands, the Chanties BiK bans 'partisan' lobbying and restricts 'nonpartisan' lobbying by charities. ABL and ACOSS argue that a charity is defined by reference to its purposes and not by its activities. At present, a charity cannot have illegal or political purposes. The common law recognizes that a charity may engage in activities which can be broadly called 'political', such as advocating for change, so long as that is not the purpose for which the charity is established or its dominant activity.

It is ...a matter of necessity for charities not only to undertake advocacy activities but also to be able to have as a 'purpose' the purpose of systemic advocacy for change, to enable them to address the very causes of the problems which they seek to address.

These views come as no surprise to those familiar with the sector. For example, the Queensland Conservation Council boasts 60 representatives sitting as environmental consultants on committees throughout the State. Welfare charities used to help the poor, now they want to overcome inequality. Russell RoIlason of Anglicare said recently, 'Is the role of charities and churches simply to apply band aids to the victims of our competitive society or should charities actively contribute to a fairer more just Australia?' Why not just run for Parliament Russell!

Charities are in there boots and all, but is the electorate comfortable with paying charities to lobby? Some countries place limitations on the resources devoted to lobbying, others on the nature of the lobbying activity. Australian charities want none of this. Moreover, to the extent they accept any regulation, they argue for a Charities Commission, as in the UK. They would hope to capture such a commission, turning it into an advocacy body, like the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, not a regulator, like the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.


There is an assumption in the public support of charities: that a donor understands the purpose of the charity. When the charity's methods are direct-giving aid to the poor, planting trees, and writing letters to foreign governments on behalf of political prisoners-the task of informing the donor is not great, hecause the purpose is unambiguous. As the methods and definition of charities have widened, the assumption of donor knowledge may not hold. The charity no longer gives direct aid to the poor, it wants to use the tax system to achieve equality. Does lohhying to create more generous unemployment benefits or a more progressive tax system constitute charity for the poor, or is it the pursuit of an egalitarian ideology? Is lohhying to tax hydrocarbons a public benefit or the pursuit of an environmental ideology based on assumptions of resource depletion? Is lobbying for an International Criminal Court the pursuit of human rights, or the pursuit of an agination-state ideology? …

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Free Kick for Charities


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