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Are proposed new governance standards for charities the latest effort to curtail advocacy?

Native Title & Public Interest Law
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The Government has announced its intention to introduce new governance standards for ACNC registered charities that engage in advocacy and protest activities as a tool to achieve their charitable purpose.

The end of year announcement to amend charity regulations has come without any sector consultation and is the latest step in a series of concerning proposals to limit charity voices, including through electoral law amendments, restrictions on donations and a suggestion to require environmental charities to focus their attention on on-ground remediation efforts such as tree planting, rather than climate change advocacy. The latter of course is something environmental charities are perfectly entitled by law to do in furtherance of their charitable objects.

According to the media release issued by the Minister for Charities, the new regulations will empower the charities regulator to deregister a charity and strip it of its tax concessions if it engages in or promotes a range of minor offences including trespass, unlawful entry and vandalism. 

The Government has described its proposal as a ‘reasonable step to strengthen the existing regulation’ which  prohibits charities from engaging in serious offences. However, an independent Panel Review of the ACNC legislation described the existing regulation as inappropriate and recommended its complete repeal. Arnold Bloch Leibler supported the Panel’s recommendation to remove, rather than bolster, this inappropriate regulatory power. Like all Australian citizens and for-profit companies, charities are already required to comply with applicable laws. It goes well beyond the ACNC’s regulatory function and expertise to make enquiries into minor and non-violent offences that do not suggest that a charity has an illegal purpose.

We trust that in the New Year, when any draft regulations are released, the Government will mandate a proper consultation process to ensure those regulations do not in any way threaten valuable issue-based advocacy by charities and the enshrined constitutional right of peaceful and non-violent protest in the public interest.

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