Thursday, December 2, 2010

You are still a charity if you lobby government

Aid/Watch has won its appeal to the High Court against the Tax Office about its charitable status. It had had its charitable status removed by the ATO on the grounds that the majority of its activities were about lobbying the government. Aid/Watch then appealed this decision all the way to the High Court.

The High Court has held that the political lobbying Aid/Watch engaged in through its campaigns to ensure the proper allocation of foreign aid by AusAID did NOT deprive it of its charitable status. The court went further and said that lobbying in and of itself is in the public interest and is for a public benefit so therefore, falls in the definition of a charitable activity. The Court stated that political debate was enshrined in our Constitution and that encouraging public debate by lawful means (i.e. not inciting violence, by bribery etc) concerning relief of poverty is a 'purpose beneficial to the community' under charities law.

Gary Lee, director of Aid/Watch said:

“This decision is a win for freedom of political communication in Australia. It resolves almost a decade of uncertainty for many charities and strengthens the ability of charities to advocate for the public good.
“We are pleased that the High Court has agreed with many of our arguments – that engaging in political debate is an essential part of advocacy work and very much in the public interest.”

This is now the law in Australia.

What does it mean for AIA?

It means that our advocacy and campaigning work cannot deprive us of charitable status - they actually strengthen that status. It means that for other charities who are seeking to persuade the government in the public interest, those activities are now secure by virtue of this judgement. It also overturned in Australian law a case from the UK (McGovern) which involved AI and which had been relied upon a great deal in Australian charities law. That case in 1982 stated that not all of our objects were charitable, for example, those where we try to persuade governments to uphold human rights.

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