An alliance of Australia’s most well-established and respected charities has recently taken out a full page advertisement in The Australian newspapercalling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to immediately abandon proposed new regulations that target them with the threat of deregistration for speaking out on behalf of their communities. The laws are designed to silence advocacy by charities on important issues of public policy. The proposed changes to the Australian Not-for-profits and Charities (ACNC) Regulations give the Charities Commissioner power to deregister a charity:

  • for minor offences – for example, if a staff member blocks a footpath at a public vigil 
  • for speaking or tweeting in support of a public demonstration, or if others use their materials, such as a logo, at a demonstration where a minor offence occurs
  • arbitrarily, if he has the subjective belief that a minor offence has occurred, even if no charge has been made, and 
  • if he believes it’s likely that a minor offence may occur in the future. 

Handing the Charities Commissioner discretion to shutter a charity for a minor offence by a member is the equivalent of the Electoral Commissioner having the power to de-register a political party because a party member jaywalked. To prove compliance with these unreasonable laws, charities’ time and donations will be tied up in burdensome red tape and legal fees, depriving their communities of vital support. 

In its submission to the exposure draft of the amendments to Governance Standard 3 of the Australian Not-for-profits and Charities (ACNC) Regulations, The Law Council of Australia says the proposed amendments “inhibit legitimate public dialogue by registered charities … to the detriment of Australian representative democracy”. The top-tier law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler says that the laws will “increase administrative burden” and are “unconstitutional”, “unjustified” and “fundamentally inconsistent with our democratic system of government”.

The  charities who wrote the letter are,

ACT Council of Social Services

Act for Peace

Actionaid

Adult Learning Australia

Alannah & Madeline Foundation

Alliance for Gambling Reform

Amnesty International Australia

Anglican Board of Mission

Anglicare Australia

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR)

Australian Centre for International Justice

Australian Conservation Foundation

Australian Council for International Development

Australian Council of Social Services

Australian Forests and Climate Alliance

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights

Australian Marine Conservation Society

Australian Progress

Australian Religious Response to Climate Change

Australian Youth Climate Coalition

Baptist Care Australia

Bob Brown Foundation

BridgIT Water Foundation

Brotherhood of St Laurence

Buddhist Council of NSW

Business for Development

CARE Australia

Caritas Australia

Climate Council

Community Broadcasting Association of Australia

Community Council for Australia

Community Legal Centres Australia

Conservation Council ACT Region

Conservation Council of South Australia

Destiny Rescue

Doctors for the Environment

Engineers Without Borders Australia

Environment Centre Northern Territory

Environment Victoria

Fair Agenda

Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education

Foundation for Young Australians

Friends of the Earth

Goongerah Environment Centre

Grata Fund

Greenpeace Australia Pacific

Housing for the Aged Action Group

Human Rights Law Centre

Humane Society International

Jesuit Social Services

Justice Connect

Koala Action Inc.

Moreton Bay Koala Rescue

Nature Conservation Council

Northern Territory Council of Social Service

Oxfam Australia

People With Disability Australia

Public Health Association Australia

Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)

Queensland Conservation Council

Queensland Koala Crusaders Inc.

RESULTS International (Australia)

Save the Children

South Australian Council of Social Service

Sunshine Coast Environment Council

Tasmanian Council of Social Service

Tear Fund

The Fred Hollows Foundation

The One Woman Project

The Wilderness Society

Union Aid Abroad APHEDA

UnitingCare Australia

Volunteering Australia

YWCA Australia

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

350 Australia