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  • John McDonnell

Government charities regulations an over-reach

Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar (right) with Prime Minister Scott Morrison entering Question Time in March

The conservative wing of the Liberal movement is preoccupied with the culture wars. They believe that the left is on a Gramscian march through the institutions. Conservatives have been dismayed as the left has captured schools, universities and the media.

They are now trying to take a stand, but they have chosen the wrong target: charities.

Michael Sukkar, the assistant treasurer, has introduced regulations that would impose sanctions on a charity if it engaged in or proposed to engage in illegal political activity. Examples of such activity are peaceful, unauthorised protests; trespass on private property; defacing property; or promoting unlawful activity on social media.

The regulations reaffirm that compliance with Australian laws sets a minimum benchmark by which all registered charities should govern themselves, according to Mr Sukkar.

There are 59,000 charities in Australia, some of which are relatively small and rely almost exclusively on volunteers. If one of those volunteers unwittingly attends a public rally at which illegal activity occurs, then the charity could lose its special status.

Sukkar says that in line with current practices, charities will not be deregistered for inadvertent or unintentional non-compliance.

Education still underpins the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission’s (ACNC) regulatory approach and revoking registration is reserved for serious or deliberate contraventions.

The ACNC will provide guidance to registered charities once the amended standard comes into effect to help them understand and comply with the governance standard.

When he was quizzed by a Senate committee, the ACNC boss Gary Johns said he didn’t need the regulations to control the sector because he already had adequate powers.

But the conservatives are fed up with the violent protests against the government by environmental groups. While ‘Extinction Rebellion’ is not a charity, a number of organisations such as ‘Lock the Gate’ are charities and have loose affiliations with ER.

The government has also taken aim at the Environmental Defender’s Office, which it says is engaging in lawfare against mining companies based on the premise that they are causing global warming. The government has stripped funding from the EDO.

The real concern is that the regulations will in the future be used as a weapon against the churches, which are usually registered as charities. It could be argued by a future government that if a member of a church community engaged in an unlawful demonstration over something like euthanasia, then the church could lose its charitable status.

At the moment, Tim Costello, chairman of the Communities Council of Australia, is leading the lobbying by the charities to have the regulations disallowed in the senate.

There is no indication that Labor, the Greens or the independents will back a disallowance motion.

This is an example of regulation-driven by ideology. It is totally unnecessary red tape that could have unwanted adverse consequences.

If the government has any sense it will drop the regulations because it could cost it votes from a core constituency, people with convictions.


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