AID/WATCH Regains Charity Status
11 August 2008 at 3:04 pm
Aid advocacy organisation AID/WATCH has regained its charity status after the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) overturned a decision made by the Tax Office that the organisation was too political to be considered a charity.
The initial decision made by the ATO in 2006 was a controversial ruling arguing that charities could not ‘propagate or promote a particular point of view’.
As one of the most outspoken critics of Australia’s aid program, the decision to revoke AID/WATCH’s charitable status the organisation says the decision was widely criticised as a being a veiled attempt to silence charities which questioned government policy.
Director of AID/WATCH Flint Duxfield commented says overturning the decision is an important victory, not just for AID/WATCH but for charities in general.
Duxfield says this is a great vindication of the rights of charities not merely to deliver services, but also to advocate in the public interest by speaking out against misdirected policies which hamper the effectiveness of Australia’s aid.
AID/WATCH was represented on a pro bono basis by Maurice Blackburn Principal Anne Gooley, David Williams SC and Sheila Kaur-Bains of Counsel.
Anne Gooley explained that having found that Aid/Watch’s objectives were charitable, Justice Downes then determined that trying to influence government policy as to the nature, extent and means of delivery of overseas aid did not preclude Aid/Watch from being a charity.
She says this is a significant decisions for all NGO’s in Australia as they are now free to publicly criticise the impact of program delivery and advocate for a change in the direction of government policy without being worried that they will loose their charity status and the tax benefits associated with being a charity.
Justice Downes said in his ruling that taking steps to ensure aid provided by others is provided in such a way as to maximize the public benefit would seem to be charitable in itself. If is government policy to furnish aid to less developed countries, why would seeking to increase or redirect the aid not be charitable because the purpose is political.
The ATO says it is currently considering the implications of the decision and has until 25th August, 2008 to lodge an appeal.