Aid Watch to Go to the High Court
1 April 2010 at 10:28 am
Aid/Watch Incorporated has been granted special leave to appeal to the High Court of Australia against a decision by the Full Federal Court of NSW decision handed down on 23 September 2009.
The Not for Profit organisation lost its charitable status in September 2009 after a long running legal battle with the Australian Tax Office.
As Pro Bono Australia reported in October 2009, the test case decision applied what AID/Watch described as a very restrictive definition of what is a ‘charitable’ organisation for taxation purposes.
During that Appeal, the full Federal Court found in favour of the Australian Tax Office and stripped charitable status from the small organisation Aid/Watch, that monitors Australia’s international aid programs.
Aid/Watch spokesperson Dr James Goodman said at the time that the restrictive definition of charitable organisation applied by the Federal Court will send shockwaves through the charitable sector and flagged the Appeal to the High Court of Australia.
Goodman said the Federal Court ruled that, despite having a clear charitable purpose to alleviate poverty, Aid/Watch does not meet the definition of charitable because the organisation takes a ‘view’ on the government’s aid program and tries to influence government decision-making.
He said this restrictive definition may be a bridge too far for many charitable and environmental organisations.
He said charities are involved in the broad array of social life, and address causes as well symptoms of social problems. To do so they must be able to speak up without fear of penalty – they must be able to advocate.
In October 2006 the ATO disqualified Aid/Watch as a charitable organisation. Aid/Watch appealed this decision to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and in July 2008 the AAT President, Justice Downes, overturned the ATO’s decision. In February 2009 the ATO appealed to the Federal Court of Australia. The Federal Court judgement was handed down on 23 September in favour of the ATO.
For more information about the case go to the ATO website at www.ato.gov.au