Noise Impact Charity Challenges Regulator Over Revocation
29 September 2016 at 8:20 am
A charity that researches and advises on the impact of industrial noise, including wind farms, is challenging a decision by the charity regulator, and the subsequent loss of its tax deductibility status, in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
In 2014, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) revoked the status of the Waubra Foundation as a health promotion charity and also ruled that it did not qualify as a charity under the category of promoting or protecting human rights.
The revocation meant the charity lost its DGR status and, while it can continue to operate as a charity without tax deductible donations, the monies it held at the time were quarantined.
The foundation said the funds were now being held in trust until the future of the organisation is finalised.
Former rural GP and CEO of the Waubra Foundation Sarah Laurie told Pro Bono Australia News the organisation had “vigorously challenged” the initial and subsequent decision upholding the revocation, and then requested a review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) which was heard in recent weeks.
The 12-day hearing in the Adelaide Administrative Appeals Tribunal ended on 22 September 2016 and the AAT has reserved its decision to a date to be fixed.
“Because of the impact of the [revocation] decision… any monies raised prior to the decision are quarantined and then dispersed. We had leave from the Australian Tax Office that the money could be placed in trust but as a result it has just been much more difficult for us to raise money,” Laurie said.
She said said about $80,000 had been quarantined as a result of the ACNC decision and was listed as a current liability on the charity’s financial statements lodged with the regulator.
“For us, the ability for other people to get a tax deduction is important. And the other thing is that there are some charitable organisations and trusts around who are constrained [from donating] because of the terms of how they are set up. For the trusts that have said that the work we are doing is really important and we want to support you, they can’t do it until we get DGR status,” she said.
Laurie said the foundation ran a fundraising campaign to help fund the travels arrangements for a number of noise-impacted witnesses and experts taking part in the tribunal appeal.
“There were 20 lay witnesses who came from across Australia – a range of people, and we had six experts, including three from overseas and three from Australia,” she said.
“Most of these people are severely noise impacted from a range of different industrial noise sources.
“The issue in contention is whether or not there are diseases recognised as being caused by noise and we had already provided a lot of information to the charity regulator.
“If we lose we will continue but it will just be harder for us to fund the research.
“We were very lucky to have the pro bono legal support of Xenophon and Co because without it we couldn’t afford a solicitor and as it was I was… [doing] everything I could to help him [the barrister].”
In June 2015, the Waubra Foundation gave evidence in the Senate Select Committee on wind turbines.
Laurie told the senate inquiry: “There has been a fundamental failure of the health, planning and noise pollution regulatory authorities to listen, investigate and act decisively to stop the predictable and serious damage to the health of vulnerable rural community members. The systemic regulatory failure is not confined to rural areas, however. The culture of silence – the use of gag agreements to silence both sick people and independent acoustic consultants – has meant that important scientific knowledge is kept out of the public domain.”
The ACNC’s assistant commissioner general counsel Murray Baird said decisions of the regulator about charity status were subject to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Federal Court.
“The outcome of this appeal will clarify the meaning of this newer category of charity, which attracts tax deductibility,” Baird said.
“We welcome the opportunity for this decision to be carefully examined.”