Conservative Christian Organisation Loses Charity Status Over ‘Political Views’
17 January 2017 at 8:33 am
Christian organisation Catch The Fire Ministries, led by controversial preacher Daniel Nalliah, has had its charitable status revoked allegedly for “speaking on political issues”.
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) announced the revocation on Tuesday, following a compliance investigation into the Victorian-based organisation’s activities and operations.
The regulator is prevented from disclosing the reason for its decision, due to secrecy provisions in the ACNC Act, but Pastor Nalliah told Pro Bono News it related to the organisation’s political views.
“We have been an organisation from 1998, speaking on political issues right throughout,” Nalliah said.
“And then in 2014, January, incidentally a law was passed in Federal Parliament prohibiting charities from being involved in political activities or having a political view, which we had no clue about.
“And suddenly we are being clamped down on the basis that our website had articles about political issues… we challenged the [ACNC] when they wrote to us, and [we] said: ‘There’s injustice being done.’”
The Charities Act 2013, which came into effect 1 January 2014, for the first time provided statutory definitions of “charity” and “charitable purpose”.
Under the act, a charity cannot have a “disqualifying purpose”, which includes promoting or opposing a political party or a candidate.
Any political advocacy or campaigning by a charity must also be a legitimate and effective way of furthering its charitable purposes.
While the particular activities which caused the revocation are not clear, the Catch the Fire Ministries website encourages support of and financial assistance for the nationalist Rise up Australia Party, which Nalliah founded.
One article, published in 2013, is titled An Appeal from Pr Daniel to Financially Support RUA Party for the Next Three Months to ‘Protect Australia and Keep it Australian’.
“God has given us a great product in Rise Up Australia Party to Keep Australia Australian (a vehicle to see our Government, Society and Nation turn around) with a great brand name and great consumer demand for our product,” it said.
“However, people need to know before our Federal Election on September 14th 2013 that there is a Political Party which will be the voice of the silent majority, standing up against Multiculturalism, Islamic Sharia Law, Gay Marriage, Abortion, etc.
“We very urgently need funding in order to advertise Rise Up Australia Party on TV. Would you please financially partner with us over the next 3 months by pledging whatever you can in order to save Australia for the next generation.
“Please fill in the pledge form (click link below) asap and post it to us before 30th June, so you can receive tax exemption, as any donations by individuals to political parties between $2 and $1,500 in a financial year are tax deductible.”
The party is known for its opposition to multiculturalism, and Islam in particular.
Nalliah said the ACNC “should have known better” in regards to informing the organisation about the statutory definition of charity and its updated requirements of registered charities.
Following the revocation, the organisation has 60 days to object to the ACNC’s decision, in which case the matter will be internally reviewed.
“I feel that it’s an injustice, just because we are a charitable organisation that we cannot speak out,” Nalliah said.
“But I am happy this has come to us, we will take the challenge. We were in the past also taken to court over freedom of speech issues and we won the case in the Supreme Court after a five year court battle in 2007 when the Islamic Council of Victoria took us to court.
“We will not take this seated, we will challenge the issue, we will see what has to be done. Currently we are consulting our lawyers.
“Only today [Monday] we got the document, so we are thinking through it right now, what’s our next step.”
While the organisation did not have deductible gift recipient status it accessed GST concessions, income tax exemptions and fringe benefit tax rebates.
It will now lose access to these Commonwealth charity tax concessions.
Nalliah said this would have an impact on the work of the organisation.
“We can’t feed 100 families in the community who are very badly off in life, which means there will be a massive, massive problem for us to feed those families because currently we discounted things because of the charity status that we have,” he said.
“They depend on [what] we provide for them. That will be stopped, so that’s enough of a reason for us to be worried about.”
He defended the right of charities to hold political views.
“We are human beings too. We are citizens of the country. Our organisation is run by citizens of the country,” he said.
“People are our organisations so we should [be entitled] to views as anyone else. It’s like being gagged just because we are a charity.”
Acting ACNC commissioner David Locke said revocation was reserved for the most serious of cases of non-compliance.
“The ACNC takes a proportionate approach to compliance,” Locke said.
“Where possible, we will work with a charity to resolve the issues we find during a compliance investigation.
“However, where we find serious breaches of the ACNC Act and governance standards we will revoke charity status. We make no apology about taking a tough stance where appropriate.”
He encouraged members of the public to raise their concerns with the ACNC.
“Since the ACNC was established we have received over 2,500 concerns about charities,” he said.
“The majority of these concerns were raised by members of the public.
“The public and members of charities, including employees and volunteers, often provide the ACNC with valuable information, which helps us with our inquiries.”
He also said donors should always check the ACNC’s Charity Register, on which Catch the Fire Ministries will now appear as “Revoked”.