Catholic Education Charity Defends By-Election Advocacy
31 July 2018 at 8:37 am
A Catholic education charity which criticised the Turnbull government’s schools funding policy during a by-election campaign is confident it has not breached charity laws, despite an ongoing investigation into another Catholic education charity for similar advocacy activities.
Brisbane Catholic Education sent a letter to Catholic schools in the Longman electorate last Friday – the day before a by-election – which said while the government’s funding policy “disadvantaged” Catholic schools, the ALP’s policy would keep Catholic schools “affordable”, The Australian reported.
The letter comes after the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) recently revealed it was undertaking an investigation into Catholic Education Melbourne (CEM), after the charity commissioned robocalls and leaflets criticising the Turnbull government’s schools funding policy during the Batman by-election.
Despite this investigation, Brisbane Catholic Education said it was confident it had not breached charity laws.
A Brisbane Catholic Education spokesperson told Pro Bono News the letters were simply a summary of the funding positions of the two major parties and their potential impact on Catholic schools.
“These letters did not advocate that parents should vote for, or support, one political party (or candidate) over another,” the spokesperson said.
“Brisbane Catholic Education did not, and does not, publicly advocate in favour of any particular political party in elections. Hence we do not believe there is any issue in relation to ACNC requirements.
“Our position remains that appropriate federal funding is essential to allow a Catholic education to be accessible and affordable for all families who choose to send their children to a Catholic school. We will continue to work with all political parties to ensure this outcome.”
Under current charity laws, it was a disqualifying purpose for a charity to have “the purpose of promoting or opposing a political party or a candidate for political office”.
So while charities were able to criticise government policy, they were unable to directly support or oppose a political party or candidate.
Brisbane Catholic Education’s letter said the ALP had committed to school funding levels that would see Catholic schools nationally receive an extra $250 million over the two school years following Labor first budget, in addition to already legislated annual increases.
“This funding will restore to Catholic schools the funding previously forecast and will ensure that fees in Catholic schools remain affordable,” the letter said.
While noting the Turnbull government’s school funding arrangements would deliver average funding increases initially of 3.7 per cent annually, the letter noted this increase was “less that the anticipated cost increases for Brisbane Catholic Education schools in the coming years”.
“Comparing the new model to the previous model, Brisbane Catholic schools will be disadvantaged in the order of $40 million. This will impede our ability to build new schools in the Archdiocese and we will be challenged to keep pace with the cost increases for Catholic schooling,” it said.
When contacted by Pro Bono News, the ACNC said due to secrecy provisions, it could neither confirm nor deny if it would investigate the actions of Brisbane Catholic Education during the by-election.
An ACNC spokesperson told Pro Bono News: “The ACNC takes all concerns raised regarding registered charities seriously and where there is evidence of misconduct, we will investigate. Where we find serious breaches of the ACNC Act and governance standards, we take firm action.”
In 2017, the ACNC received nearly 1,700 concerns about charities.
Of these, 39 concerns related to whether 28 charities were operating with the disqualifying purpose of either promoting or opposing a political party or candidate for political office, or engaging in, or promoting, activities unlawful or contrary to public policy.