Animal rights group slams decision to strip charity of its status
19 November 2019 at 5:05 pm
Aussie Farms was stripped of its status by the ACNC
Animal activist group Aussie Farms has accused the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission of being externally influenced by farming groups following the regulator’s decision to revoke its charity status.
The group, which has been registered as a charity since 1 January 2018, attracted widespread criticism after it staged several animal welfare protests across the country and published an online map and directory of slaughterhouses and farms across Australia.
On Monday night, the ACNC issued a statement saying it had revoked the charity status of Aussie Farms following an investigation.
Head of the commission, Dr Gary Johns, did not reveal specific details as to why the group had its status removed, but said revocation of charity status was reserved for the most serious of cases.
“Charities must stick to their purpose, and maintain their obligations under the ACNC Act, Charities Act and adhere to governance standards,” Johns said.
Revocation of charity status takes away the organisation’s Commonwealth charity tax concessions, including income tax exemption, fringe benefits tax rebates and goods and services tax concessions.
Aussie Farms hit back, claiming the ACNC’s investigation was not independent and was influenced by the agriculture and farming industry.
The NFP said the regulator had notified the animal agriculture industry about their decision “last week and possibly earlier”.
“It is unacceptable that an industry that stands to gain financially from the revocation of our charitable status was notified several days prior to our charity being notified,” the statement said.
But an ACNC spokesperson denied the claim and told Pro Bono News that it does not provide advance notice of a decision to revoke a charity’s registration to anyone aside from the charity itself.
“Our staff are acutely aware of how the provisions apply to their work and of the consequences for breaching the provisions,” the spokesperson said.
Aussie Farmers also said the ACNC had failed to satisfactorily explain why the decision had been made, aside from a lack of formal documentation around the group’s decision to publish the Farm Transparency Map.
“But [the ACNC] appear unable or unwilling to explain why such documentation is necessary or how we are to retroactively create it without engaging in fraud,” the statement said.
“Questions we have asked of the ACNC in earlier communication this year have been ignored and left unanswered.”
The decision to revoke the charity’s status was welcomed by Assistant Minister for Charities Zed Seselja who told Pro Bono News that “organisations that incite trespass and sabotage of legitimate businesses have no place in Australia’s charities sector”.
Minister for Water Resources and Drought David Littleproud added that the decision was a “win for common sense”.
“As agriculture minister, I wrote to the charities commissioner asking him to review Aussie Farms’ charitable status. Today he acted,” Littleproud said.
“Charities do not invade people’s privacy and encourage illegal behaviour… Our farmers deserve respect for putting the best food in the world on our dinner tables.”
Aussie Farms said it is now calling for an external review of the commission’s ability to perform its role independently and was considering whether to pursue legal action for “gross misuse” of the ACNC Act.
Seselja said that he had not heard of any concerns around the investigation.