Court ruling provides advocacy boost for Queensland charities
2 April 2020 at 5:02 pm
The decision provides clarity to the state’s NFPs unsure about their advocacy rights
The Queensland Supreme Court has rejected an electoral commission ruling that threatened to strip the advocacy rights of charities receiving donations from property developers.
After 2018 legislation made it illegal for property developers to donate to political parties or candidates, the Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ) released advice suggesting any organisation involved in political advocacy would be unable to have property developers pay to go to their functions, or donate money.
This prompted Brisbane think tank the Australian Institute for Progress (AIP) to challenge the ruling in the Supreme Court, warning that it threatened the advocacy rights of charities that received donations from philanthropic property developers.
On Monday, the court repudiated the ECQ’s advice, ruling that organisations could accept money from prohibited donors as long as neither the donor or the organisation intended to use it to advocate for a particular candidate or party.
AIP executive director Graham Young told Pro Bono News the decision meant charities could use property developer money for issues-based advocacy.
“The judge quite clearly said that you can campaign on issues using that money, as long as you weren’t campaigning for people to vote a certain way,” Young said.
“So it’s a lot clearer now for charities or community groups. It means that if an organisation wants to campaign on voluntary euthanasia, for example, it’s okay if you don’t recommend a specific party or candidate.”
Young said the ruling might also offer some clarification around proposed Queensland laws that would limit third parties, such as charities, from receiving $4,000 per election term in donations – less than $20 a week – for election-related advocacy.
Legal experts warned in January that this bill would stifle charitable advocacy.
Young said that the decision at the very least provided relief to charities concerned about their ability to advocate.
“This ruling certainly clarifies the situation,” he said.
“When you’ve got a potential criminal charge hanging over your head, you want to make sure that you’re doing the right thing.”