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NZ High Court backs Greenpeace in fight for charity status

12 August 2020 at 5:47 pm
Luke Michael
The decision has been labelled a major victory for environmental advocacy groups

Luke Michael | 12 August 2020 at 5:47 pm


NZ High Court backs Greenpeace in fight for charity status
12 August 2020 at 5:47 pm

The decision has been labelled a major victory for environmental advocacy groups

Greenpeace New Zealand has won a long-running battle to register as a charity following a High Court ruling.  

The court ruled on Monday that Greenpeace NZ was entitled to register as a charity and that the Charities Registration Board (CRB) was wrong to decline the organisation’s application.

“Environmental protection is a charitable purpose and Greenpeace NZ’s advocacy advances the public benefit by gathering necessary support,” the summary judgment said.

The decision follows an arduous 12-year campaign for the organisation to become a charity, which has gone through the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the CRB and the High Court (twice).

In June 2008 Greenpeace NZ applied to the CRB to be registered as a charity but was denied in April 2010.

The CRB said although the bulk of Greenpeace’s purposes and activities – such as protecting and preserving the environment – were charitable, the promotion of disarmament and peace was not.

While the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that campaigning organisations could register as charities, the CRB again declined Greenpeace’s application in 2018.

The CRB said Greenpeace’s advocacy “cannot be found to be for the public benefit”. 

This view differed to the advocacy approach taken in Australia during the 2010 Aid/Watch case, whereby the High Court held that you don’t need to consider whether what is being advocated for is for the public benefit.

However Monday’s ruling stated that Greenpeace’s purpose to promote peace and nuclear disarmament was not an illegal purpose and did not disqualify it from registration.

Russel Norman, Greenpeace NZ’s executive director, said the decision was a major victory for environmental advocacy groups.

“Groups like Greenpeace which challenge undue corporate influence and stand up for nature on behalf of future generations and the natural world, play a vital role in a healthy democracy. Protest and public good go hand in hand,” Norman said.

“This case has essentially found that protecting nature is a public good, which I would have thought was self-evident as we are part of nature and our very survival depends on a healthy natural world.”

With the CRB currently a part of NZ’s Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), Norman said this saga showed there was a need to re-establish an independent NZ Charities Commission to handle these applications.

He said governments generally don’t like campaigning NGOs as they were often critical of government decisions.

“That’s why governments should not be involved in the decision as to whether an NGO gets charitable registration,” he said.

“As we saw in this case, the DIA again and again gave wrong advice, blocking Greenpeace’s application. It is time to set up an independent Charities Commission to make these decisions.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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