Charities turn to UN for help amid advocacy battle
22 July 2021 at 4:20 pm
The Fred Hollows Foundation, Oxfam and Anglicare are among the charities that have petitioned the UN for support
The charity sector is calling on the United Nations to “take urgent action” to stop the federal government from implementing its controversial proposal to amend charitable governance standards.
A group of 12 charities has written a letter to three UN special rapporteurs asking for them to speak out against the plan, arguing the proposal would infringe on the rights to freedom of assembly and expression.
The proposal involves amending the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission’s (ACNC) governance standard 3, which would expand the reasons for which a charity can be deregistered beyond indictable offences to include summary offences, such as trespassing, theft, vandalism or assault.
Sector leaders say this could lead to charities being deregistered for something as simple as tweeting in support of a protest that accidentally ventures onto private land, or providing support to whistleblowers.
The federal government believes this crackdown is needed to curtail “activist organisations masquerading as charities” and says the regulations will not impose a new burden on charities already complying with Australian laws.
But in the letter, it is noted that the charities commissioner himself has stated he does not believe there is a widespread problem of charities acting illegally in an activist context.
Organisations that are signatories to the letter – including The Fred Hollows Foundation, Oxfam Australia and the Australian Council of Social Service – are urging the UN to voice their concerns about the proposal.
“[We] respectfully request that you take urgent action with a view to ensuring that the Australian government refrains from introducing the regulations on the basis that they unnecessarily and unreasonably infringe on the rights to freedom of assembly and of expression,” the letter said.
“We believe that a communication to the Australian government and a media statement by your mandates, calling on it to refrain from introducing the regulations, could provide an important and influential contribution to charities’ advocacy efforts.”
Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers is one of the signatories of the letter and said charities needed to be able to stand up for the people they work with.
“But these rules are designed to stop organisations like Anglicare Australia from speaking up for our communities and our country by punishing us – and shutting us down for arbitrary reasons,” Chambers said.
“They are not just an attack on charities. They are an attack on democracy. We’re calling on the government to withdraw these changes and end these attacks for good.”
Another signatory, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service acting CEO George Selvanera, said these laws would jeopardise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities’ self-determination.
He said already marginalised communities risked being cut off from vital support.
“Charitable organisations will not be able to provide the full extent of their services out of fear that the government will weaponise the proposed charity regulations,” Selvanera said.
“Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations would be silenced, their engagement in public debate curtailed. We need all the support we can get to stop the proposed laws.”
You can see the full letter here.
Charities are encouraged to take part in a Pro Bono News survey examining the impacts of the government’s proposed changes on the sector. Take the survey here.