Global Citizen’s advocacy given green light by tribunal
21 September 2021 at 8:22 am
Charity leaders say advocacy is a key part of a charities mission
A decision by the charities commission to deny a global anti-poverty charity access to public benevolent status because its activities include advocacy has been rejected by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).
For the past two years, Global Citizen, an education and advocacy organisation well known for successful campaigns on extreme poverty, polio, infectious disease and vaccination, has campaigned to become a public benevolent institution (PBI).
Becoming a PBI would help the organisation to achieve deductible gift recipient status and open an avenue for it to receive grants from ancillary funds.
But the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) has fought the application, arguing the organisation could not be classified as a PBI because it does not provide direct aid relief, rather it lobbies governments and philanthropists.
On Friday, the AAT ruled in favour of Global Citizen, finding that the organisation was organised for the purpose of relieving poverty.
“We accept Global Citizen can appropriately be described as an institution that is ‘organised’ for, or ‘conducted for’ or that ‘promotes’ the relief of poverty,” the AAT ruled.
“Most large PBIs engage with the political process as a regular and indispensable part of their work because governments are invariably key players in delivering the relief that is sought.”
The ruling added that if the line between charitable advocacy for benevolent relief and political gain for its own purposes needed to be more clearly defined, there was a need for the parliament to refine the definition of PBI in the legislation.
Global Citizen’s application was supported by Paul Ronalds, the CEO of Save the Children Australia, and Reverend Tim Costello AO.
Leaders say advocacy is critical to a charity’s mission
Ronalds told Pro Bono News that while the AAT’s ruling was a win for the charities sector, it raised concerns that the ACNC commissioner did not understand the importance of advocacy in a charity’s mission.
Ronalds said that for the AAT to back the importance of advocacy was positive.
“There have been ongoing attempts to restrict charities’ freedom to advocate or engage in advocacy activities, and this was yet another example of it,” Ronalds said.
“And so for the AAT to come out so strongly in favour of the importance of Global Citizen’s approach is a really important statement that… advocacy is at the heart of every charity’s mission.”
Since the beginning of the year, the charities sector has fought an intense battle against proposed changes to the 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.
The sector believes this proposal – which is part of a government crackdown on “activist organisations masquerading as charities” – could lead to charities being deregistered for something as simple as a staff member blocking a footpath at a public vigil.
Andrew Leigh, the shadow assistant charities minister, told Pro Bono News that the government was trying to “muzzle charities at every opportunity”.
“Charities are sick and tired of the barrage of attacks from the Morrison government. They know – as do many Australians – that public debates are healthier when they include the voices of charities,” Leigh said.
An ACNC spokesperson told Pro Bono News that the commission welcomed decisions that helped clarify the law relating to eligibility for registration as a PBI.
“We are currently considering the implications of the decision,” the spokesperson said.