AEGN

You can help defend charities’ rights to speak out

8 July 2021

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There is a threat on the horizon for Australian charities.

The Hands Off Our Charities Alliance is urgently seeking the remaining $35,000 to hire a Coordinator, after $100,000 has been raised by AEGN members and others.  

By Daisy Barham, AEGN Environmental Philanthropy Manager

While thousands of charities across the country work tirelessly to reduce the social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to avert the worst of the climate crisis, the Federal Government is proposing to change the rules governing charities by increasing the power of the charities regulator to de-register charities.

Decisions in Federal Parliament

When Parliament resumes in August, the Federal Parliament will decide whether to support a Government motion to give the Charities Commissioner (a government appointee) the power to deregister charities, for very minor and inadvertent breaches of the law.

The Human Rights Law Centre has indicated that under the changes charities could be deregistered for activities such as:

  • Lawful activity, like promoting a rally where people are peacefully blocking the entrance to a business;
  • Setting up an email group for a local community group which (without the charity’s knowledge) uses it to plan a peaceful protest involving a minor trespass, like a sit-in at an MP’s office; and
  • Failing to implement, or document, policies and procedures that control how staff and volunteers may behave.

The changes are inconsistent with democratic principles and a clear fetter on freedom of political communication and on dissent by civil society.

Arnold Bloch Leibler

In response, over 50 Australian charities are working together as the Hands Off Our Charities Alliance (the Alliance) to seek the support of all Parliamentarians to not support the changes. The Alliance is concerned that the Commissioner could use these broad powers to silence dissent and prevent charities from holding the government of the day accountable. The chilling effect the changes would have on the entire charitable sector would be far reaching.

This threat is just the latest in a series of attempts by the Federal Government to curtail the actions of charities, particularly those who advocate for the protection of nature and for action on climate change.

The Hands Off Our Charities Alliance project, pitched by Ross Knowles of the Ross Knowles Foundation, is urgently seeking the remaining $35,000 to hire a Coordinator, after $100,000 has been raised by AEGN members. Congratulations to all members that have supported this project so far.

You can help defend charities’ rights to speak out.

Silence charities on issues of national importance

Back in 2017 the Government proposed a number of bills which would have silenced charities on issues of national importance. Against the odds, their efforts were successful in amending the proposed legislation, and protecting the right to advocate. At the time, AEGN members played a vital role in this work, advocating in the media and at Parliament House, attending campaign strategy days, and, critically, resourcing the recruitment of the Hands Off Our Charities Coordinator.

The window of opportunity to build the support of Parliamentarians across the political spectrum to oppose the current changes is shrinking.

If you value the work of Australia’s 59,000 charities, consider supporting this urgent cause and defend their right to speak out.

For more information visit the project on our website. Additionally, you might like to consider approaching your member of Parliament and State/Territory Senator’s to seek their support to oppose these changes. 

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