The Guardian • Issue #1970


Charities under threat from coalition’s legislation

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1970

Undisputedly, the pandemic has caused economic disruption, much to the chagrin of the Morrison government. Unfortunately, however, it has also provided the perfect cover to bring forth some of the most insidious rules and legislation. We saw this happen earlier this year with the watered-down “omnibus bill” (one of the many examples in this period), and we see it again with new rules targeting charities.

Under the proposal introduced by the government last month, new regulations would expand the types of offences for which the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC) would be able to deregister an organisation if it believes its members – “more likely than not” – could commit a summary offence. Even worse still, in its explanatory memorandum, it states that “it is not necessary for a registered entity to be charged or found guilty of a relevant summary offence for the ACNC Commissioner to take appropriate enforcement action under Chapter 4 of the Act.”

Speaking to The Australian, Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar stated that “The Morrison government strongly supports the right to peacefully protest and engage in political discourse as key pillars of our democracy […]. However, political activists and organisations condoning criminal activities, while masquerading as charities, undermine Australians’ trust in the sector overall and do not deserve this privilege.”

There is a lot to unpack in Sukkar’s statement. Firstly, does the government support peaceful protests? Far from advocating a person’s right to protest, anyone who attended the Black Lives Matter (BLM) rallies last year will be quickly reminded of Morrison’s immediate reaction that we shouldn’t be “importing the things that are happening overseas to Australia.” Sure, Morrison paid lip service to respect “people’s right to protest” but immediately qualified it by saying “equally protesters have to respect all other Australians in how they conduct themselves.” Morrison continued further, stating that when protesters “inconvenience others just trying to get to work or do things like that, well, they obviously get the irrits. And I think it’s important that everyone respects everyone.” These statements are exactly exemplars of “strong support” for peaceful protest.

What’s more, is the idea that charities do not deserve to be registered as such for condoning “criminal” activities. Sukkar’s use of the word “criminal,” while perhaps accurate in that actions may be breaking the law, is an attempt to mislead. Here, there is an implication that actions undertaken by charities or NFP that are illegal are, therefore, harmful. Of course, charities and NFP may engage in actions that are an inconvenience for the public, but they are rarely, if ever, harmful. One does not have to look long to find that many causes worth fighting for have been won because brave people broke the law, engaged in “criminal” activities, and advanced the movement.

Speaking on the proposal, Daniel Webb, legal director at the Human Rights Law Centre said “The proposed rules are ridiculously broad and unclear, and the latest in a long line of attempts to silence community voices […]. These rules could see charities deregistered for supporting protests, whistleblowers and others who are vital to a healthy democracy.”

Even though the pandemic is at the front and centre of our minds, we must remain vigilant against the government attacks on our freedom of expression and condemn and fight back against these laws!

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