Charity law, advocacy and the aid/watch decision : compatibility of charitable purposes and political objects — the view from Australia

O'Halloran, Kerry & McGregor-Lowndes, Myles (2011) Charity law, advocacy and the aid/watch decision : compatibility of charitable purposes and political objects — the view from Australia. The Charity Law & Practice Review, 13, pp. 1-25.

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In 1952 the Nathan report stated that:

Some of the most valuable activities of voluntary societies consist, however, in the fact that they may be able to stand aside from and criticize State action or inaction, in the interests of the inarticulate man in the street.

Some 60 years later it remained the case that if a voluntary society wanted to gain or retain charitable status then, contrary to the Nathan report, the one thing it could not do was set itself up with the purpose of criticizing State action or inaction. This legal position was adopted by the authorities in Australia with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) noting in Taxation Ruling TR2005/21:

  1. An institution or fund is not charitable if its purpose is advocating a political party or cause, attempting to change the law or government policy, or propagating or promoting a particular point of view.

So, why, if it is such a valuable activity, have governments steadfastly refused to allow charities to have as their purpose the freedom to advocate in this way and how has this situation been affected by the recent High Court of Australia decision in Aid/Watch v Commissioner of Taxation?

This article proposes to address such questions. Beginning with some background history, it explains that, initially, the current constraints did not apply. Then it looks at the nature of these constraints: how does the law define what constitutes the type of political activity that a charity must not undertake? What is the rationale for prohibition? How has the judiciary contributed to the development of the law in this area in recent years? This will lead into a consideration of the Aid/Watch case and the implications arising from the recent final decision. The article concludes by reflecting on what has changed and why the view on this contentious matter now looks different from Australia.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 47934
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: No
Keywords: Charity law
ISSN: 0966-4041
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LAW AND LEGAL STUDIES (180000) > LAW (180100)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2011 Key Haven Publications PLC
Deposited On: 04 Jan 2012 23:03
Last Modified: 02 Oct 2013 04:58

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