Greenpeace New Zealand’s political activities mean it cannot register as a charity, the High Court has decided.
Greenpeace appealed against a 2010 ruling by the Charities Commission which found its promotion of “disarmament and peace” was political rather than educational and while it did not directly advocate illegal acts, Greenpeace members had acted illegally.
In his judgment Justice Paul Heath found the commission was correct in its judgment and turned down the Greenpeace appeal.
“Non-violent, but potentially illegal activities (such as trespass), designed to put (in the eyes of Greenpeace) objectionable activities into the public spotlight were an independent object disqualifying it from registration as a charitable entity,” the judge said.
I cam’y say this is a big surprise. Greenpeace acts in a very political way. The actual court judgement is worth a read – located here. I thought the sections on how there is a difference between promoting peace and pacifism. This is a quote from Southwood v Attorney-General:
The point, as it seems to me, is this. There is no objection – on public benefit grounds – to an educational programme which begins from the premise that peace is generally preferable to war. For my part, I would find it difficult to believe that any court would refuse to accept, as a general proposition, that it promotes public benefit for the public to be educated to an acceptance of that premise. That does not lead to the conclusion that the promotion of pacifism is necessarily charitable. The premise that peace is generally preferable to war is not to be equated with the premise that peace at any price is always preferable to any war. The latter plainly is controversial. But that is not this case. I would have no difficulty in accepting the proposition that it promotes public benefit for the public to be educated in the differing means of securing a state of peace and avoiding a state of war. The difficulty comes at the next stage. There are differing views as to how best to secure peace and avoid war. To give two obvious examples: on the one hand it can be contended that war is best avoided by “bargaining through strength”; on the other hand it can be argued, with equal passion, that peace is best secured by disarmament – if necessary, by unilateral disarmament. The court is in no position to determine that promotion of the one view rather than the other is for the public benefit. Not only does the court have no material on which to make that choice; to attempt to do so would be to usurp the role of government. So the court cannot recognise as charitable a trust to educate the public to an acceptance that peace is best secured by ―demilitarisation‖ . . . Nor, conversely, could the court recognise as charitable a trust to educate the public to an acceptance that war is best avoided by collective security through the membership of a military alliance – say, NATO.
Justice Health notes in this case:
Irrespective of whether ―peace, in itself, can constitute a charitable purpose, it is more difficult to argue for that position with respect of disarmament. So far as disarmament is concerned, Mr Salmon makes a good point in referring to the non-contentious nature of nuclear disarmament in New Zealand, as a result of the nuclear free policy first given effect by statute over 20 years ago. But Greenpeace‘s objects refer only to ―disarmament‖, not to ―nuclear disarmament‖. In doing so they fall foul of the admonition against political lobbying about the way in which disarmament should occur, as expressed (for example) in Southwood.
This is key. Greenpeace promotes pacifism, which is not the same as peace. The former is highly political, the latter is non-controversial. I am sure many of their activists think the two things are the same, but that is more a reflection of the narrowness of their views.Tags: charity, Greenpeace