The Herald reports:
A charities lawyer says charities can now speak out on political issues without fear after a landmark High Court judgment overturning the deregistration of the lobby group Family First.
Sue Barker of Wellington law firm Sue Barker Charities Law said “hundreds” of charities would be affected by the judgment, which follows on from an earlier Supreme Court judgment last August ordering the Charities Board to reconsider its deregistration of Greenpeace.
Both organisations were deregistered on the grounds that their purposes were primarily “political” rather than “charitable”.
Deregistration means that they cannot claim tax exemptions for their donations, and usually means that the Inland Revenue Department will no longer allow donors to claim tax rebates for donating money to them.
A majority of the Supreme Court in the Greenpeace case ruled that an organisation with charitable purposes could also have political purposes, depending on the objectives being advocated and the means used to promote those objectives.
It held that the objectives did not have to be generally accepted and could be “controversial”, and ordered the Charities Board to reconsider Greenpeace’s application for registration.
A Greenpeace spokesman said today that Greenpeace was about to resubmit its application “in the next few days”.
High Court Justice David Collins has now ordered the board to reconsider Family First’s case too. He said Family First would still need to show that its role was “of benefit to the public” by analogy to other cases, but he warned against applying that test too narrowly by comparing Family First only with existing charities.
I’m pleased for Family First that they have been treated the same way as Greenpeace. If Greenpeace are eligible, then Family First should be also.
However my view is that the definition of charity and charitable purpose under the law needs to be reviewed. I certainly think charities should be able to do advocacy that is related to their charitable work. But if an organisation primarily exists to lobby for law and policy changes, then they should no more be eligible to be a charity, than a political party would be.