As Australian Parliament returns today, the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has called on all Senators and MPs to reject new legislation that threatens charities with deregistration for speaking out on behalf of the vulnerable communities they serve.
ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell said: “If enacted, these new regulations will mean that charities could be deregistered for the most minor of offences such as blocking a footpath at a public vigil or placing a sticker on a lamppost.
“Further, the regulations will give the Charities Commissioner the power to shut down a charity if they believe that a minor breach is likely to happen in the future.
“This will impede our ability to serve and advocate for our communities and will also add significant administrative red tape,” said Dr Campbell.
The proposed changes to the ACNC regulation mean that charities can be deregistered for reasons including:
- A social media post that promotes a peaceful demonstration in an area authorised by police and the protest ends up expanding to outside of this area
- An email group is set up by a charity to support a local community group and is used to plan a peaceful protest and the protest temporarily blocks a footpath
- Community volunteers who put stickers distributed by the charity in an unauthorised place like a street light pole, without the charity's knowledge; or
- A staff member erects a temporary placard on the lawns of Parliament House at a rally, causing minor damage to the turf.
Dr Campbell continued: “These regulations will not only restrict the ability of Charities to speak out on behalf of the most vulnerable but also restrict the rights of volunteers and supporters to express their opinion on the social issues facing their communities.
“Under the proposed changes, if just one volunteer choses to attend a rally that causes minor disruption, an organisation could lose its charitable status,” Dr Campbell said.
ACTCOSS’s concerns reflect those of the Law Council of Australia, which has said that the laws ‘inhibit legitimate public dialogue by registered charities to the detriment of Australian representative democracy’.
ACTCOSS said that there had been no clear reasons provided for the introduction of these changes.
“Charities are law-abiding. They speak out only when they see injustice and unfairness. They highlight serious social issues impacting vulnerable people. Without the strong voices of Australian charities our community would not have achieved positive social change in areas including rights for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, veterans, people on low-incomes and people with disability.
“As a result of these new regulations, charities will be required to implement extensive policies and procedures to counter any possibilities of actions by volunteers, supporters or staff that might be deemed to breach the new ACNC regulations.
“The Morrison Government claims to want to cut red tape. Yet, these new regulations will bring additional burdens for charities whose resources are already stretched and who face increasing demand for services following the COIVD-19 health and economic crisis,” said Dr Campbell.
Please view the Hands Off Our Charities Campaign video here.
For more information or comment, please contact
Dr Emma Campbell, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0424 910 617 or 02 6202 7200.