Charities and Advocacy

Legislations proposed in 2017 threatened to significantly curtail the public advocacy permitted of registered charities.

2017 reforms threaten advocacy work

1. Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017

This proposed legislation significantly curtails the public advocacy permitted of registered charities, politicising all attempts to advocate for policy reform using normal public processes, and requiring such “Political Campaigners and Third Party Campaigners” to register with the Electoral Commission and subject themselves to stringent requirements and penalties.

"A confident government fosters freedom of expression, encourages public criticism and welcomes specialised expertise. Tax concessions exist in recognition of the public value of each of these as public goods. Instead, the government is proposing changes that would make championing the public good subject to unprecedented political interference. These changes include expanding the disqualifying conditions to include engaging in or promoting activities that are “illegal or contrary to public policy.”

This distinction – illegal or contrary to public policy – is deeply troubling. Laws and regulations already exist to prevent individuals and organisations from acting illegally. However, to threaten the withdrawal of DGR status because an organisation is advocating a position that’s contrary to public policy is to repudiate the very definition of advocacy itself." 

- Esther Anatolitis in the Daily Review

2. Tax Deductible Gift Recipient Reform Opportunities 

Tax deductible gift recipient (DGR) status allows organisations to receive gifts and contributions for which donors are able to claim a tax deduction.

Treasury’s review of the Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) framework has implications for NFP organisations engaging in advocacy and other work considered as 'activism'.

While changes to the administrative process for obtaining DGR status are well overdue and will generally be of benefit to the arts community, new reporting requirements will limit the permissible amount of public debate and advocacy undertaken by organisations with DGR status.

Treasury’s Tax Deductible Gift Recipient Reform Opportunities discussion paper and recommendations appear specific to reducing the advocacy and campaign work from the environmental sector, however there are several non-profit sectors that these reforms could apply to, including the arts sector in Australia.

NAVA is concerned that these reforms threaten the important advocacy work that art organisations do. NAVA's history is a testament to the way this work contributes to lead effective and informed government policy-making.

In general, NAVA supports reforms that require all arts organisations seeking DGR to be registered as a charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). However, we note that this will directly impact some small arts organisations which are currently not registered as charities but do have DGR status. This is particularly true of Incorporated Associations who have limited resources to manage the administration required by the current reporting structures. While the proposed changes will simplify the application process and streamline reporting, some small arts and community organisations will struggle with the additional burden of having to also audit their activities. They may also be required to amend their constitutions in order to comply and provision to assist those organisations needs to be considered.

In the media

Luke Michael, Government Confirms New Resources for ACNC to Police DGR, Pro Bono Australia, 18 December 2017

Michael Koziol, Political donations: Charities fear 'unintended consequences' of new rules, SMH 3 Sept 2017

Lucas Ryan, Advocacy by charities: a delicate balance, Australian Institute of Company Directors

Response to Tax Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) Reform Opportunities, Volunteering Australia

Rachel McFadden, Charity Defends DGR Status as a Champion for Environment and Democracy, Pro Bono Australia 17 July 2017

Lenore Taylor, Government’s letter to conservation groups has ominous implications, The Guardian 15 July 2017

Wendy Williams, DGR Reform Lacks Clarity of Purpose, Pro Bono Australia 11 July 2017

Denis Moriarty, DGR tax reform comment: 'This is why we can't have nice things' Our Community 28 Jun 2017

David Crosbie, Divide and Conquer, Pro Bono Australia 22 June 2017

Wendy Williams, New Paper Details Potential Reforms to DGR Status, Pro Bono Australia 16 June 2017

Environmental groups could lose charity status for encouraging civil disobedience, The Guardian 4 May 2016

Other resources

Defending Democracy, Human Rights Law Centre

Gauging the state of the not-for-profit sector, Pro Bono Sector Survey