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Contradictions, Part 2

The contradictions in the LNP/IPA attack on free speech became even more evident today with the appointment of Gary Johns as the head Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. Johns was once a junior minister in the Keating government and used this position to give a non-partisan veneer to subsequent career as a hack for the IPA, which was followed by a stint at the Australian Catholic University.

Johns has been at the forefront of the push to suppress political advocacy by charitable organizations eligible for tax-deductible donations. So his appointment by Minister Michael Sukkar followed logically from the LNP/IPA anti-free speech agenda.

There’s just one problem. The announcement came on the day of the vote on equal marriage, an issue on which numerous religious charities campaigned on the losing side. So, in the same breath as announcing Johns’ appointment, Minister Sukkar expressed the hope that the legislation might be amended to allow charities to continue advocacy on this issue.

This is silly, of course. It was already obvious that no amendments would be passed. And, as Warren Entsch pointed out, under current interpretations of the law, there’s no need for them. As Entsch says “A charity may advocate on any issue relevant to that charity and nothing in this bill will change that”. He’s right of course, but the whole idea of appointing Johns was to change this situation.

Hopefully, the government will realise what a trap they are setting for themselves here. If they attempt to remove tax-deductibility for conservation organizations that engage in advocacy, they will create a precedent that can subsequently be used against religious organizations. Turnbull should overturn Johns’ appointment and find someone who actually supports charities and non-profits.

Assumming, as seems likely, that the government is in too much of a mess to work this out, perhaps the churches will do so. If they want to protect freedom of speech for themselves, they’d better start defending it for others (cue Ditrich Bonhoeffer).

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  1. Smith
    December 7th, 2017 at 17:24 | #1

    “It was already obvious that no amendments would be passed”

    It was obvious from the get-go, but that didn’t stop the nervous nellies fretting whenever Tony Abbott or Matt Canavan or Eric Abetz said that they were going to move an amendment that would actually pass. The last week was the worst, with the bed-wetters saying that numbers in the House could be soooo tight on the amendments. In the end, the amendments fared worse than Moeen Ali against Nathan Lyon.

    Just wait, we’ll now hear that Abbott will somehow persuade the Governor General not to give the bill royal assent.

    The point sauce for the goose on tax deductability is well made. It will apply in spades to the Phil Ruddock’s inquiry into religious freedom. When the penny drops that expanded religious freedom will mean expanded religious freedom for Mus… Mus… Muslims! [Jesus Effing Christ! that’s not what we had in mind”] Christian conservatives will back off at a million miles per hour.

  2. Steve Watson
    December 7th, 2017 at 17:56 | #2

    I has been funny to see the ban the burqa brigade whining about religious freedom. I sense they are past irony…

  3. Svante
    December 7th, 2017 at 18:24 | #3

    “…they will create a precedent that can subsequently be used against religious organizations.” – JQ

    An up side to that: good-bye to private (so called) religionist and other education ‘charities’.

    “As Entsch says “A charity may advocate on any issue relevant to that charity and nothing in this bill will change that”. He’s right of course, but the whole idea of appointing Johns was to change this situation.” – JQ

    From the “Legal meaning of charity” page at the ACNC site section about charity registration

    “Advocacy
    The Charities Act makes clearer the existing law on advocacy and political activity by charities. A charity can advance its charitable purposes in the following ways:
    •involving itself in public debate on matters of public policy or public administration through, for example, research, hosting seminars, writing opinion pieces, interviews with the media
    •supporting, opposing, endorsing and assisting a political party or candidate because this would advance the purposes of the charity (for example, a human rights charity could endorse a party on the basis that the charity considers that the party’s policies best promote human rights), and
    •giving money to a political party or candidate because this would further the charity’s purposes.

    There are some things to watch out for:
    •charities should check their governing documents (such as a constitution, rules or trust deed) and contracts to make sure that there is nothing that prevents them from advocating
    •while a charity can support a political party or candidate, this support must be a way of achieving its purposes rather than a goal in itself (for example, it can’t have a hidden purpose of fundraising for a political party)
    •if a charity gives money or spends money to support or oppose a political party or candidate, it may need to disclose this under electoral laws (for the Commonwealth rules on this, see the Australian Electoral Commission’s guidance)…”

    ****acnc.gov.au/ACNC/Register_my_charity/Who_can_register/Char_def/ACNC/Edu/Edu_Char_def.aspx

    Nothing to see there… yet.

  4. Smith
    December 7th, 2017 at 18:30 | #4

    @Steve Watson

    There is no doubt that George Christensen has an irony deficiency. He needs to change his diet, again.

  5. Collin Street
    December 7th, 2017 at 18:35 | #5

    Golden rule only works for people who recognise that others have legitimately different desires and interests. Some neurological problems cripple that awareness, and for those so affected “what if you lose power” may as well be in albanian: the concept itself cannot be comprehended.

    Nothing I haven’t mentioned before, of course.

  6. poselequestion
    December 7th, 2017 at 19:45 | #6

    Appointing Johns to this position is probably the most disgustingly cynical act of the the current LNP government. On par with Bronwyn Bishop as speaker. That was under another directorship but it proves that nothing has changed, the great liberal thinker Malcom is no different to Abbot.

    They see the writing on the wall and are determined to trash as much as possible,

  7. Nick
  8. Douglas Hynd
    December 8th, 2017 at 10:42 | #8

    Church related agencies in the overseas aid space are already part of sector advocacy on attempts to close down advocacy by Government. this is a silly fight to pick with the not-for-profit sector as a whole, on purely pragmatic grounds as many of their supporters are involved in the sector.

  9. Smith
    December 8th, 2017 at 11:27 | #9

    @Douglas Hynd

    Then there’s health-related charities that advocate policies to fight their disease. Diabetes Australia, to name one among many, advocates a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. Its president is Judi Moylan, who was a minister in John Howard’s government.

  10. D
    December 9th, 2017 at 02:11 | #10

    Gary Johns is 100% reflective of today’s ALP.

    He isn’t an outlier at all.

    There is a large “Let’s Pretend It Isn’t So” element, such as Melissa (I really do care about refugees, but I still back the policy) Parkes, but that is simply there to fool people into thinking they can support the fictional good ALP while voting for the reality of the bad ALP simultaneously.

  11. Svante
    December 9th, 2017 at 14:59 | #11

    “The contradictions in the LNP/IPA attack on free speech became even more evident today…”

    Wait, there’s more… Now underway, the third attempt by Eric Abetz and Co. to have the Australian Electoral Commission declare GetUp! an “associated entity”, with potential criminal consequences, by introduction of a ‘GetUp Clause’ into electoral legislation devised to attack the independence of GetUp! and similar but to leave large corporate political advocacy such as that of Adani, Chevron, and Exxon alone.

    The exact wording of the “GetUp Clause” is here:

    getup.org.au/campaigns/democracy/getup-is-under-attack/fight-for-our-independence

  12. ChrisH
    December 9th, 2017 at 19:59 | #12

    You might care to think about the (just reported) failure of the Waubra Foundation to meet even the existing requirements of charitable status (Waubra Foundation and Commissioner of Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission [2017] AATA 2424).
    Two deputy presidents of the Tribunal sat, and bent over backwards to support the eligibility of such bodies. But the Waubra foundation wouldn’t disclose its actual activities, its actual expenditures, or its actual operations, preferring instead to provide a multi-year short summary attributing overall expenditure to some very general, and tendentious, categories. This didn’t work well for it.
    Apply this sort of example to the convoluted, ‘principle based drafting’ vagueness of the proposed measures. What is proposed is not capable of being described as rule of law. Instead what are proposed are vague rules that could be stretched to disentitle any target – and so cannot be applied neutrally or in a disinterested fashion. The intended rules are only those of every tinpot police state: rules that allow someone who wants to hang you to find a justification for doing so, while telling those who are not targeted to do what the ruler wants or, well, be targeted.