Experts are concerned that proposed draft amendments to the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission Act 2012 (Cth) could suppress political advocacy.

Draft amendment to ACNC Act could suppress political advocacyDoes your organisation’s employees or volunteers actively engage in demonstrations or protests?  

Well, you might want to find out. If draft amendments to the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission Act are passed, charities and nonprofit organisations could be deregistered if their employees or volunteers are charged with summary offences. The most minor of legal offences, summary offences are typically the charge given to those arrested during protests. 

Many people across the legal and nonprofit sector are concerned these proposed changes could be used to silence charities and discourage them from engaging in political advocacy. 

According to Sydney Criminal Lawyers, the changes could also mean that charities could face deregistration on the grounds of provocation. Put simply, organisations could be found guilty if their resources are deemed to have encouraged or provoked someone to commit summary, indictable or civil offences. 

Resources could include your publications, website, social media, mailing lists, employees, or funds. If a third party commits an offence and their actions are deemed to have been provoked by your organisation’s resources, then you run the risk of being deregistered. 

In a media release last year, Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters, Zed Seselja, described the changes as targeting those “activist organisations masquerading as charities”, however, the proposed amendment could impact all charities, regardless of their activism.  

Unlawful behaviour supposedly targeted by this draft amendment, include break-ins, illegal blockades, damage to property and theft of stock, but according to Sydney Criminal Lawyers, most of these fall under indictable offences, which charities are already liable for.  

On Facebook, Asylum Seekers Resource Centre (ASRC) labelled the move as “an attack on our democracy”. And many critics are similarly worried that charities will have to choose between lawful advocacy and charitable status in the future. 

In their submission opposing all proposed changes, the Community Council for Australia believed they could lead to the politicisation of the ACNC, give the ACNC Commissioner the ability to undermine justice and due process, and also provide the Commissioner with power that could extend beyond their expertise and capability.  

The consultation process for the draft amendments has been completed.  

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