YspeopleExplore tab


Should charities advocate?

Thumb angry biker showing middle finger with both hands 000078716059 small

About Subversive

Do you have your own gripe with your local or state government? And what are the streets like in your part of town, in your home state?

If you'd like me to fire a rocket up them, or a shoddy business, I'm listening! You can email me here.

It's a debate we need to have: should charities be free to lobby the governments they are funded by in a bid to change policy?

A number of charities have expressed alarm after Gary Johns -- a former Keating government minister  -- was appointed Commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

Dr Gary Johns.

Dr Gary Johns. Picture: YouTube

While a strong advocate for the charitable sector, Dr Johns is also well known for his view that charities should not use their resources to influence governments, in terms of both their causes and funding.

While a number of views expressed by Dr Johns have alarmed the charitable sector, what concerns them most is his view that charities funded by government and with tax deductable status should not be free to advocate against government policy.

I am not sufficiently informed to argue for or against the appointment of Mr Johns -- and I don’t intend to try. He may be the best person for the job, and he may not. The concerns of the charitable sector may be valid, or not.

But I am interested in exploring this question:

Should charities funded by government (whether directly or via tax deductions) be free to lobby and advocate for policy change, either with the support of government or in response to community pressure?

To many on both sides of the debate, the answer to this question is straight forward. Those who think charities should be free to advocate say it is their role to do so. Those who argue against will say that they should not bite the hand that feeds them.

I cannot see that it is that black and white. I see a complex debate here.

I also see a debate that needs to be had, especially now that Dr Johns has been appointed and we have a Federal Government that does not favour the charities it funds lobbying against it.

I would have thought that there were a number of questions here, including:

  • What organisations are defined as charities?
  • What is the role of a charity?
  • What constitutes political lobbying?
  • Should government money have conditions?
  • Is this an attack on free speech?
  • Charities are organisations that serve the community in a not-for-profit capacity, addressing an established community, health, economic or social need. This includes several thousand registered charities in Australia. To be eligible for grants and tax deductions, charities have to be registered.

    There is a grey area regarding churches. Are churches charities?

    I would argue that they are.  So any legislation targeting the advocacy of charities should also target churches, who also receive grants, tax deductions and featured prominently in the recent same-sex marriage debate.

    It is generally agreed that the role of a charity is to provide the services that it is paid, or sponsored, to provide. That can involve providing housing, feeding the hungry, supporting the ill, medical research and many other such activities. Most people would agree with this.

    But there is a grey area in relation to whether the role of a charity is to simply provide services, or also to help eliminate need for those services.

    Is it the role of Foodbank to supply food, or also to help eliminate hunger? I argue that it is the latter, which almost axiomatically involves lobbying and advocating on behalf of the hungry.

    Many in the community would not view taking a political stand or taking on a government as the role of a charity. Most people would not like to think that their donations are being used to change government policy rather than providing housing to those who need it.

    There is a real complication here in that one could, and I would, suggest that all issues impacting on the plight of those served by charities are political.

    Even solutions to health issues involve government funding and health policy most of the time. I would argue that it is not possible for any charity to do its job adequately without some advocacy -- and that advocacy will inevitably be seen as political by some.

    Preventing a charity from lobbying and advocacy may well be viewed as an attack on free speech.

    I argue that it is, but much worse!

    Lobbying and advocacy by charities is all about getting ideas out there, starting conversations and challenging the status quo. I believe that stopping them from doing this stifles debate and restricts the generation of new ideas, which just may move the world forward.

    About this I can see no grey area or complication. So long as a charity sticks to its area of expertise and registration, I would argue it has a responsibility to lobby, advocate, spread ideas and fight for those ideas.

    That said, I would also believe government should have the expectation that these charities will not go off the reservation and advocate for causes and issues that have nothing to do with the activities they are registered to address.

    Further, I would argue that this is so not just for charities funded or supported by government. If I donate to a charity, I want them to do whatever they can to address the issues they exist to address, and I would not like to see them address issues outside of that remit – even if I agree with their position.

    What do you think?

    Banner 2
    | Your rating
    No ratings yet

    Related stories

    These recipients are proving that organ donation is life.

    Transplant athletes flying flag for organ donation

    For proof of the benefits of organ and tissue donation, you need look no further than these elite athletes.

    Fitness Health Support a Cause Sport
    5 days ago
    Donate food or toys in the Hawaiian Giving Boxes in Hawaiian Shopping Centres in Perth.

    Perth digs deep to help families in need this Christmas

    Hawaiian Giving Boxes help two worthy WA charities, Foodbank WA and Anglicare WA, provide a brighter Christmas to local...

    Giving Christmas Social causes Charity
    30 days ago
    Foxglove's first book 'Twenty Reasons to Believe".

    Foxglove Project's inspirational book available now

    Foxglove's first book is available now and truly inspirational.

    Social causes Charity
    About 1 month ago
    Kirstie conquers Kokoda.

    Junior Legatee conquers Kokoda Track

    Young trailblazer Kirstie Morrison flies the flag for Legacy Australia to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Kokoda Campaign.

    Community Kindness Support a Cause
    About 1 month ago
    Cystic Fibrosis WA is aiming for a world free of CF.

    A Christmas poem inspired by a brave little boy

    A truly touching Christmas story from Ys partner charity, Cystic Fibrosis WA.

    Kindness Support a Cause Christmas
    About 2 months ago
    This BBC reporter lifts the lid on migrants being sold as slaves in Libya.

    Heartbreaking video lifts lid on modern slavery


    It's the most confronting video you'll see all year, 12 young men auctioned off as slaves in Libya.

    Support a Cause Libya Social Issues
    About 2 months ago
    Celebrity chef Anna Gare joins the fight against hunger.

    Celebrity chef Anna Gare joins fight against hunger

    Anna Gare joins with Foodbank WA to help ensure no one is turned away empty-handed in a time of need -- especially at Christmas.

    Kindness Support a Cause Christmas Food
    About 2 months ago
    Jennifer conquered Brisbane's Story Bridge to inspire other transplant recipients.

    Transplant recipient's tribute to donor will blow your mind

    Fresh out of hospital, liver recipient Jennifer Dicker, 49, competed in a 3km fun run with a walking frame.

    Fitness Health Support a Cause
    3 months ago
    We can all help make a difference to those too proud to ask for help.

    Help a farming family in need at Christmas


    With Christmas nearly here, Aussie Helpers is rallying the troops on behalf of battling farming families. Watch the moving...

    Support a Cause Drink Food Christmas
    3 months ago
    Foxglove Project is making a huge difference in impoverished communities.

    A good news story on International Anti-Poverty Day


    Giving a voice to some of the world's most impoverished on International Anti-Poverty Day.

    Africa Business Food Support a Cause
    3 months ago
    Trending stories
    The moment an unidentified man is knocked out cold from behind, right outside our office on William St.

    WA Govt, City of Perth ignore inner-city piggery

    A coward-punch attack and a...

    (Ys Comment) 1 day ago
    Top Indonesian chef Chandra Yudasswara will be cooking up a secret storm for Taste Great Southern.

    Celebrity chef set for a Secret Affair in Great Southern

    Take one of Indonesia's top...

    (Epicure) 1 day ago
    If you look after your digestive health, life will be much sweeter for you and yours.

    A happy gut equals a happy life

    Nobody wants gut-health...

    (Epicure) 6 days ago
    Spend time with your friends!.

    10 powerful tips for self-investment

    When we prioritise...

    (Health & Beauty) 6 days ago
    Weekly Poll
    Haiku of the week
    Memory lane