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Australian news, and some related international items

Australian government’s unnecessary crackdown on charities and on peaceful protest

The government is clamping down on charities — and it could have a chilling effect on peaceful protest, The Conversation,  Krystian Seibert
Industry Fellow, Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne University of TechnologyJuly 2, 2021  The Australian government introduced new regulations last week that could have a major chilling effect across Australia’s diverse charities sector.

The government’s aim was clear: the regulations are intended to target “activist organisations”, and specifically crack down on “unlawful behaviour”.

Despite this rhetoric, there is no evidence unlawful behaviour by charities is a problem of any significance. By clamping down on charities in this way, the government is not only curtailing their ability to organise peaceful protests, it is imposing more unnecessary red tape on an already highly-regulated sector.

What would the regulations do?

The regulations would give the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) new powers to take action against a charity if it commits, or fails to adequately ensure its resources aren’t used to commit, certain types of “summary offences”.

These are generally a less serious type of criminal offence, and can include acts such as trespassing, unlawful entry, malicious damage or vandalism.

If the ACNC commissioner believes a charity is not complying with the regulations, they would be able to take enforcement action, which may include deregistering the charity. This would lead to the charity losing tax concessions — one of the incentives for people to donate to them.

In effect, the regulations mean that if a charity organised a protest in front of a government department and initially refused to leave, this could be considered trespassing. And this could then be grounds to have the charity deregistered.

Are these regulations necessary?

There is little, if any, evidence of a need for the regulations.

First, a comprehensive review of the ACNC legislation commissioned by the government in 2018 did not identify any issues with unlawful behaviour by charities.

In fact, the review recommended removing the ACNC’s existing power to take action against charities that commit serious breaches of the law. It pointed out that charities must already comply with all laws that they are subject to, and it is not the ACNC’s responsibility to monitor compliance or impose sanctions for breaches.

Despite this, the new regulations would extend the reach of the ACNC and expand its existing powers even further.

And importantly, there is no evidence charities — or their staffs or volunteers — are engaging in widespread unlawful activity. When questioned at a recent Senate Estimates hearing, ACNC Commissioner Gary Johns said the commission’s data did not indicate this was a problem.

Even the government’s own regulatory impact assessment asserts only a “small number” of charities have engaged in unlawful behaviour. However, even this claim is not backed up by solid evidence, with the assessment saying it is based on.

Charities are already highly regulated

Charities in Australia are already highly regulated and subject to a broad range of obligations. They must also abide by any number of laws, for example, occupational health and safety and criminal laws.

And the ACNC already has extensive investigation and compliance powers. If charities breach any of the laws they are subject to, they can be sanctioned just like other organisations — and the same applies to their staff.

In addition, charities are already required to take steps to ensure their directors comply with duties, such as acting with reasonable care and diligence. This includes monitoring and managing risks arising from a charity’s activities.

Drafted in a vague way

Perhaps most concerningly, the proposed regulations are worded in a very vague manner, and although improvements were made in response to public consultation on a draft version, major problems remain……………….. https://theconversation.com/the-government-is-clamping-down-on-charities-and-it-could-have-a-chilling-effect-on-peaceful-protest-163493

July 5, 2021 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, civil liberties

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