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Green Party warns of dangers in Charities Bill

23 March 2004

Green Party warns of dangers in Charities Bill

The Green Party is alarmed by aspects of the government's Charities Bill being tabled in Parliament today and will be working to change the Bill during the Select Committee process.

The Charities Bill establishes a Charities Commission that will register organisations for tax exemption purposes and monitor the financial returns and activities of these groups.

"While we accept the need for charities to be genuinely accountable, there are serious dangers in this Bill, despite the good intentions of those involved in the consultation process," said Sue Bradford, Green Party Spokesperson for the Community & Voluntary Sector.

"I call on community organisations to study the proposed Bill carefully and make submissions to the Social Services Select Committee. The Green Party is keen to work with voluntary sector groups to ensure this Bill will have a positive impact on a sector which has been politically battered over the last 14 years."

Ms Bradford's key concerns at this early stage are:

* The definitions of a 'charity' are almost unchanged from the 1908 tax law. Why hasn't the definition of 'charitable purposes' been modernised?

* There is a real danger that community groups performing advocacy work will not be eligible for charitable status. Is this an attempt to control or kill off groups who carry out lobbying alongside their services function?

* It is possible that donors will take short cuts in their decisions by only funding groups with a 'charities registration number'?

* It appears many reporting requirements will be introduced by regulation after the Bill is passed. Is this Bill a Trojan Horse to bring in very high levels of financial and organisational accountability, with the associated compliance costs, at a time when many groups are collapsing from under funding?

* A clause in the Bill disqualifying people with any convictions carrying potential imprisonment of two years or more from being an officer of a charitable entity is discriminatory and unrealistic. This would ban people convicted following political activism, such as Ms Bradford, and people with a range of other convictions, unless they were lucky enough to get a waiver from the Commission.

The Green Party will be discussing over the next week whether to support the Bill or not at the First Reading.


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