Commission Out of Step
16 October 2006
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Commission Out of Step
The National Council of Women of New Zealand (NCWNZ) is deeply concerned that the mechanisms by which organisations carry out charitable purposes, i.e. the relief of poverty, the advancement of education or religion, or any other matter beneficial to the community, will be used as the basis for deregistering organisations which currently enjoy charitable status.
In the lead up to the establishment of the Charities Commissions, NCWNZ indicated to the Select Committee and Ministry of Economic Development via the submission process that the role of advocacy was a critical function for many groups in achieving the Commission's designated charitable purposes. Frequently, advocacy work is at the forefront of acting upon society's interests and needs, and without this policy advice, any government will be less aware of the people's needs and less able to deliver on those needs.
"Had groups not advocated at a political level for social change then women would never have gained the right to vote, our children would have never had rights of protection under labour law, access and opportunities for the disabled would still be denied, and human rights would be something they had overseas," said Christine Low, NCWNZ National President. "The list of social change that has created our social fabric, our civil society, our cohesion goes on ad infinitum."
"Groundswell at the community/societal level, often focused by social justice groups has been a critical service for government and other decision-makers. These groups have earned their charitable status through long hours of unpaid work, dedicating their efforts for the betterment of the wider community," said Christine Low. "In the case of NCWNZ, our constitution binds our members to promote the spiritual, moral, civil and social welfare of the community, and all that makes for the good of the humanity - the actions that we must take to bring these objects about does and will continue to involve political activity."
NCWNZ is currently partially funded under a government contract to provide advocacy and representation as one of four core functions under the service description. This activity includes regular political lobbying, yet is recognised by the funding government agency as a legitimate means of communicating changes, or continuance of government policy in areas vital to social well-being.
"The Charities Act 2005 already contains adequate provisions for excluding or deregistering organisations - the Act should not now be open to reinterpretation, which targets groups engaging at the political level, nor subjective quantification of what is too much political activity," said Christine Low. "If the Act is to be reinterpreted then it needs to be reopened for public consultation. This should include defining "advocacy", which NCWNZ called for from the outset. It should also include understanding that advocacy is defined as "support for, esp. of a cause", which often intrinsically flows into the Charities Commission's charitable purposes. The amount or degree of political engagement should not be used as a mechanism for selective exclusion, particularly as the message it sends to all groups is very counter-productive and destabilising."
The loss of charitable status has serious implications for organisations dependent on funding from philanthropic bodies. In some cases organisations would no longer be able to meet funding application eligibility; in other cases, the road to secure funding would be extremely rocky. Funding for NGOs is already extremely competitive, charitable status is one of the most basic requirements of any Not-for-Profit organisation.