A High Court decision has opened the way for Australian lobby groups acting in the public interest to use charity tax status.
The case — which ran for four years — was brought forward by AidWatch after the Australian Tax Office withdrew its charitable status in 2006 for engaging in ‘political activities’.
The decision to revoke AidWatch’s charitable status was seen as a response to the organisation’s vocal criticism of government aid spending following the Indian Ocean Tsunami.
AidWatch – which monitors where foreign aid money goes and development programs Australia is involved in – argued its work was in the public interest and its charitable status should be reinstated.
Five of the seven High Court judges ruled in favour of AidWatch. It’s still unclear how far ranging the ruling will apply to other lobby groups. A series of restrictions are imposed on lobby groups seeking charitable status.
There has been early hope from some GLBTI-rights organisations, which struggle for funding, that the decision may help boost their ability to raise money.
Maurice Blackburn senior associate Giri Sivaraman, however, told the ABC it’s unlikely the decision will have a blanket effect.
“There are still safeguards in place in terms of whether or not an organisation’s recognised as a charity,” Sivaraman said.
“It still has to be acting in the public benefit. So obviously what it does is for the public benefit, and probably alleviates burden on government. So I don’t think it’s going to have that kind of effect.”
AidWatch director Gary Lee said the decision was a win for freedom of political communication in Australia.