Several charities are being investigated for their political campaigning during the most recent federal election. In a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission said it had “received a number of concerns” about the campaigning and advocacy work undertaken by a number of charities.
We asked the ACNC whether people had erroneously complained to the commission about GetUp following Eric Abetz’s ongoing complaints about the organisation’s impact in wiping out most of his Tasmanian parliamentary colleagues at the last election. Unfortunately due to the secrecy provisions governing the ACNC, that information can’t be released.
However, the commission confirmed at a recent estimates hearing that it received 19 complaints during the last election, with three of those complaints related to organisations that are not charities, while the remaining 16 complaints were for 11 charities, and 5 investigations have been launched as a result of those complaints.
For some of the organisations where no action is taken, the ACNC commissioner Susan Pascoe told the committee they had been “swimming extremely close to the flags” of what advocacy they’re allowed to do, but didn’t quite meet the bar of where ACNC can take action outside of warning them.
The Australian Christian Lobby is potentially one of the five currently under investigation, though the ACNC is not able to confirm this. During the last election, several flyers distributed by the organisation warned about “Labor’s plan” for the Safe Schools program.
ACNC assistant commissioner David Locke said of the five organisations, one notice had been issued to the charity to show cause as to why its charity status should not be revoked because it appears to be there for political purpose, while there is another one under active investigation. Two have been given strong regulatory advice, while one was finalised with no further action.
The Catholic Education Commission of Victoria also reportedly received a warning from the ACNC over a letter sent around schools in June claiming the Greens’ policy on Catholic schools was “highly problematic”.
Abetz, for his part, isn’t giving up his crusade against GetUp, and questioned whether GetUp was seeking to pass itself off as a charity, despite publicly stating several times that the organisation does not have or want charity status.
In the ACNC’s annual report released last week, the commission said it had received 930 complaints about charities in the last financial year, resulting in revoking the charity status for 10 organisations.