Call to scrap proposed charity crackdown

Georgie MooreAAP
Concetta Fierravanti-Wells wants more detail on the need for and scope of the powers.
Camera IconConcetta Fierravanti-Wells wants more detail on the need for and scope of the powers. Credit: AAP

The federal government is under renewed pressure to scrap changes expanding the powers of Australia's charity regulator.

The government has been unable to allay the Liberal-chaired committee's concerns about the breadth of the powers to be handed to the charities commissioner.

Critics say the coalition is trying to silence advocacy by threatening charities with having their tax-deductible status removed for blocking a footpath at a public vigil, or speaking or tweeting in support of a public demonstration.

The committee recommended the changes be scrapped and flagged a motion to disallow them when parliament returns on October 18.

Anglicare Australia feared it could be targeted if its board, staff or volunteers join protests or if the commissioner thought it was "more likely than not" the group would fall foul of expanded government standards.

"This committee has backed what we have been saying for months - the government's new rules attack charities, and democracy, in an unprecedented way," executive director Kasy Chambers said.

"These rules are designed to stop organisations like Anglicare Australia from speaking up for our communities by punishing us - and shutting us down based on nothing but suspicions."

Liberal senator and committee chair Concetta Fierravanti-Wells earlier wrote to Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar requesting more information about the need for and scope of the powers.

But he could not allay concerns about a lack of clarity about what objective test would be used to make the decision and factors the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission was required to take into account.

The committee also questioned how the powers complied with freedom of political communication.

"The committee retains the view that, at a minimum, any potential limitations on the implied freedom should be soundly explained and justified," its report said.

"While appreciating his responsiveness to the committee, the committee does not consider that the Assistant Treasurer has provided a sufficient explanation for why the instrument as a whole does not impermissibly limit the implied freedom."

Labor's Andrew Leigh said the report showed how "extreme and out of touch" the Morrison government was on issues that affect charities.

"The report validates concerns that have been registered urgently and almost unanimously by charities across the ideological spectrum," he said.

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