May 4, 2022

Charities and community voices must be heard in this election campaign

An alliance of Australia’s most well-established and respected charities today called on all parties to support issues-based charity advocacy in the lead up to elections.

Last month, Liberal Party candidate Josh Frydenberg used charity CEOs in campaign materials to support his reelection. This week, his colleague Andrew Bragg has sought to have another charity, the Smart Energy Council, investigated for appearing at campaign events of a number of candidates, apparently on the basis that they support policies that further the charity’s purpose. The Smart Energy Council advocates for greener energy policies to combat climate change.

While all the details of the complaint have not been made public, reporting indicates that the complaint includes reference to activity, like tweeting in support of positions taken by a range of candidates that further a charity’s purpose, that is both important and lawful for charities to do.

Since 2017, charities have come under consistent attack for engaging in issues-based advocacy, particularly in the lead up to elections. Successive Coalition Governments have attempted to silence charities through targeted amendments to electoral laws and charities regulations.

 Alice Drury, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said:

“Charity advocacy is vital to democracy. It strengthens collective voices to ensure that communities that are often locked out of power are heard, and can demand action from our political leaders. Charities provide a vital vehicle for ordinary Australians to be heard in national debates.”

“It’s dangerous for our democracy when members of Government support charity advocacy only insofar as it supports their position.”

Murray Baird, charity law advisor, said:

“It is perfectly legitimate for charities to engage with candidates on policy issues during election periods. Issues only arise when a charity is found to have a purpose of promoting or endorsing a candidate. If a charity is engaging with a range of candidates based on their policy positions then they should be on safe ground.”

Ray Yoshida, Coordinator of the Hands Off Our Charities Alliance, said:

“By conflating legitimate policy advocacy with electioneering, Senator Andrew Bragg is making it harder for community voices to be heard during elections.

Charities make up one of the most trusted parts of our community, and they enrich our public debate and our democracy. The Morrison government should be listening to Australian charities instead of trying to silence them.”

For further enquiries contact Ray Yoshida 0404 614 469.