Legal experts warn that the federal government’s plan to guarantee legal protection for charities advocating traditional marriage may create a backlash, as charities scramble to clarify their legal right to advocate on other controversial issues.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney-General Christian Porter said on Thursday the government would amend the Charities Act 2013 to clarify that religious charities advocating traditional marriage would not be at risk of losing their charitable status.
This legislative change was recommended by a religious freedom review led by former Liberal MP Philip Ruddock.
But legal experts believe this amendment is unnecessary, and warn that changing the Charities Act for one type of charitable purpose could spark a list of others seeking similar clarification.
“Charities with the purpose of advancing religion might want similar clarification about opposing early-term abortions or assisted dying legislation. The list of clarifications could end up being much longer than the act itself,” Sue Woodward, head of Justice Connect’s Not-for-profit Law service told Pro Bono News.
Woodward noted that the government’s response to the review explicitly accepted the panel’s statement that advocacy of this nature would not meet the threshold of a “disqualifying purpose” under the Charities Act.
“This means the review panel and the government agree that a charity which continues to advocate for [traditional marriage] is not going to have its charity status, and related taxation concessions, taken away. There is not a problem to fix or even clarify,” she said.
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